The prisoners were crowded into tents within the “bull pen,” the stockade where they were confined on the Point. The walls of this pen were fourteen feet high, with a platform along its perimeter for the guards to keep watch. At the greatest point of overcrowding there were as many as three men sharing a single blanket throughout the bitter winter.
A peninsula, surrounded on three sides by the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River, Point Lookout was only five feet above sea level and prone to flooding. This location also helped to make it one of the most secure POW camps, with an estimated 50 successful escapes.
The enmity between the Yankees and the Rebels had only worsened as the war progressed, and the guards were known to be harsh, sometimes cruel. When black troops were allowed into the Union Army and sent to Point Lookout as guards, it was an opportunity for the freed slaves to either take revenge on their former masters or to offer kindness in this unexpected role reversal.
In its two years of operation, Point Lookout saw approximately 52,000 POWs pass through her gates. Both military and civilian, men, women, and children. The youngest POW at Point Lookout was Baby Perkins, who was born there after his mother, Jane Perkins, was captured at the Battle of Spotsylvania with her artillery unit.
Point Lookout, during its time as a prison camp, consisted of the 1830 Lighthouse, Hammond Hospital, the Camp Hoffman Stockade for prisoners, Nuns housing, Fort Lincoln, guards’ quarters, officers' quarters, stables, contraband quarters, Union quarters and burying grounds.
If you visit Point Lookout today, the Lighthouse remains and is reputed to be haunted by the ghosts of Confederate soldiers. Most of the prison pen site is under the bay waters now, but a section of the wall has been recreated by the Friends of Point Lookout. The earth works of Fort Lincoln still exist on the river shore near Cornfield Harbor. The barracks, officer quarters and a portion of the prison pen have also been recreated and are the focus of Living History weekends each year.
My Historical Fiction Novel, FOR THE CAUSE OF FREEDOM, opens with Charlie Turner suffering with his fellow prisoners of war at Point Lookout. He will be one of the few who successfully escape.