Local Historian James Douthat Gives Talk On Civil War Prisons

Saturday, August 29, 2015 - by Emmett Gienapp

For James Douthat, the owner of Mountain Press Publishing, uncovering history is more than just a hobby.


In an address to the Civitan Club on Friday, he said, “I love chasing rabbits all over history.

  “I’ve been doing it since I was 17 and that wasn’t yesterday.”


One of his favorite subjects as of late has been penitentiary systems of the Civil War, which was the subject of his short speech.   He said, “Everyone knows the battles, diaries, dates, and everything else, but very very little is ever recorded about the prisons.”


He listed off a large number of statistics about prisons, specifically about Andersonville, one of the most notorious Confederate prison camps where more than 13,000 Union soldiers died.

But he said, “North or south, it didn’t really matter, it was all the same. You had soldiers eating dirt because they were so hungry, dying by the truckload each day.”


But he also turned and pointed to some of the more lighthearted developments that Civil War prison camps brought about—primarily stories from Camp Johnson Island, a Union prison camp Mr. Douthat called “The Country Club Prison.”


Camp Johnson Island was reserved for only the highest ranking Confederate leadership that was captured which meant an unusual concentration of brain-power and wealth.  One story he told was of a colonel who managed to piece together a Union uniform which he put on under his original uniform to escape the prison.


He then fled to Baltimore on a train, connected with business partners, booked a room in the nicest hotel in the city, mingled with Union officers, and finally returned to the South with the inside knowledge he gained there. He was later called a war hero for his endeavors.

If you’re interested in learning more about Mountain Press or what historical information services they provide, visit their site at mountainpress.com

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