My research indicates the prisoners were given cast off tents and many who survived said they resorted to hollowing out the sand for protection. Ship Island is 12 miles off the Mississippi coast and no more than ten feet above sea level. It was not unusual for high tides to flood portions of the island. Winter along the coast can be as cold as it is up north with temperatures dropping to the teens. With no protection, the prisoners endured the wind howling right across the Gulf.
The fine white sand got into everything, food, equipment, clothing, etc. The parole system had been stopped and the Confederate prisoners depended upon the Confederate government for many of their supplies. There are reports of Southern cotton being sent by Confederate officials to Union officials to be sold and the monies used to buy blanklets and clothing for Confederate prisoners.
There is a bronze plaque at Fort Massachusetts presented by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. I believe (and this is an assumption on my part) that the plaque may have been placed at the Confederates' burial site. I know during the 1930 Confederate Runion at Biloxi, Mississippi a memorial service took place. On June 7, 1930 surviving members of the United Confederate Veterans and Sons of Confederate Veterans boarded U.S. Coast Guard vessels and sailed to Ship Island.
Here are the last seven pages from my book on Ship Island talking about the island fading into the War's backwaters and a description of the POW conditions.
In an attempt to relieve the suffering of its men who were prisoners of the Yankees, the Confederacy transferred cotton to the Federals to sell and purchase goods for the prisoners. The cotton was to buy food, clothing and medicine for the prisoners held. One thousand bales of cotton were sent by Confederate Major General Dabney H. Maury to the Federal Navy blockading Mobile Bay.
Not all prisoners had to escape or wait until the war ended to leave Ship Island. Paroles and exchanges especially near the end of the war removed prisoners on the island in large groups. In January 1865 the steamship St. Mary took on board 603 prisoners (all that remained of the 800 captured at Fort Gaines) and returned them to Mobile for exchange. While there, the steamer Waverly could be seen loading 1,000 bales of cotton to be sold for the benefit of Confederates who were still prisoners. Since their capture nearly 190 men had died and many more contracted diseases while in Union hands.
Ship Island was described, "as a kind of penal colony for soldiers," by Corporal Ross McGregor of the 83rd Ohio Volunteers. He believed any soldier thinking of being subordinate or deserting would think better of it once he set foot on the island. The Buckeyes, stopping on a chilly January 10, 1865, could hardly believe the white sand was not snow as they loaded and unloaded passengers. Some members thought they saw comrades sent to the island for punishment. The convicts were in large wooden barracks and guarded by "a regiment of darky soldiers."
Issac Jackson of Company D, 83rd Ohio simply stated, "This is the most desolate place I ever saw." He said the island was nothing but a heap of sand surrounded by water, no vegetation on it whatever that he could see. The 83rd may have appreciated the sparse area around Pascagoula more as they and Major-General Granger prepared to move to Pensacola, Florida.
Colonel Holmstedt tried to make the prison camp livable and requested assistance. Surgeon T. M. Getty reported the camp was "without houses, tents, blankets, bedding or any of the necessary means for furnishing a hospital." Of more than 1500 prisoners present during Getty's visit all but 300 were reported sick. Prisoners were afflicted with measles, scurvy, smallpox, diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid, fevers, rheumatism, "and almost every variety of contagious, cutaneous disease that results from the neglect of personal cleanliness." Holmstedt forward the post and visiting surgeons remarks with his own. He pointed out the prisoners had no tents of their own and there were none for them. Cooking rations, until very recently, was accomplished outdoors. Prisoners walked three to four miles to gather wood for cooking and warming fires. Holmstedt detailed a company of the 74th to Cat Island, fifteen miles away, to cut and gather wood there. Still they were only able to keep a day's supply at the prison.
The Island's surgeon did all he could to help the prisoners, but complained many refused to bath in the Gulf waters surrounding the island. He blamed them for their own vermin for refusing to wash what little clothing they had on their backs. The prisoners refused to bath from the stand point the waters surrounding the island were very cold in December. They had only the clothes on their backs and no spare set to change into. The Federals managed to obtain vegetables and acids reducing the scurvy but could do little for the diseases, such as smallpox, brought to the island by the prisoners. The life, harsh as it was at Ship Island, was better than that for the Confederates captured from the Army of the Tennessee.
In late December Commissary-general Hoffman request Union Secretary of War E. M. Stanton, he be allowed to issue shoes to the bare foot rebels passing through Louisville on their way to Federal prison camps. The Union War Department fired back a telegram the same day inquiring if the rebel prisoners, "are any part of that rebel army recently engaged in killing Union troops at Nashville, and whether they are any more destitute or worse provided for now in food, shelter, and rainment than when engaged in that work?" If they were part of Hood's army, Stanton saw no reason to supply them with anything since that was the responsibility of the Confederate government in Richmond. Hoffman explained his first request was based upon the practice of supplying the basic needs of prisoners which the Confederate government reimbursed.
The 74th USCT's troops would be given a rudimentary education. In February 1865 it was announced a school for the 74th's troops as soon as the lumber for the building and a schoolmaster could be procured. In addition to the school it was decided all permanent military posts in the Gulf Department would plant vegetable gardens. The Sanitary Commission would supply all the seeds to the surgeons and post commanders. Even the sandy ground at Ship Island was to have a garden and that sterile spot made to "rejoice and blossom as the rose."
Colonel Holmstedt planted the first potato ever planted on the island. Six barrels of potatoes and one of onions were planted. A bounty of $5.00 was offered for the first potato raised. A recent shipment of pickles furnished by the Sanitary Commission helped keep the troops in "excellent health."
The pickles did not slow down the winter death rate among the prisoners. By the end of January a 132 prisoners had succumbed to the cold wet winter. Spring arrives early in the Gulf and February, mercifully, saw only five men die. March's death rate rose to eight and April's dropped to seven.
The monthly inspection report for December 1864 described the prison camp as relatively clean. Lieutenant John Ahlefeldt, Assistant Commissary of Prisoners wrote, straw was provided for bedding. With the exception of some ragged clothing most of the prisoners were reported clean and their clothes in good condition. The kitchen was clean and Holmstedt noted they had no Mess House. There was enough good food and it was cooked. The water was as good as could be expected and the drainage [sewage] also good. The area was well policed and cleaned. The hospital diet was good and the prisoners overall health was "improving very much." The vigilance of the guards was admirable. Lieutenant Ahlefeldt suggested sending blankets as there was a great need by the prisoners. "I would respectfully state that the exposed position of this post and the destitute condition of the prisoners make the articles specified above very necessary."
In January 1865 more than five hundred sets of clothing were sent to Ship Island from New Orleans for the prisoners. Before they could be distributed word came from the Commissary-General of Prisoners not to hand out any clothing except that provided by the Confederate government for the prisoners use. The Confederate government had enough difficulty keeping its soldiers in the field well equipped. Union officials knew the Confederacy was not able to support its men who were prisoners.
By the end of March 1865 Holmstedt was calling attention to the worsening conditions at Ship Island. He wrote if prisoners were to be kept on the island, barracks would have to be erected as the tents were beyond use. Most rotted away in the elements or were torn to shreds in the storms blowing over the island. The prisoners would soon be living on the beach exposed to sun, wind, and rain.
Holmstedt's inspection report was returned because he asked General Hoffman, commanding the Office Commissary-General of Prisoners, if barracks could finally be built for the prisoners. He offered to use the prisoner's fund to assist the building program. He was curtly informed by the general's assistant Captain W. T. Hartz, that the request would have to go through proper channels and plans and estimates need be sent detailing the project. Holmstedt returned the reply with his own note stating a plan had been developed an it was proposed by Hoffman himself the prior November. Before any barracks could be constructed events in Virginia made the need moot.
In early April 1865 as Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia tried to escape Grant's enclosure; four prisoners on their way to Ship Island attempted to escape. The St. Charles was transporting Union troops to Fort Gaines and stopped off Ship Island point. On April 5 the four men slipped into the Mississippi Sound and began the swim toward the coast. One drowned and his body recovered, but the other three though "hotly pursued," apparently were never seen again. Their names were lost to history so it would be conjecture to assume this was Ernst Nores and friends.
The St. Charles was heavily loaded with part of the 4th Wisconsin's horses and mules. As the vessel steamed through Grant's Pass Private William Peter, Company H, 19th Iowa was lost overboard. Peter was a hospital assistant on his way to the Thomas to tend the wounded. Apparently he was on one of the lower decks with the horses and mules and kicked overboard. He was seen falling over the side and the cry "Man Overboard" reverberated. Captain Quitman immediately lowered a lifeboat but Peter sank from sight. It was believed the kick sending him over the side so disabled him, he could not swim.
In May 1865 Major-General R. S. Canby ordered all prisoners at Ship Island paroled at Vicksburg and from there sent to their homes. The exceptions were Missourians and Kentuckians who fought for the South. They had to wait for the Union War Department to decide their fate as prisoners or traitors. By the time the order reached Ship Island most of the Confederate prisoners had been sent who could be sent. On May 2, 1865 Frank Bryant, a private with the 1st Alabama became the last prisoner to die and be buried on Ship Island. Ship Island submitted its last report as a principal military prison for June 1865. The final ten prisoners were transferred.
The Civil War's end came in April and May as first Lee, then Johnston surrendered Confederate armies in the east and Richard Taylor and Staide Waite surrendered their forces in the west. Obstinate holdouts crossed over the Rio Grande into Mexico or fled North America entirely. Jefferson Davis was captured in May and imprisoned. The exchange and paroling of prisoners accelerated to the point where all vessels traveling from Union held Mobile to New Orleans were ordered to stop at Ship Island and pick up as many prisoners as possible. A guard of fifty men was authorized but that was formality since the war was now over and the only place for the prisoners to go was home.
During the final months of the war Ship Island was used as a holding place for prisoners. The Confederates waited at Ship Island until proper parole arrangements could be made at New Orleans. One Missouri Brigade, captured at Fort Blakely, Alabama, arrived April 15 and spent thirteen days on the island. During the April days the sun burned them and the cool nights chilled them to the bone. They had no shelters for cover. The prisoners were taunted by their black guards, many former slaves, "Look out, dar white man, de bottom rail on top now." While at Ship Island the Missourians learned about Lee's surrender at Appomattox and later of Lincoln's assassination. On the night of April 28 they were loaded aboard the steamer Clinton and embarked for Vicksburg. On the way the news of Lee's surrender was confirmed and they learned also of Joseph Johnston's surrender to Sherman. These Confederates related their experiences to a book of the times entitled, Fifteen Years in Hell.
Lincoln's death increased the bitterness the guards had for the Confederates. The Missouri soldiers felt Lincoln's death a misfortune for the South. For the remainder of their time on the island they did not dare mention Lincoln's name since the guards said they had orders to shoot any Confederate who spoke the name. The prisoners remembered the white Union officers were mostly German and some had trouble making themselves understood in English.
Another Missouri lieutenant recalled being kept in a low sandy depression near the island's lighthouse. An Arkansan prisoner being marched with his companions called out to his captain mimicking the guards saying, "The bottom rail is on top." Immediately one of the guards lunged at the prisoner with his bayonet. The Arkansan was struck in the hip and jumped back pressing his hand to the wound. The guards treatment worsened after news of Lincoln's death. One night a man stood up to shake the sand out of his blanket and was shot. The man probably was Sergeant Edward H. Inzer, Company C, 9th Texas Cavalry. He was captured at Spanish Fort on April 8, near Mobile and sent to Ship Island. He was shot by one of the sentries during the night on April 22 and died the following day.
By the end of April the Missourians were in New Orleans waiting to be exchanged. The New Orleans Times for Sunday April 30, 1865 noted they rank from Colonels down to sub-lieutenants. All were identified as officers although the prisoners from Ship Island may have been mostly enlisted men. The paper noted all Federal prisoners were supposed to be released and Federal authorities still had sixty to seventy thousand Confederates waiting to be released. In a May 11, 1865 dispatch from Major-General N. J. T. Dana to Major-General Canby; all Confederate prisoners formally at Ship Island had been turned over to the Confederate exchange agent.
Ship Island ceased to be a Confederate prison by May 1865. Not so for the Union soldiers unfortunate enough to commit infractions to the Regulations. In July 1865, as the hot Gulf sun beat down on the island, between eighteen and twenty white and black soldiers who had been court- martialed were sent to serve out their sentences at hard labor on Ship Island. The length of confinement ranged from three months to a year and a half for offenses ranging from sleeping on post to desertion.
In November 1865, the 74th United States Colored Troops stationed at Ship Island were mustered out. With the exception of their first three months protecting the railroad, the 74th spent its entire existence on Ship Island with one deadly trip to Pascagoula. Colonel Holmstedt praised his troops for their duty to God, country and themselves. He encouraged them to work hard and faithfully. "Do not linger about the corners of the streets and spell 'Try Red Jacket Bitters.' Try on your working jackets, seek employment, and make such arrangements with your employers which you can conscientiously abide by, and when once your word is given, let it be the word of a man; do not take it back."
Holmstedt warned his men about carpetbaggers trying to use their right to vote for unsavory advantages. Those who were intelligent (already free blacks) would have to explain the word "Freedom," to those who were former slaves. Their commander offered to help any of them who were desirous of making an honest living. Holmstedt wished them all a prosperous future saying, "Now, my good boys, let us shake hands and say adieu!"
Before leaving Colonel Holmstedt sent two lists to the New Orleans Times. The first contained the names of all the Federal dead buried at Ship Island, mostly from General Butler's expedition. The second contained the grave number, names, ranks, regiment, State, company, date of death, and disease of the Confederate dead buried at Ship Island. Holmstedt hoped the lists would ease the hearts and minds of the deceased's families knowing once and for all where loved ones rested.
Through Ship Island passed 4,879 Confederate prisoners. Of these 153 died and were buried there. The death rate was three percent. Low when compared to other Union camps such as Elmira, New York, called Hell-mira, suffered a death rate over 32 percent. When the method of paroles and exchanges was halted, thousands of men on both sides were forced to wait for the war's end to secure their release.
Not all relations between guards and prisoners was hostile, especially after the war. In 1916 more than fifty years after the guns fell silent, F. C. Ferris planned to attend a meeting of the survivors of the siege of Vicksburg. Reunions and meetings were held many times. Ferris was a Union guard at Ship Island in the Fall of 1864. There he made the acquaintance of five Confederate soldiers. On the day of Lee's surrender he invited the five former enemies to dine at his mess chest. Ferris was hoping to renew a friendship with one of the soldiers named Mooring believed to be a member of the 21st Alabama Regiment. Advertising in the Confederate Veteran magazine Ferris, brother of the man who made the great Ferris Wheel, wrote he would be glad to hear from any of the friends he made among the Confederate prisoners.
Talk of memorials and monuments, their size, inscription and location to honor the Southern dead continued for many years. In 1911 Frederick Searles Hewes wrote the editor of the Daily Herald with his thoughts on where a Confederate monument should be placed. The city of Gulfport, Mississippi, founded at the turn of the twentieth century wished to have the memorial placed within its city limits. Hewes believed Biloxi or Pass Christian had better claim than an upstart city which did not exist until thirty-five years after the war ended.
Hewes hope the monument would be built on Harrison county land thereby placing the monument in Biloxi. In New Orleans a monument to Henry Clay had to be moved. He feared the same might happen to the monument placed in Gulfport. Hewes wanted a simple memorial not a large ornamental piece. Hewes wrote, "Let the shaft stand where the descendants of those gone before, the living and their children, will see to its care and preservation. and that it may not be committed to the scrap pile by those to whom it has no honorable meaning."
Hewes wrote from the heart, the Confederate veterans he wished to memorialize (not merely make stone monuments of,) were his own mess-mates. Hewes fought in Company H of the Third Mississippi Regiment. Men he lived, fought, starved, and died with through four years of war. The memorial was finally erected and Hewes with several comrades posed before it. A grizzled group of old men.
In time the harsh memories of the war gradually faded. So too, the ranks of Confederate survivors steadily thinned as one century ended and another began. The years took a surer toll on Civil War veterans. In 1913 the United Daughters of the Confederacy sought to mark the graves of the Southern soldiers who still lay buried beneath the white sands on Ship Island. Mrs. A. C. Kimbrough lead the United Daughters through battle after battle of bureaucratic red tape. In addition to marking the graves the Daughters wished to erect a monument. Their congressional representatives believed the War Department would grant the Daughters request without the need for legislative action. But, the graves would remained unmarked for years to come.
The masonry fort on Ship Island was completed after the war. One supervising engineer overseeing part of the construction was none other than Frederick Prime, returning as a Major of Engineers. The fort would be officially named Fort Massachusetts on June 27, 1884. Union General Winfield Scott Hancock announced Army Headquarters was turning over to the Corps of Engineers responsibility for a number of ungarrsioned seacoast defenses in the Eastern Department. Included were Fort Massachusetts at Ship Island, Forts Pickens, Gaines, and Morgan at Mobile. It was more or less confirmation of what the fort was called during the Civil War although there never was an official document naming the fort on Ship Island. Northern Newspapers and periodicals called it Fort Massachusetts after the USS Massachusetts, whose crew first took control of Fort Twiggs when the Confederates abandoned the island.
Mrs. Kimbrough's efforts to honor the Confederate dead on Ship Island continued through the 1920's. The last official act of the General Reunion of Confederate Veterans at Biloxi, Mississippi in June 1930 was a memorial service for Confederate soldiers held at Ship Island. On June 7, 1930 the United States Coast Guard provided cutters to carry the Memorial group to Ship Island. The cutters anchored offshore at the western end near Fort Massachusetts.
A smaller boat manned by six coast guardsmen carried the flowers and flower committee to shore. W. P. Kimbrough, Mrs. Kimbrough's son assisted in laying the flowers on a temporary mound above which the United States and Confederate flags flew. Surviving members of the United Confederate Veterans were joined by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy. The Coast Guard vessels were lashed together as the invocation was given, speeches made and the honored dead spoken of in revered tones. Seventy years after South Carolina seceded and sixty-five years after the war's end, the Confederate dead on Ship Island were formally memorialized.
Flowers from all visiting organizations and relations unable to attend were placed on the island. Many of the organizations placed additional flowers for Mrs. Kimbrough. She had won the battle to honor the Confederate dead on the island but passed away three months before the service was held.
Ship Island's usefulness as a point of defense was overcome by iron ships and faster diesel systems. The advent of air power further relegated Ship Island's military importance to near nothing. The island was turned into a quarantine station and for some years once again became the first stop for immigrants coming to America. By the First World War the island was hardly used and by the Second World War the island was used for training Army dogs being sent to the Pacific theater. Ironically they were trained by Americans of Japanese decent. Ship Island became a recreation area for the military and the National Parks Service agreed Ship Island should be included in the Gulf Islands, National Seashore.
Today the remaining guns are silent. Some were sold for scrap but even after dynamiting the great Rodman guns into large pieces any attempt to remove them was too costly. Several Rodmans remain intact and the fort can be toured. Ship Island also has a bathing section along its southwest shore. The entire island can be walked in a few hours time. In 1965 Hurricane Camille carved a shallow channel through the center of the island dividing it into Ship island east and west. The center of the western island still contains pools of water filtered through the sand. Sand ridges called hummocks are found throughout. The wooded section is on the east island.
The soldiers names remain in the towns and their streets. Along the coast is Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis Shrine. This last home for the Confederate is located several miles west of Biloxi near many of the landings made on the coast. Starting with D'Iberville in 1699 to Union soldiers in 1862, all exploring the coast for safe camp sites.
On a clear day Ship Island can be seen from one of the small cottages used by Jefferson Davis as his library. In this library he wrote The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, explaining his view on the Confederacy and the war. For exercise Davis would stroll Beauvoir's grounds or cross the road down to the Gulf shore and walk along the waters edge. He could ponder the irony looking out toward the island. Nearly half a century earlier he worked diligently to fund constructing a fort on Ship Island for Mississippi's defense. Against the advise of the Engineering Corps who said the fort was not worth the expenditure of money. He outlived many of his critics and on this point he was vindicated. The fort on Ship Island was important. It represented how a small, non-descript locale can have a large impact on an entire war. True, other battles raged in other locations and helped wear down the Confederacy, but none with such a subtle touch.
I hope this also gives you more information on the life lead and lost by your ancestors.