Friday, April 16, 2010

Castle Morgan - Civil War Prison in Alabama

A low rectangle of earth and broken brick marks the site of the Cahaba military prison at Old Cahawba in Alabama.

Known locally as Castle Morgan, apparently in honor of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, the prison was established by the Confederate military in 1863 to house Union prisoners of war, many of whom were taken by the troops of General Nathan Bedford Forrest in his operations in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. Making use of an uncompleted cotton warehouse on a bluff overlooking the Alabama River, the Confederates established the prison they thought would contain 400 or so prisoners.

Unfortunately, Confederate prisoner of war camps overflowed in 1864 and 1865 due to the decision by President Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant to end all prisoner exchanges with the South. As a result of this decision, thousands of Union soldiers remained confined in prisoner of war camps across the South and as the number of prisoners taken grew, the rough prisons overflowed with inmates.

At Cahaba, for example, a facility with only 432 bunks overflowed with more than 3,000 prisoners by 1865. The stockade surrounding the facility measured only 125 by 200 feet and with so many men confined inside, there was only 8 square feet of space per soldier. 

It is generally thought that around 147 men died while confined at Castle Morgan. They are memorialized in a special area adjacent to Old Capital Cemetery in Old Cahawba.

The prisoners were released when the war came to an end in 1865 and today little more than an open space of grass and the low rectangular mound of earth and rubble remain to remind visitors that the prison ever existed. Interpretive markers ring the site and the memory of Castle Morgan is an important part of the Old Cahawba Archaeological Site. To learn more, please visit

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