The Union soldiers held in a prisoner of war camp in Lynchburg will be recognized with a Virginia State Historical Highway marker this fall thanks to the local Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War camp.
Currently a small Civil War Trails Marker indicates where the POW camp was once located.
The transit prisoner of war camp was opened at the Lynchburg fairgrounds, just outside city limits, in June of 1862. The site — now home to E.C. Glass High School — saw more than 2,000 Union soldiers come through between 1862 and 1865.
The SUVCW Taylor-Wilson Camp #10 hope to see the new $2,800 marker raised on Memorial Avenue (Langhorne Road is the second choice) so it can be easily seen from the road.
“It’s about keeping history alive,” Mark Day Commander of the Taylor-Wilson Camp #10 said. “…If we don’t take the time, or if we simply choose to forget [history] then I think we’re in trouble.”
“If you forget where you come from, how do you know where you’re going?”
Text of the coming historical marker
A transit prisoner of war camp for Union soldiers opened near here in June 1862 with the arrival of more than 2,000 men captured during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign.
Lynchburg, at the confluence of three railroad lines, was an ideal location for such a facility. During the operation of the Dix-Hill Cartel, a system of prisoner exchange in effect from July 1862 until July 1863, soldiers held here were paroled near Richmond. Later, prisoners were sent to camps farther south. Officers were housed in empty factories in the city, and many prisoners were treated in local military hospitals. Most of those who died were buried in the City Cemetery and reinterred elsewhere after the war.
Since 2005 Taylor-Wilson Camp #10 has spent about $20,000 on markers to teach Lynchburg residents and visitors about the Union soldiers who fought in the Battle of Lynchburg and those held in the POW camp and hospitals. Its overriding mission is education and preservation.
“People don’t know we’re around,” said Day, a Navy veteran who taught history at Liberty High School in Bedford for 22 years. “We’re here and we’re active.”
The idea for the POW camp marker came from Dr. Clifton Potter, Ph.D., who taught at the University of Lynchburg for 54 years.
“This is part of the history. It’s part of who we are as a community. And most people have no clue that there was a POW camp here and that it was here for three years, and that there were prisoners of war passing through Lynchburg on a regular basis,” he said.
Potter stumbled across the existence of the POW camp about 10 years ago.
For the last decade he’s been trying to reconstruct historically what happened there, looking for the men who were prisoners (many of whom survived) as well as those treated in the local hospitals and those who died in the Battle of Lynchburg.
After 10 years, he said he’s just getting cranked up. (You should know Potter spent 20 years writing “Victorian Ambivalence About Queen Elizabeth I: The Political History of a Royal Reputation.”)
“Many of the records that were kept in the various camps either were lost or purposely destroyed after the war” because of fear of prosecution, Potter said.
But the Lynchburg POW camp was unlike any other during the Civil War, he said.
“The same kind of things that occurred in places like Andersonville did not occur here and I think it has a lot to do with our Quaker heritage. You treat people with a certain degree of respect and dignity,” he said.
“I can’t let it go,” said Potter, who is now six chapters into a book about the POW camp.
The new marker is just the latest accomplishment. Already plaques mark the site of the Lynchburg Battlefield. Tablets honor men from Ohio and West Virginia who died during the Battle of Lynchburg and the wounded left behind in Confederate hospitals after the Union left Lynchburg. Lynchburg had 32 hospitals at that time, said Dr. Charles Driscoll, a charter member of Taylor-Wilson Camp #10 and a longtime physician in Lynchburg.
There is a marker to honor those who captured a gun emplacement during the Battle of Lynchburg and an award-winning video that features members of the group. You can see the fruits of their labor at the University of Lynchburg, Quaker Memorial Presbyterian Cemetery, Old City Cemetery, Historic Sandusky and elsewhere.
“This is really a non-political group,” Driscoll said. “We really want to just honor our ancestors. Those of us who had ancestors from the North, want to honor ours just as the people from the South want to honor theirs.”
Driscoll’s great grandfather fought for the Union while his wife’s great grandfather fought for the Confederacy.
Potter has ancestors who fought on both sides of the Civil War.
As to why he chose to be part of a heritage group honoring Union soldiers, he said he could never accept the idea of owning another human being.
“It’s a personal choice, one with which I’m very happy,” Potter said.
According to the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War website there are camps in nearly every state including Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina. Taylor-Wilson Camp #10 has been nestled in Lynchburg Confederate territory for about 17 years. It’s one of five SUVCW camps in Virginia according to the website.
For Day, the group is a connection to his roots. He said it centers members and gives them a place to find community.
“It’s not political. It’s basically a tribute to those people who tried to fight for a cause,” Driscoll said.
The camp started with just five men. Today membership hovers around 20 and the camp is always looking for new members. Descendents of Union soldiers can join as hereditary members while those who are not direct descendents can join as associate members. Those ages five to 14 interested in the group can be junior members. The camp also has an auxiliary with about seven women.
They meet in downtown Lynchburg about six times each year, host an annual picnic and dinner and do a major project every two years.
Each year, on Memorial and Veterans days, members mark about 40 Union soldier graves.
They help at Historic Sandusky, with museum summer camps, have contributed to the National Civil War Chaplains Museum, and have procured grave stones for Union veterans.
This coming February the camp hopes to resume its annual Lincoln birthday dinner, which used to be held at historic Locust Thicket.
Members are currently working with the Jones Memorial Library to have camp records preserved and available to the public.
In the coming years the camp wants to recognize the enslaved who helped Union soldiers.
Families want to know what happened to their ancestors and the work being done by the camp has helped provide closure for many families, Potter said. All of the group’s research is made public through the American Civil War Research Database.
“Every time I am able to identify one of these men and can compile the information on the men and make it available to anyone who is desperately looking for something I feel like I’ve done a service,” Potter said.
“They are American soldiers and it doesn’t matter what side they fought on.”