Camp Sorghum

October 1864–December 1864

In the wake of a yellow fever epidemic among federal prisoners in Charleston, Confederate authorities transferred thirteen hundred to fourteen hundred Union officers to the South Carolina interior in late 1864 to prevent them from infecting the local populace.

In the wake of a yellow fever epidemic among federal prisoners in Charleston, Confederate authorities transferred thirteen hundred to fourteen hundred Union officers to the South Carolina interior in late 1864 to prevent them from infecting the local populace. They also believed that the prisoners were less likely to be liberated by Sherman if they were moved inland. The first prisoners arrived in October 1864 and were interned in a five acre field near Columbia, on a hill overlooking the west side of the Saluda River (now West Columbia). To supplement the few tents available, many prisoners built makeshift structures by digging holes in the ground and covering them with tree branches. Because their diet consisted of cornmeal and molasses, the Union prisoners began calling their site “Camp Sorghum.” Due to poor sanitation and inadequate shelter, disease and malnutrition were rampant. As many as twenty to fifty prisoners died daily. To alleviate the poor conditions, Confederate authorities allowed limited paroles to find food and better sanitation beyond the camp boundaries. Sometimes this was used as a ruse to escape. Other methods of escape included bribing the guards or feigning illness to go to the hospital outside the camp’s boundaries. One Confederate official claimed that Sorghum’s 373 escapes were due to guards who were “very raw recruits [who] . . . require constant watching and instruction.” In December 1864 the camp was closed and the prisoners transferred across the river to Columbia, where they were interned near the South Carolina Lunatic Asylum until Sherman captured Columbia on February 17, 1865. The Union force liberated some of the prisoners, while others were forced north with their Confederate captors until released the following month in North Carolina.

Anderson, George L., ed. A Petition Regarding the Conditions in C.S.M. Prison at Columbia, S.C.: Addressed to the Confederate Authorities. Lawrence: University of Kansas Libraries, 1962.

Lord, Francis. “Camp Sorghum.” Sandlapper 8 (August 1975): 29–33.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Camp Sorghum
  • Coverage October 1864–December 1864
  • Author
  • Keywords Federal Prisoners, Civil War, escape, poor conditions, disease
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date July 28, 2021
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update July 26, 2016
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