I recently purchased a wonderful book entitled Portals to Hell: Military Prisons of the Civil War by Lonnie R. Speer. At first, I had borrowed the book from the Monroe County, New York library system. Since it was such a comprehensive look at life as a Civil War POW, I decided I had to have it and proceeded to order it through Amazon.com.
As I have conducted my research on the Civil War soldiers of Monroe County, it has amazed me how many of these men spent time in military prisons as prisoners of war. Besides Edward, Richard and Frederick Ambrose, other prison survivors include Charles Dwinnell, Alpheus Hodges and Kingsley Brownell. We also remember George B. Wiltsie who became so weak at Salisbury Prison and ultimately died after his release from typhoid brought on by starvation. Sadly, I’m sure the number of POWs I find will grow as I continue my Pittsford soldier research and begin the soldiers of Fairport and Perinton project.
Mr. Speer’s 410 page book gives so much detail about the various prisons. Prior to reading this, I had slight knowledge of the Salisbury, Belle Isle and Libby Prisons. This volume goes far beyond those, and discusses conditions at Point Lookout, Camp Morton and Alton Prison among many others. Additional interesting topics such as prisoner exchanges and escapes are mentioned in detail. The back of the book lists a handy reference guide to Union and Confederate prisons.
Having used Portals to Hell for much of my research into Richard Ambrose’s stint in the Dry Tortugas, as well as for information about prison conditions in general, I would highly recommend this title. Additional information about this book is listed on my Great Resources page.