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POW camps: How many have operated in York County, 2 or 3 or 4?

artNineteenth-century artist Lewis Miller captures the façade of York, Pa.’s, Washington Hall, built in 1849. The building, sometimes referred to as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows or IOOF hall, housed overflow prisoners after the Battle of Gettysburg. Chief Surgeon Henry Palmer had threatened to resign, rather than treat Rebel wounded, according to letter writer Cassandra Small. The hospital and its satellites were military posts, so Washington Hall can be viewed as a prisoner of war camp site. Washington Hall stands today looking much like it did in this drawing, used here courtesy of the York County Heritage Trust. Also of interest: Cartridge Box helps tell story of Civil War military hospital in York, Pa.

York County has housed three prisoner of war camps in its history.

I made that point and asked the audience at Good News Jail & Prison Ministry’s recent Civil War Remembrance event to name them.

They easily named two of them: the American Revolution’s Camp Security and World War II’s Camp Stewartstown.

The third one was pretty obscure. I had never thought about that idea until Dan Meckley raised it in his book “York, The Incomparable York County, PA.”

After the Battle of Gettysburg, wounded Confederate soldiers were transported to the U.S. Army General Hospital in York.

They ended up separated from their Union foes in Washington Hall, then an entertainment and community gathering place at South George and West King Street. The hospital was a post operating under military law.

“The captured Confederate officers were held there,” he wrote, “and it can be assumed they were under guard.”

Civil War historian Scott Mingus, co-presenting that day, upped that number.

There was a fourth one, he said.

In the fighting in Wrightsville, the Confederates captured Union defenders of the town. Scott observed that they were taken under guard to the old fairgrounds at East King and South Queen street. They were penned there under guard.

Scott is right.

Of course, both Washington Hall and the old fairgrounds were temporary camps versus the multi-year POW camps Security and Stewartstown.

But all of this serves as an example about how this Gettysburg 150th is a moment to learn more about this war and its impact nationally and on our own soil.

A flurry of books, mobile apps, exhibits and re-enactments are planned this year to aid in the learning process.

By the way, does anyone want to make the case for a fifth POW camp that operated in York County?

Also of interest:

This post was part of a York Sunday News column, 5/19/13. Check it out: Prisoner of War camps in York.


Check out this new Civil War 150 website – Gettysburg 150 – developed by the York Daily Record/Hanover Evening Sun/Chambersburg Public Opinion. Order an e-book version of my “East of Gettysburg” and a ydr.com developed iPad app: Gettysburg 150 facts about the 150th.