Imprisonment of the Plymouth Pilgrim Enlisted Soldiers

On April 20th, 1864 the entire Union garrison was captured at the Battle of Plymouth, NC. After the battle, the captured "Plymouth Pilgrims" spent the night of the 20th in an open field just outside of the town of Plymouth. The next morning, they received four days rations. Around noon, under guard of the 35th NC, they began their march for Tarboro, NC, stopping at Williamston & Hamilton along their journy.  They were treated well by the 35th NC. Upon arriving at Tarboro, their guards were the 17th NC, and again it was said that they were treated good by them as well.


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Tarboro, NC Train Station before its destruction in Dec 1996

After arriving at Tarboro, NC, all of the prisoners from Plymouth, including the officers, boarded railroad box-cars for Andersonville, GA. 60 to 70 men were loaded into each boxcar. According to the diary of Private Charles Lepley, 103rd PA, on April 26th the 85th NY left on the first train at 10 a.m., and the 16th CT and part of the 101st PA left at 3 p.m. There is no mention of other regiments leaving Tarboro except for when Lepley left at 11 a.m. on April 29th.

The trip to Andersonville made its way through the towns of Goldsboro & Wilmington, NC. Then through Florence & Charleston, SC. And finally through Savannah & Macon, GA. When they arrived at Andersonville the officers were separated from the enlisted men. The enlisted men were taken directly into the stockade. Capt Wirz, the prison camp commander, argued with the guards who had accompanied the prisoners that he had no facilities for officers and that they would have to take them somewhere else. They were sent to Camp Oglethorpe in Macon, GA.


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ANDERSONVILLE, GA

The "Plymouth Pilgrims" prisoners began to arrive at Andersonville on the 1st of May, 1864, with a total of 2,364 prisoners arriving from Plymouth. When they entered Andersonville, it is obvious that they made a big impression. John McElroy describes them in his book Andersonville: A story of Rebel Prisons, pg. 168: "They were attired in stylish new uniforms, with fancy hats and shoes; the Sergeants and Corporals wore patent leather or silk chevrons, and each man had a large well-filled knapsack, of the kind new recruits usually carried on coming first to the front, and which the older soldiers spoke of humorously as 'bureaus'. They were the snuggest, nattiest lot of soldiers we had ever seen, outside of the 'paper collar' fellows forming the headquarter guard of some General in a large City. As one of my companions surveyed them, he said: 'Hulloa! I'm blanked if the Jonnies haven't caught a regiment of Brigadier Generals, somewhere'." It's obvious that the Plymouth Pilgrims were a distinct group of soldiers, much different than the average soldier.

Many of the Plymouth Pilgrims, after re-enlisting, had received bounties. Also, shortly before they were captured, they were paid three months back pay. Because of the expected furloughs, most of the Pilgrims held on to their money instead of sending it home. By some estimates, the Pilgrims brought half a million dollars or more into Andersonville. Prior to the Pilgrims, most of the prisoners had been transferred there from other prisoners and had little in the way of currency or personal belongings. The Raiders had also been active in stealing whatever belongings that were of any value. There was little hope for the common prisoner.

When the Pilgrims arrived with their knapsacks full of belongings and their pockets full of greenbacks, it completely changed the atmosphere within the stockade. Now there was hope. Small business started up, such as barbers. Games of chance increased drastically. However, the Raiders now increased their vigilence in coming after the Pilgrims. They now attacked during the day instead of under the cover of darkness.

The Pilgrims stayed at Andersonville throughout the summer months, and were there to witness the trial and hanging of the Raider ring-leaders. In fact, Private Patrick Bradley of Co. H, 2nd MA Heavy Artillery, served as the prosecuting attorney against the Raiders.

During Sherman's advances in and around Atlanta, it was feared by the Confederates that Sherman would liberate the prisoners, so it was decided to move the prisoners to a better location. Towards the end of August and the first of September 1864, thousands of prisoners were transferred to Charleston, SC & Savannah, GA. These prisoners, however, only included the soldiers who were able to walk with or without the use of a cane. Those that couldn't, were left behind. The prisoners were told that they were being transferred to the coast for parole. This, of course, was simply done to keep the prisoners from trying to escape.

"Andersonville Memories" by George Hollands, 101st PA.

"Providence Spring" by Samuel W. Porter, 101st PA.



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Charleston, SC City Jail as seen today.

Charleston & Savannah were holding areas until a stockade could be built at Florence, SC. While in Charleston, the prisoners were held at the Charleston Race Course, the City Jailyard and the Workhouse. Those that died while in Charleston were buried in either the Charleston Race Course Cemetery or Potter's Field. After the war, the soldiers buried in these two cemeteries were reinterred at the Beaufort National Cemetery, Beaufort, SC.

Towards the middle of September 1864, prisoners began to be transferred to the new Florence Stockade located in Florence, SC.

During the first part of December, there was a special parole for the sickest & wounded. Prisoners at Florence were sent to Charleston for parole. The other prisoners would remain at Florence until February of 1865 when the stockade was finally closed. Those that were sick or wounded were sent to N. E. Ferry, Wilmington, NC for parole and the others were sent to Goldsboro, NC.

Not all of the Plymouth Pilgrims went to Florence, escpecially those that were taken to Savannah from Andersonville. With Sherman's "March to the Sea" which headed to Savannah from Atlanta, the prisoners had to be moved. They were sent to Camp Lawton in Millen, GA, Blackshear, Thomasville and then finally back to Andersonville arriving there Christmas Day 1864. These soldiers who spent their final days of captivity in Andersonville, would later be paroled at Jacksonville, FL & Vicksburg, MS.

Most, if not all of the paroled soldiers ended up at Camp Parole, Annapolis, Maryland before being sent home on furloughs; many being returned to active duty after their furloughs.


Further Reading About Enlisted Plymouth Pilgrim POWs