History fans of all ages will be able to catch a glimpse of North Carolina’s past, thanks to the Salisbury Confederate Prison Association. This Friday, the association will host a free exhibit on the Salisbury Confederate Prison at the Rowan Public Library. Although the Civil War prison was burned to the ground by Union troops in 1865, the items on display give visitors a snapshot of the historical hardships.
Lincoln County was one of the many places where men were recruited to serve as prison guards, with the majority serving at the prison from 1864 to 1865. They were often former soldiers who had been injured significantly on the battlefield.
“There are probably descendants of the prison guards that still live in Lincoln County,” Sue Curtis, President of the Salisbury Confederate Prison Association, said.
According to Curtis, the most popular display is the model of the prison buildings constructed by Don Weinhold Sr. Weinhold constructed the intricate models out of card stock roughly 20 years ago, using an 1886 lithograph of the prison site by Charles A. Kraus as his template.
The prison was established in the fall of 1861, after North Carolina had seceded earlier that May. What people may not know is that Salisbury was not the first choice for the prison’s location.
“Burlington was the first choice, but they declined,” Curtis said.
Historical documents show that although Salisbury was not the top choice, the location was one that provided acreage, buildings and proximity to railroad lines. Before its purchase, the property had been willed to Davidson College.
“It really gives people a visual of what it was like then,” Curtis said. “There were civilian prisoners, political prisoners, reprimanded Confederate prisoners and a huge influx of Union prisoners of war. More than 15,000 men were held (in the prison), and 5,000 died there.”
According to Curtis, the majority of the prisoners were from Pennsylvania and New York. During its use, there were prisoners and personnel from 32 states, including the District of Columbia.
“You name the state, we probably had people from there here,” she said.
Bricks found during an archaeological dig in March 2012 will also be on display. Archaeologists believe the bricks may have been a part of the prison building. Letters and editorials from soldiers and guards describing the prison both during and after the war period will be shown. Visitors will also be able to view photographs of Old Lutheran Cemetery and the Salisbury National Cemetery, where Confederate and Union soldiers from the prison were buried.
This year, a spindle from one of the prison commandant’s homes is being added to the exhibit. Prison Commandant Swift Galloway served as the fifth Prison Commandant from September of 1863 to May of 1864. Prior to its addition to the collection, it had been displayed at Galloway’s home in Snow Hill, North Carolina, before it was demolished in 2005.
“We love to share our history and talk to people,” Curtis said. “The prison touched a lot of lives.”
The exhibit will be held on Dec. 6 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Stanback Auditorium in the Rowan Public Library in Salisbury.