Salisbury prisoners worked hard to sleep, escape

“In an empty lot owned by the Historic Salisbury Foundation, archaeologists led by Timothy Roberts, project director for Cultural Resource Analysts, found bits of rubble, mortar and brick….

“Artifacts, mostly dating to after the war, [included] medicine bottles from a local drugstore known as Kluttz’s and… a piece of bone with a copper pin in it. Roberts believes it was part of the case of the type of folding knife prisoners used to dig their sleeping holes and escape tunnels.”

— From “Cotton Mill, Prison, Main Street” by Daniel Weiss in Archaeology (July/August 2019)


An inauspicious beginning for Salisbury prison

On this day in 1861: L. P. Walker, Confederate secretary of war, approves purchase of an abandoned cotton mill at Salisbury for use as a prison for captured Union soldiers. To their later regret, the owners agree to take payment in Confederate bonds.

Before being closed four years later Salisbury prison will become notorious for its unhealthy and crowded conditions.


Behind ‘the excessive rate of mortality’ at Salisbury prison

On this day in 1865: Confederate inspector T.A. Hall reports to Richmond on conditions at Salisbury prison: “The excessive rate of mortality among the prisoners merits attention. Since the 21st of October 3,479 have been buried. Pneumonia and diseases of the bowels are the prevalent diseases. The prisoners appear to die, however, more from exposure and exhaustion than from actual disease.”


Salisbury report: Flood of prisoners, dearth of clothing

On  this day in 1865: Capt. G.W. Booth responds to Gov. Zeb Vance’s request for a report on conditions at the Confederate prison at Salisbury: “About the 5th of November, 1864, a large number of prisoners of war, some 8,000, were suddenly sent here, the Government having no other place to send them. The grounds were enlarged and such preparation as could be made were arranged for their reception. A short time after their arrival tents were issued, and now they are all under shelter of some sort. The number of prisoners confined here has reached as high a figure as 10,000.

“The matter of food receives the earnest attention of the commanding officers. They [prisoners] regularly receive one pound of good bread, one pint of soup, besides small issues of meat or sorghum. Sometimes small quantities of both. As to clothing, their condition is truly deplorable, most of them having been prisoners some six or nine months. The Confederate Government cannot issue clothing to them, and none has been received at this post from the North.”


Dr. Livingstone’s son dies in Salisbury prison riot

On this day in 1864: Robert Moffat Livingstone, eldest son of missionary Dr. David Livingstone, is fatally injured in a riot at the Confederate prison at Salisbury.

Young Livingstone, born in Africa and reared in Scotland, enlisted with a New Hampshire regiment using a false age (21, instead of 18) and name (Rupert Vincent).

In a letter to his father he cryptically referred to the alias as a means to avoid “further dishonoring” the family name. He expressed regret at having joined the Army. “I have never hurt anyone knowingly in battle,” he said, “having always fired high.” He was captured at the battle of New Market Road in Virginia and taken to Salisbury.

A friend will later quote Dr. Livingstone as saying, “I am proud of the boy, and if I had been there, I should have gone to fight for the North myself.”

Robert Livingstone is likely buried in a mass grave in what is now Salisbury National Cemetery.