Book Review: Captives in Gray: The Civil War Prisons of the Union


by Roger Pickenpaugh

Tuscaloosa: University Alabama Press, 2009. Pp. xii, 287. Illus, notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 0817316523

Pickenpaugh, the author of several works on the Civil War, including Rescue by Rail: Troop Transfer and the Civil War in the West, 1863 (1998) and Camp Chase and the Evolution of Union Prison Policy (2007), here takes a broader look at the Union?s prisoner-of-system during. 

Pickenpaugh opens with a chapter on the initial planning for a P/W system by the Union Army, then devotes two to the early operations of the system, culminating in the signing of the "Cartel" between North and South governing prisoners, parole, and exchange. His fourth chapter deals with the collapse of the Cartel due to Confederate refusal to treat black soldiers on an equal footing with whites. Pickenpaugh follows this with chapters on the management and experiences of P/Ws, capture, detention, guards, escape, rations and discipline, health, and liberation. Noting that conditions in almost all P/W camps were poor, Pickenpaugh concludes that planning was inadequate, camp personnel usually not the best, and funds always insufficient, leading to a death rate of about 12 percent, which, though abysmal, was actually rather lower than rate of deaths from disease in the armies as a whole. 

A valuable contribution to the literature on prisoners-of-war, and not just during the Civil War.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

Buy it at



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close