AUGUSTA — A faded envelope discovered after 148 years sheds new light on Augusta’s little-known role as a place where Union prisoners of war were held during the Civil War.
Its author, Sgt. William S. Marshall, was a young Indiana soldier captured near Rowe Gap, Tenn., on May 3, 1863, and shuffled from place to place for the remainder of the conflict.
An envelope he addressed to his family in Green Castle, Ind., on Nov. 26, 1864, however, places him in Augusta, where a jail at Fourth and Watkins streets was anecdotally known to
have housed Union prisoners.
The rare cover, signed “W.S. Marshall, Adjt 51st Ind. Vols, Prisoner of War Augusta Ga,” was part of a collection sold earlier this month by Siegel Auction Galleries in New York, where it fetched $1,900 as a possibly one-of-a-kind postal artifact.
Although the stamped and canceled document carried the appropriate notations from Confederate censors, the correspondence it once contained is long gone.
Georgia was home to Andersonville, one of the largest and most notorious camps for Union prisoners. More recently, the short-lived Camp Lawton in Jenkins County was re-examined as an archaeological project.
Camp Lawton was established in late 1864 to relieve overcrowding and deplorable health conditions at Andersonville, where more than 13,000 Union POWs died.
Augusta never was widely known as a venue for war prisoners, but it was not unusual for cities to use existing facilities to house captured soldiers, said Erick Montgomery, executive director of Historic Augusta Inc.
“I don’t know a thing about a full-fledged prison camp in Augusta, but there were prisoners of war here from time to time during the Civil War,” he said. “Certainly wounded prisoners were brought here after the Battle of Chickamauga late in 1863.”