After the Battle of Gettysburg, a prison camp was established in occupied Maryland on a low peninsula lapped by the waters of the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. All told, 52,000 people—Confederate soldiers, Maryland and Virginia civilians, blockade runners, and spies—passed through the portals of the “Andersonville of the North.” In 1910, because erosion threatened Confederate cemeteries near Tanner Greek north of what had been the prison compound, the prisoners’ remains were moved up the peninsula to a patch of land owned by the federal government near Scotland, Maryland. There, a monument marking the Confederate graves was erected by federal officials. A little girl who lived at Scotland Beach passed the new national cemetery on her way to and from school and witnessed this re-interment. Many years later, she described to her grandson, Donald Hammett, now a veteran ranger at Point Lookout State Park, what she had seen: wagons heaped with the bones and skulls of the fallen Confederates and the mounds of excavated earth. To this day, according to Ranger Hammett, fragments of human remains are found in the vicinity of the prison camp’s burial grounds. Although the federal government claims that approximately 3,500 perished, the number of men who died at Point Lookout is unknown. The hypothesis that the death rate was high—perhaps 25 percent—because President Lincoln had hardened his heart to the plight of the Confederates in his custody is worth investigating, not with an eye toward a “balanced” picture of how prisoners were treated by the North and the South or to present “both sides of the story,” but simply to discover the truth about what happened at Point Lookout.

In the meantime, the living must remember the men who suffered there. For the last two years, I have participated in the Point Lookout Prisoners of War (PLPOW) Organization’s annual pilgrimage to Point Lookout. Unfortunately, a sour note was sounded as last year’s Saturday morning program was getting under way. As Robin Pohlman of the Veterans Administration stepped to the lectern to speak, someone shouted, “Where’s our flag?” The PLPOW descendants, angry over the VA’s recent decision to take down the Confederate Battle Flag at the cemetery, were unmoved by Mrs. Pohlman’s response that they were gathered not to honor emblems but the men who had died at Point Lookout. Tired of the crumbs thrown by bland bureaucrats, they greeted with silence her announcements that the VA had documented a few more deaths at the prison camp and that the cemetery’s wrought iron fence would soon be painted.

Following Mrs. Pohlman, Patricia Bradley Buck, founder and president of the PLPOW Organization, stepped to the microphone and shared with us some information challenging the federal government’s arithmetic. She had discovered the writings of Dr. Joseph Jones, a civilian who had been captured by Union troops at Isle of Wight, Virginia, and sent to Point Lookout, where he was put to work at Hammond Hospital. Dr. Jones estimated that 8,000 died during the time he spent there. Patricia Buck also has in her possession Pvt. James Spicer’s firsthand account of the conditions at the camp. Pvt. Spicer, who was with the 7th Virginia Infantry, Company K, wrote that looking through a knothole in the stockade fence, he saw “acres of coffins stacked one on the other.” Finally, we learned that the contractor who had exhumed and moved the prisoners’ remains in 1910 had calculated that over 10,000 had succumbed to the hardships of the prison camp. Mrs. Buck ended her speech by imploring the Veterans Administration to restore the battle flag and to acknowledge the number of Confederates who had died while in the care of a government flush with resources—the same government that could have alleviated the suffering of both Yankees and Confederates by agreeing to the prisoner exchanges repeatedly proposed by the South.

Patricia Buck’s address and an a cappella rendition of “Dixie” performed by Carolyn Billups of the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s Colonel Richard Thomas Zarvona Chapter were the highlights of the morning. After wreaths were placed at the base of the monument and the colors were retired, we left the cemetery and drove down to the exhibit area near the site of the prison camp. Representing the local historical society, I had earlier in the day set up a table decorated with black-eyed susans, miniature Confederate, Maryland, and Virginia flags, and a Troilani print depicting a Second Maryland CSA Infantry rifleman. During the morning and afternoon, PLPOW descendants from all over the South stopped by to see me and to talk about the war. Having manned a table the previous year, I was prepared for the occasional unkind remark concerning my home state. One man, sure enough, leaning down to inspect the print, said to his companion, “Look —a Northerner fighting for the South.”

As the day grew warmer and the sheep flies were biting, my thoughts turned to the prisoners eaten alive by insects from early May to late October. I also considered the winter months that the men endured without adequate firewood and provisions. While Point Lookout is hot and humid in the summer, its winters can be bitter cold, as salt-water-laden winds blow from the Potomac to the Chesapeake. On a frosty morning, it was not unusual to find prisoners who had frozen to death during the night, even though abundant Yankee blankets and surplus uniforms were stored in ships just offshore. The hours from dusk to dawn were perilous at Point Lookout. Guards entertained themselves by firing into Sibley tents filled with sleeping men. Those who survived the cold and the sport of the guards faced starvation, in spite of the efforts of local people such as the legendary Pig Man Brewer, who earned his nickname by pretending to slop hogs near the stockade. When no one was looking, he would throw scraps of food to the hungry prisoners. Others tried to supply the men with country hams, but the Yankees confiscated those delicacies. A gentleman in Florida wrote to me that his grandfather, after his stay at Point Lookout, was so emaciated he could encircle his upper arm with his middle finger and thumb. Another prisoner, a Manlander, was so desperate to escape the camp that he hid beneath a pile of corpses on an outbound cart.

Saddened that such a place is associated with my native soil, I was nevertheless proud to have taken part in the descendants’ pilgrimage. But as I packed up later in the afternoon, I found myself looking ahead to November, when Point Lookout would be all but deserted, and I would drive back down to pay my respects at the small marble memorial next to the federal obelisk. Financed by the proceeds of jousting tournaments and socials, and originally located at the Tanner Creek burial grounds, the memorial was erected in post-Reconstruction Maryland to honor the men who died at Point Lookout. The words cut into the monument’s north face, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori,” will remind a forgetful world of their last full measure of devotion, no matter which flag flies over the bones of these honored dead.