ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Confederate Prison No. 6, Virginia
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Confederate Prison No. 6, Virginia
Confederate Prison Number 6
The tobacco factory turned military prison in
Danville, Virginia, held thousands of Union
prisoners of war during the Civil War.
Civil War Prison in Danville
From 1863-1865, Union
prisoners of war were held in
six converted warehouses in
Danville, Virginia.
Confederate Prison No. 6
Only one of the six original
prison buildings is thought to
survive. It was built by Major
William T. Sutherlin in 1855. A
Confederate quartermaster,
Sutherlin later hosted Pres.
Jefferson Davis during his
flight from Richmond.
Confederate Prison No. 6 - Danville, Virginia
Danville's Civil War Prisons
By 1863, military officials in both the Union
and the Confederacy were overwhelmed by
the numbers of prisoners of war they had
captured in battle. As a result, the eyes of the
government focused on cities like Danville,
Virginia, where existing warehouses could
be converted into prisoner of war camps.

From 1863-1865, Danville was home to six
separate converted prison buildings that held
up to 7,000 Union prisoners of war. Among
these was Prison Number 6, a converted
tobacco factory that had been built by the
city's mayor, William T. Sutherlin, in 1855.

By the time the Danville prisons began to
open, Sutherlin was serving as Confederate
commissary in Danville. From his beautiful
Sutherlin Mansion on Main Street, he
supervised the collection and manufacture of
supplies for the Confederate military in his
home town and also assisted in providing for
the prisoners of war housed there.

Conditions in the Danville prisons were very
bad. In the most extreme months when the
old warehouses overflowed with me,
prisoners found themselves with only four
square feet of space per men. Only limited
amounts of firewood were available for heat
and most Union prisoners of war were used
to far better food than they received in the
prison. Daily rations usually consisted of a
small amount of meat, coarse ground corn-
bread, peas, cabbage soup, etc.

While Confederate soldiers in the field often
fared no better than the prisoners in Danville,
they were more accustomed to the types and
quantities of food upon which the prisoners
survived. In addition, the confined space in
the stifling warehouses allowed for the
rampant spread of disease. Smallpox and
other illnesses ravaged the men in the
converted factories and warehouses. At one
point they died at a rate of five per day.

Citizens of Danville did take mercy on the
prisoners and bring in what food they could,
but because of the devastating war they had
little to offer. The Union blockade of the
Southern coastline had all but stopped the
flow of medicine into the Confederacy and
there was little the doctors there could do to
help the desperately ill prisoners.

Like the Southern citizens and Confederate
defenders trapped in
Vicksburg, Mississippi,
during the 1863 siege of that city, the men in
the prisons often ate the rats that swarmed
through the buildings in profusion.
It is seldom remembered today that the
death rate in Civil War prisons both North
and South was boosted dramatically in 1864
and 1865 by the decision of Union General
Ulysses S. Grant to end all prisoner
exchanges with the Confederacy.

Grant believed that the only way to eventually
defeat the South was to cut off its supply of
soldiers. Since the North had far more men
available, he chose to let Union p.o.w.'s die
in places like Danville instead of exchanging
them for Confederate prisoners being held in
the North. The policy cost the lives of untold
thousands of Civil War prisoners.

By the time the Danville prison facilities
closed with the end of the war in 1865, at
least 1,323 men had died. Among them were
African American soldiers captured by the
Confederates during the Battle of the Crater
at Petersburg, Virginia.

Prison No. 6, although much altered over
time, can still be seen today at 300 Lynn
Street in Danville. The building itself is not
open to the public, but visitors can read an
interpretive panel and historical marker.
Photos by Heather LaBone
Copyright 2012 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.

Updated May 8, 2012
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