Castle Morgan
This sketch shows Castle
Morgan at Cahaba as it
appeared when it was in
ruins after the Civil War. - Castle Morgan Civil War Prison, Alabama - Castle Morgan Civil War Prison, Alabama
Site of Castle Morgan
The Cahaba Prison, locally called Castle Morgan,
overflowed with more then 3,000 Union prisoners of
war by the final months of the Civil War.
Cahaba Prison Ruins
An embankment of earth
mixed with old bricks can be
seen around the fringes of
this open area. It is all that
remains of the Civil War
Site of Castle Morgan
The prison was built using an
unfinished cotton warehouse
at Old Cahawba as its main
Dead of Cahaba Prison
Markers for the 147 men who
died at Castle Morgan have
been placed near Old Capital
Cemetery at Old Cahawba
Archaeological Site.
Castle Morgan Civil War Prison - Old Cahawba, Alabama
Cahaba Prison at Old Cahawba
Finding itself overflowing with captured Union
soldiers, the Confederate government began
to establish a series of new prisons in 1863.
One of the these, Cahaba Prison, stood on a
bluff overlooking the Alabama River at the
town of
Cahawba, Alabama.

Called Castle Morgan locally, apparently in
honor of Confederate General John Hunt
Morgan, the Cahaba Prison opened its gates
in June of 1863. It quickly filled with more
men that it was designed to hold and within
just months was home to 660 prisoners of

The prison had been built using an
unfinished cotton warehouse as its primary
structure. Only five years old, the warehouse
had been designed to house bales of cotton
brought by rail to Old Cahawba until they
were shipped out via paddlewheel boat. The
railroad was finished in 1859 and work was
still underway on the warehouse when the
Civil War erupted. Confederate authorities
soon confiscated the iron rails from the
railroad and work stopped on the warehouse.

The warehouse was surrounded by a stout
stockade to provide more room for prisoners.
Two cannon aimed into the crowded space,
silent reminders of the bloodshed that would
greet any attempt at riot or mass escape.

As was the case in all Civil War prisons,
North and South, conditions were deplorable
at Cahaba. The water supply was polluted
and the old warehouse contained only one
fireplace. There were 432 bunks, but by 1865
the prison held more than 3,000 men.

Astoundingly, this mass of human flesh was
confined in an area measuring only 125 by
200 feet. The men suffered from disease,
insufficient food and a lack of clothing,
medicine, shelter and even firewood.

Despite such conditions, however, Cahaba
ranked among the least deadly of the war's
military prison. Historians estimate that as
many as 147 men died while confined there,
a death rate of about 2% (compared to
around 28% at Andersonville, Georgia, and
25% at Elmira, New York. It is a little known
fact that Northern prisons had a 3% higher
death rate than Confederate prisons during
the war, despite the notoriety of such places
as Andersonville.

Much of the suffering endured by the men at
places like Castle Morgan resulted from
Union General Ulysses S. Grant's decision to
end all prisoner exchanges.
Escapes from Cahaba did take place from
time to time, although most of the prisoners
were soon recaptured. Perhaps the best
known attempt was an unsuccessful one led
by Major Hiram Solon Hanchett of the 16th
Illinois Cavalry.

Seized by guards, Hanchett was moved a few
blocks to the old county jail in Cahawba. He
remained there until April 1865, when he was
killed under mysterious circumstances after
Battle of Selma. Legend holds that the
commandant and guards fled after learning
of the Confederate defeat and that Hanchett
was freed by town citizens. Confederates
returned to find him eating breakfast and,
according to the story, took him into the
woods and executed him. The real details of
his death are not known.

Many other former Cahaba prisoners died
when the steamboat
Sultana exploded on the
Mississippi River while carrying 2,300 former
prisoners from Cahaba and Andersonville
home to freedom.

The site of Castle Morgan is now part of Old
Cahawba Archaeological Site near Selma.
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Copyright 2012 by Dale Cox
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Updated August 23, 2012