08 July 2013

Military Monday: Liberty Belle Island

Liberty Belle Island was a Prisoner of War (POW) camp during the Civil War. My great-great-great- grand-uncle, Benjamin Franklin Van Horn, was captured at Weldon Railroad Yard and held at Liberty Belle from 19 August 1864 to 15 June 1865. He served with Company H, 90th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Today that 54 acre island serves as a city park in Richmond, Virginia.

Originally known as Broad Rock Island, it is believed that the island was first explored by Captain John Smith in 1607. Over the years, the island has housed a fishery, a nail factory of the Old Dominion Iron and Nail Company, even a village home to a school, church, and general store.

During the Civil War the island was a POW camp. Accounts differ on the exact number of prisoners but it is safe to say that approximately 30,000 Union soldiers were confined there between 1862 and 1865. Conditions at the camp were horrific. The daily meal was often simply corn bread and some rice soup. The men were said to have suffered chronic diarrhea,  scurvy, frost bites, general debility, and starvation. Many men simply went crazy, forgetting not just current times but also their lives before the War stole their souls.

While he was imprisoned, Benjamin Van Horn's regiment consolidated with the 11th PA Infantry on 26 November 1864. The 11th PA Infantry was Mustered out of service on 1 July 1865.


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