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Cahaba Prison
Also known as
Cahawba Prison

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Photo of Cahaba Prison

Cahawba Prison described firsthand by people who were there:

Cahaba Federal Prison was located in an area near Cahaba (once known as Cahawba), Alabama on the banks of the Alabama and Cahaba Rivers.


Once designated as a cotton warehouse, it held over 5000 Union soldiers between 1863 and 1865.


The 16,000 foot prison was surrounded by a tall brick wall.  Prisoners were contained in old decrepit buildings which held no provisions for bedding.  Instead, prisoners slept on bare floors with one fireplace in the building to keep them warm.  The water supply was an artesian well which had become extremely polluted by the sewer runoff from the town and the prison itself.  According to stories told, the river often flooded and covered the floors of the buildings in waters running 1-4 feet deep.


The commanding officer at Cahaba Prison was Captain H. A. M. Henderson.  He  was a Methodist minister.  Due to his overseeing of this prison, prisoners were treated fairly and the death rate was extremely low in comparison to most other Civil War Prison Camps.


Today, Cahaba is a ghost town.  Archaeologists are working on uncovering the past of Cahaba Prison and town.  It has become an important archaeological site as well as a place to visit and see the ruins.


The Sultana Disaster.... In the early morning hours of April 27, 1865, the steamboat Sultana exploded on the Mississippi River near Memphis, Tennessee. The Sultana was crowded with former Union prisoners-of-war and was carrying over 2000 people. Of these, 1500 or more were killed either by the explosion, the subsequent fire, or drowning.  Read about this event in the book by William O. Bryant.....Cahaba Prison and the Sultana Disaster.

If you visit Cahaba, start at the Welcome Center located 14 miles southwest of Selma, off Highway 22 and County Road 9, at 9518 Cahaba Road, Orrville, Alabama.  
The Welcome Center is open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM.
Phone: 334-872-8058

All Prisoners buried in Cahaba have been removed to Marietta National Cemetery in Cobb Co, GA.

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Genealogists and Civil War Buffs:
If you had an antebellum ancestor that lived in  Cahawba or was imprisoned in the Cahaba Prison as a captured Union soldier, the Cahawba Project manager may have some information for you. Just drop her a note requesting a search of her research files. Be sure to include your return address, your ancestor's name, and as much additional information as possible. 
Write to: 
Project Manager, 
Old Cahawba Office
719 Tremont Street
Selma, AL 36701-5446.
Further Information:
Old Cahawba
Alabama Historical Commission
9518 Cahawba Road, Orrville, AL 36767
(334) 872-8058
Book Pick: Cahaba Prison and the Sultana Disaster by William O. Bryant This is the dramatic story of the Confederate POW camp where 5,000 Union soldiers were interred during the latter part of the Civil War and of the ensuing ship disaster.


5 out of 5 starsPortals To Hell

The Military Prisons of the Civil War

A well written and well organized study of Civil War prisons, North and South. The layman will enjoy the ease of prose and scholars will appreciate the authors meticulous documentation. A major strength of the book comes from the many firsthand accounts from prisoners and keepers. It is a good read from cover to cover plus the organization allows easy reference to specific prisons and time periods. It contains 32 pages of excellent pictures of the camps and men.  ORDER


Tracing Your Civil War Ancestor
Experienced historian Bertram Hawthorne Groene shows you how easy it is to trace your forbearers' role in the war, where and how long they fought, whether they were Union or Rebel, soldier or sailor -- even with a minimum of information. ORDER



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