SUBMITTED BY: Tom Fagart
Although not a prisoner in Elmira, the story of this Fort Fisher survivor should be told. Pvt. George Washington Benson, Co H, 36th Regiment, 2nd NC Artillery is the last Confederate survivor from Fort Fisher. Pvt. Benson was born 4 Nov 1846 in Bladen County, NC. His obituary states “George W. Benson was the last survivor of Fort Fisher’s garrison when he died in 1 June 1948 in Charlotte, NC”. “He faithfully served his 32 pounder on the fort’s land face and saw his comrades perish one by one from the fleet’s bombardment and then by the Federal infantry attack”. “Benson was taken prisoner, survived Point Lookout Prison and went home”. “He is the oldest Confederate War Veteran in Mecklenburg County. He retired from Southern Rail Road after 32 years as a ticket agent”. Pvt. Benson was 101 years old. Pvt. Benson is buried in the Newell Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, NC. Note: Pvt. Benson was one of the 639 prisoners of war sent to Point Lookout Prison, MD after Fort Fisher fell on 15 Jan 1865. The majority, 1,121 Confederate soldiers captured at Fort Fisher, NC were sent to the Elmira Prison, Elmira, NY.
Living conditions in the Elmira Prison (aka HELLMIRA) were extremely difficult, especially for the Fort Fisher men who arrived there without proper clothing. The cold New York winter was extreme, food was being intentionally withheld, medical treatment was sparse, and disease was rampant. Sanitary conditions were terrible and were further exuberated by Foster’s Pond. There was a thriving business of catching and selling rats for consumption. Elmira incarcerated a total of 12,121 Confederate soldiers on approximately 30 acres of land which was intended for 5,000 men “with crowding’. There were not enough building to house the men and almost half of the men lived in tents. 2,970 men died in Elmira, a 24.5% death rate, the highest death rate of any Union Army prison camp. Elmira Prison operated for 370 days and averaged 8 deaths per day.
Other interesting facts about Fort Fisher men: Although this Fort Fisher man was not in the Elmira Prison, the story of his military service should be told in this report. Pvt. Christopher Columbus Bland from Pitt County, North Carolina is the only Fort Fisher man to be awarded the Confederate Medal of Honor. Although the Confederacy did not have during the war a medal that was designated “Medal of Honor” the Confederacy did have a “Roll of Honor”. The war ended before a medal such as the “Medal of Honor” was created, however, being listed on the “Roll of Honor” was the equivalent. Due to this circumstance of not having a medal, the Sons of Confederate Veterans created a “Confederate Medal of Honor”. On January 15, 1995, at Fort Fisher, a service was conducted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, George Davis Camp #5 and the Confederate Medal of Honor was presented posthumously to Pvt. Christopher C. Bland, Co K, 36th Reg., 2nd NC Artillery for his superior performance of duty on 24 Dec 1864 during the 1st Battle of Fort Fisher. On 15 Jan 1865 Fort Fisher fell under the Union second attack. During the second battle, Pvt. Bland was wounded in the leg, sent to Point Lookout Prison where his leg was removed. On 3 June 1865 he was paroled and released after taking the Oath of Allegiance and returned home to Pitt County, NC. On 17 Oct 1917 he died. Pvt. Bland is buried in the Hancock Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Ayden, Pitt County, NC. His Confederate Medal of Honor is on display in the Fort Fisher Museum, Carolina Beach, NC. This is the only Confederate Medal of Honor bestowed upon a Confederate soldier for service at Fort Fisher. Fifty – four U.S. Medals of Honor with given to soldiers and sailors of Union forces at Fort Fisher.
References: National Archives, US Records of Prisoners of War, 1861 – 1865, NY, Elmira, Military Prison, Prisoner Register, 1862 – 1865, v. 218 – 220, images 343 – 355 of 399 and images 357 – 374 of 399. Note: images 343 – 355 show the 501 names of the Fort Fisher men who arrived in Elmira on 30 Jan 1865 and images 357 – 374 show the 653 names of the Fort Fisher men who arrived in Elmira on 1 Feb 1865.
“Fort Fisher to Elmira, The Fatal Journey of 518 Confederate Soldiers” by Richard H. Triebe
“Friends of Elmira Civil War Prison Camp”, Elmira, NY www.elmiraprisoncamp.com
“Friends of Fort Fisher”, Kure Beach, NC www.friendsoffortfisher.com
“The American Jew As Soldier and Patriot” by Simon Wolf, published 1895
“The Jewish Confederates” by Robert N. Rosen, published 2000
“Fort Fisher to Elmira, The Fatal Journey of 518 Confederate Soldiers” by Richard H. Triebe “Confederate Goliath, The Battle of Fort Fisher” by Rod Gragg
“Rebel Gibraltar” by James L. Walker
“The Wilmington Campaign, Last Day of Departing Hope” by Chris E. Fonvielle Jr.
“Elmira, Death Camp of the North” by Michael Horigan
“My Experience In The Confederate Army and in Northern Prisons” by John R. King, Roanoke, W. VA, February 23, 1916
“The Elmira Prison Camp, A History of the Military Prison at Elmira, New York July 6, 1864 – July 10, 1865” by Clay W. Holmes, new appendix by Diane Janowski
Tom Fagart, Concord, NC, November 2015, Board Member Friends of Elmira Civil War Prison Camp and Member Friends of Fort Fisher & Descendants of Fort Fisher