Angela M. Zombek, Ph.D., “Penitentiaries, Punishment, and Military Prisons: Familiar Responses to an Extraordinary Crisis during the American Civil War” (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2018). $45 hardcover, www.KentStateUniversityPress.com
The study of Civil War prisons has always been fertile ground for scholars. While much has been written about such notable places as Andersonville, Johnson’s Island and Elmira, studies of prison camps such as these have focused largely on the unquantifiable suffering endured by prisoners of war. In this well-researched and cogently written volume, historian Angela Zombek, assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, examines how those who managed Civil War prisons relied heavily on antebellum practices to manage thousands of prisoners of war.
Dr. Zombek, who examines prisons at Camp Chase, Johnson’s Island, the Old Capitol Prison, Castle Thunder, Salisbury and Andersonville, notes that the book’s purpose is not to “evaluate claims of intentional maltreatment or the degree to which prisoners suffered in each type of institution,” but instead focus on how officials addressed the myriad problems those prisons confronted.
Zombek’s study provides context for understanding why military prisons functioned as they did, offers a fascinating examination of how those confined in the various prisons the book examines attempted to manipulate rules and shape “the internal dynamics of prisons,” how prisoners and guards met their basic needs for human interaction, and how those confined attempted to free themselves. The book closes with an assessment of the legacy Civil War prisons left in the conflict’s aftermath.
Anyone who seeks a deeper understanding of how Civil War prisons functioned, those confined in them navigated their existence, or those who labored in them dealt with myriad issues, would find Zombek’s outstanding study quite valuable.