John W. Jones was born in 1817 on a plantation in Virginia. At the age of 27 he and four others fled their plantation and made a hazard filled 300-mile journey to Elmira. Jones settled in the area where he learned to read and write, and by 1851 he was an active agent on the Underground Railroad helping over 800 slaves escape to Canada. In 1864, Jones was caretaker of Woodlawn Cemetery when he was contracted to bury the confederate dead from Elmira Prison. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAiKHcWNa5Q
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Editor’s Note: WSKG has asked faculty and graduate students in the History Department at Binghamton University to explore the history behind PBS’s new Civil War medical drama Mercy Street. In today’s blog post, graduate student Gary Emerson discusses the medical care at the Elmira Prison Camp. Medical Care at Elmira Prison Camp
Although medical care improved over the course of the Civil War, prisoners often received inadequate and sometimes negligent medical care in prison camps. When prisoner exchanges broke down in the summer of 1863, both the Union and Confederate armies began placing large numbers of captured men into prison camps. Both sides were unprepared for this turn of events, and what followed proved disastrous. In the summer of 1864, the Union established a prison camp in Elmira, New York to house captured Confederates.
A hundred and fifty years ago this summer, the Civil War prison camp in Elmira, New York closed its doors for the last time. At a recent press conference, the Friends of the Elmira Civil War Prison Camp officially kicked off their fundraising efforts to preserve the last known surviving piece of the prison. Between 1864 and 1865, roughly 12,000 Confederate prisoners were held at Elmira Prison. Nicknamed “Helmira” by the inmates, nearly 25% of prisoners detained there would die as a result of unsanitary conditions. Today, the former site of the prison is a residential neighborhood and the only visible reminders of the camp are a few stone markers scattered amongst the houses.