Louisville Military Prison

Moving from the Medical College building at Green and Fifth streets, the new Union Army Prison (aka the Louisville Military Prison) location at 10th & Broadway began receiving Prisoners Of War in October 1862.

Positioned directly across the street from an L&N train depot (later Union Station and now Transit Authority of River City offices), the entire block of the property was seized from Simon Bolivar Buckner when he accepted the commission of general for the Confederate Army in 1862 and indicted for treason.

Louisville Military Prison Illustration
Louisville Military Prison Illustration


Upon acquisition, officials transformed this property as another Louisville Union prison compound.  In Louisville and the Civil War: A History & Guide (Civil War Series), Bryan S. Bush notes tall wooden fences encircled the entire block of 10th Street to 11th Street (East to West) and Magazine to Broadway (North to South) with the main gate standing on Broadway near the corner of 10th Street.  Just inside the fences, guard quarters lined threes sides of the block.

Positioned near the corner of 11th and Broadway were 150′ long wooden barracks for lodging the prisoners.  In the book City of Conflict: Louisville in the Civil War, 1861-1865, Robert Emmet McDowell adds the barracks were enclosed by a high wire fence as another barrier to escape.

Living Conditions

Confederate POW James W. Anderson wrote a series of letters describing his time in various Union military prisons including the Louisville 10th & Broadway location.

Anderson reports his space as small, but not overly crowded.  The brick floors and walkways were preferred to the sawdust floors alive with lice in a prison near Nashville and the muddy “pen which we now inhabit” referring to Camp Chase in Columbus, OH.

He does complain of suffering from the coal smoke of the nearby chimneys wafting over the prison walls stifling those accustomed to breathing “pure air”.

Anderson’s letters talk of meals served in the dining halls at high tables where prisoners stood to eat bread and a little “fat mess pork” positioned at distances for self-serving.  Variations in the meal included an old oyster tin of hot coffee for breakfast and supper; at lunch, the oyster-can contained bean soup.


Louisville area military prisons were considered too close to the Union-Confederate line just over the Kentucky-Tennesse border at the time of establishment. Therefore, the prisons were temporary holding facilities for prisoners of war awaiting relocation to prisons further North such as Camp Chase, or Camp Douglas in Chicago, IL.

Only prisoners too sick or injured to move were held in the Louisville area prisons for any length of time. Even after Union lines pushed deeper into Tennessee in 1863, the area prisons remained transfer depots.

McDowell states, with a capacity of 300 the 10th & Broadway location was the largest in the Louisville area.

Over 3,500 were on the compound from the opening in October to December 1862.  A year later, roughly 6,000 were imprisoned at the 10th & Broadway LMP within the same period.

Prisoners included Union deserters, infamous guerillas, political prisoners, POW’s and citizens found assisting the Confederate army or giving aid to Confederate soldiers.

In time, even those known to be discussing the merits of secession or speak in support of the Confederacy were snapped up from all around the state and swiftly moved to a Louisville area military prison.

These “notorious and dangerous rebels” included preachers and women providing aid in the form of food, clothing or other charitable aid to Confederate soldiers.

McDowell writes:
“Home Guards (Union leaning local militia) ostensibly organized for the purpose of protecting their localities from both invasion and lawlessness actually had attracted a goodly number of cutthroats and rascals, who took advantage of the opportunity to secure free guns and the license to prey on their neighbors.  Moreover, because the members were certified by the county judges, the Home Guards had a certain degree of local political protection.  Discipline was lax, and the had little fear of retribution for their deeds.”

With this flagrant abuse of power, it is no wonder the population of Louisville area military prisons increased over 70% in the span of one year.

In attempts to cull the number of prisoners Union army officials allowed parole by swearing an oath of allegiance to the United States and paying fees in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 the equivalent to approximately $95,000 to $380,000 in 2018 dollars.

Military Hospital No. 2

The 10th & Broadway location its own military hospital on the property.

Military Hospital No. 2 was a prisoners’ hospital located on the west and south sides of the compound and just one of the 28 hospitals in the area.

The two wooden hastily built barracks each held 40 beds with floors covered in sawdust and windows painted green to block the light.

As with all the area hospitals, Military Hospital No. 2 significantly exceeded capacity; particularly following the Battle of Perryville in October 1862 when 1,050 wounded soldiers were delivered to the hospitals’ doors.

The last prisoner was released from the 10th & Broadway Louisville Military Prison in 1866, closing with Union officer C.B. Pratt in command.

Burlingame, R., & Seekamp, A. (1912) Who’s Who In Louisville. Louisville, KY: The Louisville Press Club.

Bush, B. S. (2008) Louisville And The Civil War: A History & A Guide. Charleston, SC: The History Press.

McDowell, R. E. (1962) City Of Conflict. Louisville, KY: Louisville Civil War Roundtable.

Osborn, G. C. (1951). Writings of a Confederate Prisoner of War. Tennessee Historical Quarterly, 10(1), 74-90. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/42621065?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Rachel Garcia

Rachel is a high school history teacher and collector of all things vintage.

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