On March 1, 1862, Confederate president Jefferson Davis declared martial law and suspended both the writ of habeas corpus and civil jurisdiction. Following these decisions, Confederate authorities were forced to deal with an overwhelming number of prisoners charged with such crimes as treason, desertion, intoxication, theft, murder, espionage, and fighting for the Union. In order to remedy the situation, Richmond's provost marshal, John H. Winder, established Castle Thunder Prison in August by commandeering three buildings on the same block of Cary Street: Gleanor's Tobacco Factory, Whitlock's Warehouse, and Palmer's Factory. Guards separated the prison's inmates according to sex, race, and sectional affiliation, imprisoning these groups separately in the facility's three buildings. Confederate deserters and political prisoners were housed in Gleanor's; black and female prisoners in Whitlock's; and Union deserters and, later, Union prisoners of war, in Palmer's. A brick area in the back of the prison was used to carry out punishment on convicted deserters, which included lashings and execution.
The details of her capture were reported in the Richmond Sentinel on April 22, 1864: The female Yankee surgeon captured by our pickets a short time since, in the neighborhood of the army of Tennessee, was received in this city yesterday evening, and sent to the Castle in charge of a detective. Her appearance on the street in full male costume, with the exception of a gipsey hat, created quite an excitement amongst the idle negroes and boys who followed and surrounded her. She gave her name as Dr. Mary E. Walker, and declared that she had been captured on neutral ground. She was dressed in black pants and black or dark talma or paletot. She was consigned to the female ward of Castle Thunder, there being no accommodations at the Libby for prisoners of her sex. We must not omit to add that she is ugly and skinny, and apparently above thirty years of age.
By January 1863, the 1,400-capacity prison housed 3,000 men and women, and diseases such as dysentery and smallpox were prevalent. Struggling to maintain order among such a large and diverse population, prison officials—including its commandant, Captain George W. Alexander—often resorted to violence. In April 1863, the Confederate Congress authorized an investigation and heard accusations of unauthorized lashings and Alexander's use of his large dog Nero to intimidate prisoners. In the end, however, Congress sanctioned the violence, which continued until Alexander was replaced by Dennis Callahan in February 1864.
March 1, 1862 - Confederate president Jefferson Davis declares martial law and suspends both civil jurisdiction and the writ of habeas corpus in Richmond.
August 1862 - Confederate authorities establish Castle Thunder Prison by commandeering three buildings on the same block on Cary Street in Richmond: Gleanor's Tobacco Factory, Whitlock's Warehouse, and Palmer's Factory.
October 27, 1862 - Richmond provost marshal general John H. Winder appoints George W. Alexander commandant of Castle Thunder Prison.
January 1863 - The 1,400-capacity Castle Thunder Prison in Richmond houses 3,000 men and women, and diseases such as dysentery and smallpox are prevalent.
April 1863 - The Confederate Congress authorizes an investigation into the treatment of inmates at Richmond's Castle Thunder Prison, hearing accusations of unauthorized lashings and Commandant George W. Alexander's use of his large dog Nero to intimidate prisoners.
February 1864 - Dennis Callahan replaces George W. Alexander as commandant of Castle Thunder Prison in Richmond.
April 1864 - New York–born abolitionist and Union surgeon Dr. Mary Edwards Walker is captured and accused of spying. She is transferred to Castle Thunder Prison in Richmond.
August 12, 1864 - New York–born abolitionist and Union surgeon Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, held as a spy at Richmond's Castle Thunder Prison since April, is exchanged.
March 1865 - Inmates at Castle Thunder Prison in Richmond are transferred south to Danville.
April 17, 1865 - Castle Thunder Prison's commandant, Dennis Callahan, and its clerk, Edward Folks, turn themselves in to Union authorities in Richmond.
1879 - Fire destroys the buildings that comprised the Civil War–era prison Castle Thunder in Richmond.
- Civil War, American (1861–1865)
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Zombek, A. M. Castle Thunder Prison. (2011, June 7). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Castle_Thunder_Prison.
- MLA Citation:
Zombek, Angela M. "Castle Thunder Prison." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 7 Jun. 2011. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: July 27, 2010 | Last modified: June 7, 2011