The most famous Civil War prison is possibly Andersonville in Georgia, but there were other notorious prisons: Camp Douglas in Chicago, Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C., and Libby Prison in Richmond. This is only a short list of Civil War prisons. Casstevens discusses these and many others. There were 150 prisons, and she provides information on 27 of them, information collected from various sources that are documented here.
Frances H. Casstevens is retired from Wake Forest University. Her previous publications are, George W. Alexander and Castle Thunder (2004), Edward A. Wild and the African Brigade in the Civil War (2003), Clingmanís Brigade in the Confederacy (2002), and The Civil War and Yadkin County, North Carolina (1997). Her research and writing of the history of Castle Thunder prison is what prompted her to write a book on some of the other prisons. She had already collected some information on these prisons and decided to just expand on that.
Casstevens provides lots of information on these prisons, but she also discusses escapes and other topics connected with the prisons. These topics are the kind of prisoners there were. There were soldiers of course, but they also held spies, political prisoners, deserters, and others who violated military law. There were some women imprisoned too. One woman disguised herself as a man and was captured. It was later when her true gender was discovered.
Casstevens divides the book into two parts, Federal and Confederate prisons. She provides several photos from that time period; many of which came from the Library of Congress. These photos add to the stories of the book. She provides historical facts and statistics. She also provides several anecdotes from those who were actually there. The bibliography is quite extensive which includes print and Internet sites. The only problem with this book is the typos, which are a nuisance.
When the Civil War started there was enough room in the prisons for the prisoners. At first there were paroles and prisoner exchanges. This stopped when General Grant became the Unionís commander. He wanted to stop reinforcing the Confederate Army. He had a larger number of reserves to call up than did the South. This is one of the reasons the North won. They had a much larger population. Because of Grantís action the prisons became over crowded. Disease, lack of clothing and food increased. Conditions in the Confederate prisons worsened since the Confederacy did not even have enough food and clothing for their own army or citizens. Some prisons were bad because of those in charge of them or particular guards. All of this encouraged the prisoners to try to escape. Casstevens records these escapes.
Many prisoners died from disease, starvation, exposure, maltreatment, and being shot while trying to escape. There are large cemeteries near these prisons or they have been re-located. Some prisons are historical sites with markers, but some have become parking lots.
After reading this book the title is very appropriate, Out of the Mouth of Hell. This book is recommended to Civil War enthusiasts and belongs in any Civil War collection or collections on prisons.