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Breathing life into the immortal 600
04.28 stephen stewart
Stephen Stewart, a fifth grader at Rincon Elementary School, receives his certificate and prize for his winning essay on “the lost Confederate gold.” - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

As notorious as the conditions that made the prisoner of war camp at Andersonville infamous, life was no better and perhaps even worse for the “immortal 600,” said Allison Perry III.

Perry, speaking at Sunday’s Confederate Memorial Day observance at the Confederate monument adjacent to the Effingham County Courthouse, said their Union captors tried to starve 600 Confederate officers housed at Fort Pulaski.

From October 1864-March 1865, the Confederate prisoners were denied rations and subsisted on a meager allotment of food, Perry said.

“They could have foresworn their oath of allegiance and supposedly, the Yankees would have stopped mistreating them,” Perry said.

At Andersonville, the sprawling Confederate camp for Union prisoners, the guards ate what the POWs ate. At Pulaski, the Confederate officers there were eventually forced to catch and cook cats for nourishment, Perry noted.

The 600 prisoners packed into Pulaski also formed the Confederate Relief Association.

“Can you imagine being starved to death and being able to look out for the poorest among you?” Perry said. “That was on the mind of the ‘immortal 600.’”

Until 1863, the exchange of prisoners had been frequent, as Union and Confederate soldiers were repatriated. But, Perry said, Yankee ex-POWs often returned home while Union forces recaptured some of the same Rebel soldiers two or three times.

The Pulaski prisoners were originally housed at Fort Delaware before being taken to Hilton Head Island, S.C. Eventually, they were placed in an acre and a half open encampment on Morris Island in Charleston harbor. There, they were in the direct line of fire of Confederate guns attempting to return the fire of Yankee batteries that were shelling the city of Charleston’s civilian populace.

New longer-range and larger-barreled guns and mortars fired as many as 425 shells a day at Charleston during the campaign, Perry said.

After 45 days on Morris Island, the prisoners were moved to Fort Pulaski. Thirteen men perished at Pulaski and were buried there at the fort just outside of Savannah. Another five later died at Hilton Head after the prisoners were moved again. The prisoners returned to Fort Delaware, where another 25 died.

Of the original 600, 295 were able to stand for roll call when they returned to Fort Delaware, Perry said. Only a handful of the officers went through with recanting their allegiance to the Confederacy and swore allegiance to the Union, he said. Whether the promises of better treatment were kept, Perry said, remain lost to history.