Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Booknotes: Penitentiaries, Punishment, and Military Prisons

New Arrival:
Penitentiaries, Punishment, and Military Prisons: Familiar Responses to an Extraordinary Crisis during the American Civil War by Angela M. Zombek.
(Kent St Univ Press, 2018).

Penitentiaries, Punishment, and Military Prisons "confronts the enduring claim that Civil War military prisons represented an apocalyptic and a historical rupture in America’s otherwise linear and progressive carceral history." I don't think I've ever seen it put quite that way before, but then again I'm not exhaustively read when it comes to the Civil War prison literature. 

"Instead, it places the war years in the broader context of imprisonment in 19th-century America and contends that officers in charge of military prisons drew on administrative and punitive practices that existed in antebellum and wartime civilian penitentiaries to manage the war’s crisis of imprisonment. Union and Confederate officials outlined rules for military prisons, instituted punishments, implemented prison labor, and organized prisoners of war, both civilian and military, in much the same way as peacetime penitentiary officials had done, leading journalists to refer to many military prisons as “penitentiaries.”"

More from the description: "Since imprisonment became directly associated with criminality in the antebellum period, military prison inmates internalized this same criminal stigma." John Hunt Morgan and his officers, captured during their most overambitious raid, certainly objected to being locked up in the Ohio penitentiary instead of a POW camp. "The penitentiary program also influenced the mindset of military prison officials who hoped that the experience of imprisonment would reform enemies into loyal citizens, just as the penitentiary program was supposed to reform criminals into productive citizens."

Original in conception, Zombek's study encompasses both Union and Confederate prison facilities located east and west. The book "examines the military prisons at Camp Chase, Johnson’s Island, the Old Capitol Prison, Castle Thunder, Salisbury, and Andersonville whose prisoners and administrators were profoundly impacted by their respective penitentiaries in Ohio; Washington, D.C.; Virginia; North Carolina; and Georgia." The author also provides background history of the antebellum development of the country's prison systems, which leads to discussion regarding "how military and civil punishments continuously influenced each other throughout the Civil War era."

1 comment:

  1. As someone who *is* decently familiar with much of the prison literature, this looks like an interesting thesis. I don't think it is the whole story, but it does serve to remind us that the Civil War occurred within a larger context that influenced how everyone responded to the war itself.

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