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05.05.03 Horigan, Michael, Elmira, Death Camp of the North, published in 2002 by Stackpole Books.

Notes Concerning the Author:

Michael Horigan’s career was that of a high school history teacher, which allowed his view of history to be relatively independent of employment pressures.  That was most helpful, for there is no way to truthfully tell the horrific story of a major Federal prisoner of war camp in a northern State during the War Between the States.  The treatment of Confederate POW’s at Elmira was brutal.  And Michael Horigan is able to tell us that story in a honest and narrative manner.

The writer’s biography on the dust jacket of his book says:

“For more than twenty years, Michael Horigan taught and lectured in American History at Horseheads High School in Elmira, New York.  Recognized locally as an expert on the Elmira Civil War prison camp, in 1984 he was invited to serve on the advisory committee that constructed a memorial to the camp that was commemorated in 1985.  His views were also included in a 1993 Public Television documentary on the subject entitled, “Helmira: 1864-1865.”

The Society of Independent Southern Historians is immensely grateful to Mr. Horigan for his work in revealing and proving the horrible situation at Elmira and explaining, proving, its cause.  In Horigan we see a superb example of an independent historian, working outside of the collegiate academic community, beyond pressures prevalent there, who has the fortitude to uncover and bequeath to Americans a very important history of one section of the country’s damnable behavior toward a people they claimed to be wayward brothers (seceded States whose secession was not to be recognized as lawful).   


By way of summary, Horigan  wrote, “The Civil War prison camp at Elmira, New York opened July 6, 1864, and closed on July 11, 1865.  During its single year of existence, 12,123 Confederate prisoners of war passed through its gates.  Hauntingly, nearly 3,000 of them died during their incarceration.  Elmira’s death rate was the highest of any prison camp in the North — almost 25 percent.  Comparatively, the overall death rate of all prison camps in the North was just over 11 percent; in the South, it was just over 15 percent.  Clearly, something went wrong at Elmira.”

“The culmination of ten years of research, this book follows the gross oversights and unconscionable inactivity of the [Federal] prison’s staff.  Furthermore, the author believes that Elmira was purposely targeted for [so called] ‘retaliation’ by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and his fellow officers in the War Department.  Firm evidence supports this theory. . . .”

Of Horigan’s book, James I. Robertson, Jr. of the Department of History at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, wrote, “In this exhaustively researched study, Horigan points several fingers of guilt at Federal authorities for why ‘Helmira” had a death rate almopst equal to that at Andersonville.  This is the definitive work on a Union prison compound that should never have been one of the worst in the Civil War.”

Malcolm Marsden, Dana professor of English, emeritus, Elmira College, similarly wrote, “Why did the death toll at the Elmira prison camp — located far from the tensions of actual battles, in a humane and civilized community which had easy access to ample nutritious food — exceed that of other such prison camps?  Michael Horigan convincingly attributes the toll on interaction of several disparate causes: the paralyzing feud between the prison’s chief physician and its commanding officer; the Secretary of War’s determination to punish the South; the chaotic lethargy of military bureaucracy.  Horigan not only explores the camp’s history, but also the strengths and weaknesses of human beings . . .”

This book of 246 pages, written in a clear, chronological and narrative style, needs to be read by every person who seeks to understand the horror of what some call “The Federal Invasion of the Confederacy.”

Availability of this Book

You can get a new or used copy of Michael Horigan’s book on the Federal POW camp at Elmira by going to and to other places.  In addition to hardbound books there is a paperback book version and a Kindle e-book version.