James S Collum-POW Death

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
this story was written on sept 12 2014. true account of young man's death in point lookout maryland. the facts, dates, names, location, and documents are all correct.

Submitted: June 20, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 20, 2017






James S Collum

P O W Death

By Faye Collum Fairley


The year is 1864, it is June 30, and we find ourselves in the northern state of Maryland.  We are looking at quite a sight; fourteen feet high wooden walls surround an area of forty acres.  A walkway is constructed on the top of the fourteen ft wall.  Armed guards constantly pace these walkways to guarantee the obedient behavior of the men contained within. The guards often shoot into the enclosed area at the men just to ensure that the men know who is in charge.  There are no structures inside these walls.  The sky above is the ceiling.  The sun, moon, and stars light the way.  They walk on soil that once was rich and fertile.  Now the soil is rancid with body wastes, putrid flesh, and blood from wounds of the men captured inside.  


As some of the men were brought in, they were given small pup tents.  The tents soon ran out, so most of the men have no shelter.  Some of the men inside are without boots; some have no shirts.  Their state of undress was dependant on the circumstances of their capture.   None of the men have coats to protect them from the brutal northern winters.  Those who had coats lost them immediately to the guards.


 If you have not already surmised, this structure is a civil war prison camp.  This particular one is Point Lookout Maryland; it houses Confederate soldiers.  There are many other prison camps such as this one.  Aside from the locations, and the people inside, they are all pretty much the same.  Whether they are in the North or South, whether they house Union or Confederate prisoners, they all have poor sanitary conditions, non existant medical aid, and not enough food for one tenth of the number of persons contained inside

The only water source inside this area is an artesian well.  There are no designated bathing facilities.  I can only speculate about the bathroom amenities; with 20,000 men to use the bathroom, I am quite sure they have more than one place to relieve themselves.  No matter what the arrangements are, it most certainly is not sanitary, thereby creating more health hazards.

 For those who have tents, sleeping in the rainy weather is not too horrendous, but those who have no shelter from the weather, soon developed pneumonia, ghastly diseases, and incurable infections.  There is also a grave danger of bites and stings from insects, rodents, and snakes.  Most of these men will contract a disease called scurvy very early into their capture.  Winter weather with ice and snow is far worse than the rainy seasons in summer and spring.

Forty acres might sound like a large area of land, but when you consider there are approximately 20,000 men here at one time, that would be 500 men to 1 acre of land.  It is very crowded.  After so much human waste, sickness, infections, and filthy living arrangements, it didn’t take long for the water supply to be contaminated.  Diseases are rampant inside these walls.  With no medical supplies, or medical experience, the diseases certainly are claiming the lives of many.

During the winter, the men built fires to stay warm, but the bushes, twigs, sticks, and timber on the property didn’t last long.  They didn’t have any tools to cut down trees.  Most of the men were too frail and weak to do this anyway.

The disgusting odor coming from inside these walls is appalling.  The putrid smell of death, sickness, and contamination can be detected from a mile away.


As with all animals, the survival instinct is predominant in the prison camp as well.  As the more sickly prisoners drift off into comas and states of helplessness, their comrades take their boots, shirts, jackets, trousers, and tents; whatever they can take to survive a little longer.  These actions are not intended to harm the comrades, but to gain survival for another week, a day, or even an hour.  The soldiers will certainly leave the world nude, the way they came in.


It seems that inside the prison walls, there are various “stages” of captivity.  Aside from the demanding hunger pangs, the new arrivals seem to be still full of vim and vigor.  With brave talk and phrases like, “Can’t break me”, “I won’t give in”, “They’re just weak”,and other valiant talk that the others have obviously heard before.  This stage would be called denial.


Other men are still upright, but are not having much to say. They just shake their heads in response to the brave talk of the newcomers.  It was not long ago, they were voicing the same phrases.  These men have already learned that asking for food is the surest way to guarantee starvation.  Each night they hope that tomorrow they’ll get food.  Most days, they go hungry.  This stage of captivity would obviously be called acceptance.


Another “stage” finds the men moaning and writhing in pain on the cold, damp, infected ground.  Their health issues and infectious bodies have reached a monumental pinnacle on the pain chart.  The amount of suffering varies with each soldier.  The fever rises so high, that often times in the winter, the other men use a comrade’s fevered body as heat to stay warm.  The only escape from this inevitable torment and hell would be an early death.  This stage of captivity would probably have not been so unbearable with nutrition.This stage varies in time from hours, days, or sometimes weeks. This stage is aptly called persecution


The fourth and final “stage” of captivity is the saddest, but also the most peaceful.  The men slip into a comatose state, with only two body parts working.  The brain is working; it tells the body to breathe.  Inhale…exhale.  The brain also provides the body with peaceful memories and thoughts to make the transition more peaceful.  All the prisoners seem to go through almost the same steps of illness and death.  We are here, however, to see one soldier in particular.  Our soldier is James S. Collum, 20 yr old son of Henry and Roseanna Collum.  He is the oldest son of the family.  His brother John was only a year younger.  James does not know that his brother John was killed in the war 2 years earlier.


Relief comes over me as I realize that we do not have to see our James in the third stage of captivity.  I am also saddened to know that he is now in the fourth and final stage.  This 6ft 200 lb man has been weakened to a frame of perhaps 75 lbs.  Curled into a fetal position, he is totally oblivious to any sight or sound.  His body jerks with chills, and the lack of clothing.  He has already lost all clothing except what might have once been long johns.  They are now covered with residue of diarrhea and hemorrhaging, and have been reduced to rags, but at least offers him a modicum of modesty as his most private parts are covered.


A peaceful look on his face reveals that he is no longer in the tormenting pain.  His lips curl into almost a smile as his mind drifts back to another time and place.He is smelling mama’s apple pie,  inhale….exhale…..he can hear the giggles of his little sisters….inhale….exhale…..going fishing with brother John, ..Inhale….exhale…. hunting with dad… ..inhale….exhale….a fire crackling in the fireplace….inhale….exhale…..mama’s sweet smile,  inhale……..ex………….. 


Our James joined more than 4,000 comrades buried in pits on the premises.  A monument is now standing to mark the spot where all these men died.  Twelve bronze tablets stand with names of the known dead inscribed thereon. 

The End

© Copyright 2018 faye collum fairley. All rights reserved.

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