Old Cahawba Archaeological Park to host Civil War history tour

Published 8:33 pm Saturday, July 25, 2015

Old Cahawba is now known as a ghost town, but it was once home to a prisoner of war camp that held hundreds of captured Union soldiers during the Civil War.

History buffs will get a chance to relive the history of the prison and other famous sites next weekend when the Old Cahawba Archaeological Park hosts its annual Civil War Walking Tour.

“Cahawba is a very special, historical and a very magical place, and I think the more that people understand the various aspects of the history … they’ll come to love and care for this place,” said site director Linda Derry.

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At one time the prison camp, which was known by prisoners as Castle Morgan, housed around 3,000 Federal soldiers.

“It was probably the most crowded prison in the war and maybe one of the healthiest,” Derry said. “When the men were released at the exchange camp, doctors noticed how compared to Andersonville how much better off these men were.”

Andersonville was a prison camp in Georgia that was at max capacity and caused Cahawba to take in more prisoners.

Many of the prisoners that were housed at Cahawba became famous when the largest maritime disasters in U.S. history took place near Memphis when a steamboat carrying them and a few thousand soldiers exploded.

“At the end of the war when they marched to exchange camp, they thought they were going home and they had survived the bloodiest war,” Derry said.

“They put a lot of them on a steamboat called the Sultana, and they had written their loved ones that they were coming home, and they thought they were going to go see their wives, children and family.”

The tour will take people to the old site of the prison and tell stories of Union troops that spent the last days of their lives confined to its walls that are no longer standing.

“You can still see the outlines of the prison and different features of it, so part of our tour will be of that prison and thinking about those men,” Derry said.

Derry said they will also read letters from prisoners who spent time at Castle Morgan.

“Sometimes we’ll hand out letters and let people read them, and then we’ll discuss whether they survived the war camp, the Sultana and if they went on to do something great,” Derry said.

The tour will also take people to the site of the old hospital that cared for Confederate and Union soldiers, as well as the site where Union General James H. Wilson and Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest met after the Battle of Selma.

“After the Battle of Selma, Forrest and Wilson, the Union and Confederate generals met at Cahawba in a house here,” Derry said. “That is recorded in Wilson’s memoirs. We’ll see and talk about that.”

The tour, which starts at the visitor center, will be held next Saturday, August 1 from 10 a.m. until 11 a.m. Admission is $8 per person. The visitor center is located at 9518 Cahaba Road, Orrville, AL 36767.

For more information, email Derry at cahawba@bellsouth.net or call the park at 872-8058.