George W. Alexander and Castle Thunder

A Confederate Prison and Its Commandant

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About the Book

Captain George W. Alexander was a controversial figure in Richmond during the Civil War, honored as a hero and condemned as a cruel prison superintendent. He was appointed Provost Marshal and put in charge of Castle Thunder in 1862, after escaping imprisonment at Fort McHenry. At his Confederate prison in Richmond, he oversaw prisoners of all types, including Confederates, women, slaves, Federal deserters, and spies.
This biography traces Alexander’s life from the U.S. Navy voyage with Commodore Perry to Japan, hiding in Canada after Lee’s surrender, editorship of Washington DC’s Sunday Gazette to his death in 1895. The main body of the text concentrates on Alexander’s time at Castle Thunder, but the book also explores the evolution of the prison system and the provost marshal’s department, touching on unusual prisoners and escape attempts. Appendix 1 is a partial list of prisoners at Castle Thunder and when, where, and why they were arrested. Appendix 2 is a transcript of the court martial of Private John R. Jones. Appendix 3 lists prisoners sent from Camp Holmes and appendix 4 is a report of Alexander as Assistant Provost Marshall. Appendix 5 is a pamphlet published by the Republican Party National Committee; it struck at the Democratic Party by scorning its “military prison keepers.”

About the Author(s)

The late Frances H. Casstevens wrote frequently about the American Civil War and North Carolina history. She was retired from Wake Forest University and lived in Yadkinville, North Carolina.

Bibliographic Details

Frances H. Casstevens
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 279
Bibliographic Info: 5 photos, chronology, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2008 [2004]
pISBN: 978-0-7864-3730-6
eISBN: 978-1-4766-0707-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      vi

Introduction      1

Chronology of Alexander’s Military Career in the Confederacy      5

1. Around the World with the United States Navy      7

2. Sailing for the Confederacy: The Capture of the St. Nicholas      17

3. Escape from Fort McHenry      26

4. Assistant Provost Marshal Alexander      32

5. New Prison Opened in Richmond      46

6. The Lighter Side: Alexander-Poet, Dramatist and Actor      55

7. Life Within the Castle: The Dark Side      61

8. Spies, Traitors and Hostages      74

9. General Hospital No. 13, “The Lunatic Hospital”      84

10. Escape Attempts      88

11. Cruel and Unusual Punishment vs. Standard Fare      97

12. The Congressional Investigation      107

13. The Verdict      119

14. The Washington Adventure: Alexander Plays at Spying      125

15. Under Fire Again      128

16. 1864: Charlotte, Danville and Salisbury      132

17. The Final Months of the War (1864-1865)      144

18. After the Surrender      153

19. (1870-1890)      160

Epilogue      165

Appendix 1: Partial List of Inmates at Castle Thunder      169

Appendix 2: Transcript of Court Martial of Private John R. Jones      203

Appendix 3: List of Prisoners Sent from Camp Holmes in (September 1863)       207

Appendix 4: Morning Report of Captain G. W. Alexander (September 18, 1863)       209

Appendix 5: Military Prison Keepers of the Late Southern Confederacy      213

Notes      219

Bibliography      257

Index      265

Book Reviews & Awards

“excellent…easy to read…extensive research…invaluable appendices…a good read”—The Civil War News; “an in-depth look at a Confederate prison and its singular commandant…sheds light on prison rules and regulations for prisoners and guards…of great value is a 5-part appendix which offers a partial list of prisoners, and a transcript of a court-martial…a balanced account…entertaining and informative”—North & South.