James W. Duke

H. Junius, artist. Sketch included in letter from James W. Duke to his cousin, August 31, 1864. Charles Buford Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

A Confederate recruit from Obion, Tennessee, James W. Duke (1847–1917) was one of many soldiers whose wartime memories would be colored by their time as a prisoner of war. While no military prison in the North matched the infamy of Andersonville, there were nevertheless several Union prisons whose names spread fear among captured Southern forces. One of them was at Rock Island, on the Mississippi River in northern Illinois, an area renowned for its hot, humid summers and bitterly cold winters. Duke joined the approximately 12,000 other prisoners ultimately confined at Rock Island Barracks from 1863–1865. The prisoners were housed in 84 barracks, each holding more than 100 prisoners. Although stoves were provided for cooking, the barracks provided little protection from winter’s frigid temperatures, and there was little fresh water. Approximately 2,000 Confederate prisoners died at Rock Island (many of them during an 1864 smallpox epidemic). James Duke survived his ordeal as a prisoner of war, and, returning to Tennessee, married Nora Moore Duke and fathered two children.

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