Typically, when someone mentions the phrase “concentration camp” most people immediately remember World War II and Nazi Germany. However, the Nazi’s were not the only ones responsible for creating real life horror houses through concentration camps.
No, on the contrary, the Devil’s Punchbowl, which could arguably be just as bad if not worse than a Nazi imprisonment camp, was located in Natchez, Mississippi. Rather than holding the Jewish community captive, it held slaves during and after the American Civil War. Despite slaves receiving emancipation following the ending of the war, the army continued to capture slaves and then forced them into labor camps. The most notable of these camps, were the handful that were constructed in Natchez, Mississippi.
One of the many horrors endured by those held captive in the ‘Devil’s Punchbowl’ was that, “The union army did not allow them to remove the bodies from the camp. They just gave ’em shovels and said bury ’em where they drop.”
Paula Westbrook, who has researched through the Adams County Sheriff’s reports from that time period says that,
“When the slaves were released from the plantations during the occupation they overran Natchez. And the population went from about 10,000 to 120,000 overnight,” Westbrook said.
“So they decided to build an encampment for ’em at Devil’s Punchbowl which they walled off and wouldn’t let ’em out,” Don Estes, former director of the Natchez City Cemetery, said.
Estes also learned that while the Union troops would recapture the men and force them into hard labor, they left women and children to die in three “punchbowls.”
“Disease broke out among ’em, smallpox being the main one. And thousands and thousands died. They were begging to get out. ‘Turn me loose and I’ll go home back to the plantation! Anywhere but there’,” Estes said.
Up to a million individuals were recaptured and killed following the emancipation according to researchers. Not only did terrible living conditions condemn them to a disturbing end, but also the spread of diseases and illness. Unfortunately, like so many other chapters of American history, these particular accounts went completely unreported.
And no matter what the excuse, holding human beings within the walls of confinement and furthermore into hard labor camps, is never excusable. This is yet another disturbingly sickening scenario which we must draw the public’s attention to. History, especially dark history deserves a moment in the spotlight to bring remembrance to those who suffered such a grim fate.