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The World’s Largest Prison: The Story of Camp Lawton

John K. Derden, Mercer University Press 2012, $35

Archaeological work done at the site of a Civil War prison camp in the piney woods near Millen, Ga., led to its public resurrection, which has been documented in The World’s Largest Prison: The Story of Camp Lawton.

Operational for only six weeks, the stockade was evacuated in the face of surging Union troops under Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman. Those six weeks were eventful at Camp Lawton, a place of human suffering and, in hundreds of cases, death for prisoners incarcerated there.

The book’s author, historian and long-time college professor, John K. Derden, writes that memory of the prison—built to help relieve overcrowding at infamous Andersonville Prison—nearly disappeared until 2010, when coverage of archeological investigations brought the prison to the public’s attention. Derden’s book recounts those events, but also serves as a well-documented history of Camp Lawton.

He delves into POW experiences in published and previously unpublished accounts and family stories, and narratives that relate experiences of prison guards, administrators and local citizens. The book generally examines treatment of POWs, the Confederacy during its last stages and the impact of Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Camp Lawton is in tone a scholarly, academic work, and likely will appeal most to those interested in Georgia history and Civil War prisons. Casual readers of history might have difficulty finding significance in a war prison that operated only for a matter of weeks.

But Camp Lawton’s story deserved to be retold in the modern-day era in a thorough and historically accurate accounting. Derden’s book has accomplished that mission.


Originally published in the September 2013 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.