Point Lookout is the southernmost place on Maryland’s western shore and is now the site of a placid park dotted with monuments. But during the American Civil War, it was the site of one of the largest prison camps operated by Union forces.
Point Lookout was first surveyed and explored by Captain John Smith, of Jamestown fame, and was noted for its beautiful location between the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay. Its location made it the target of attacks during the American Revolution and the War of 1812—but that’s not why Point Lookout is famous.
During the American Civil War, the Union Army fought the Confederate States, which had seceded over their ability to enslave people. Point Lookout became a bustling port and temporary city that was populated by a mix of military personnel and civilians. A range of buildings were constructed there, including a large Union Army hospital, a United States Army garrison, and a Union prisoner of war camp to hold captive soldiers from the Confederate Army.
Point Lookout earned a reputation as one of the worst prison camps operated by the Union. The prison at Point Lookout held more than 50,000 Confederate soldiers over the course of the war, often under inhumane conditions. Overcrowding, freezing temperatures, and harsh treatment were common. The exact number of men who died there is unknown, but estimates range from 4,000 to 14,000.
Although the prison camp itself no longer exists, the 1830s lighthouse still remains, as well as a Confederate mass grave that is marked with a towering stone obelisk, estimated to hold the bodies of over 3,000 soldiers. Because of the erosion of the Chesapeake Bay shoreline, approximately half of the original site of the prisoner of war stockade has disappeared over the last 150 years.
With such a troubled past, of course, the site is rumored to be haunted by various specters. Ghostly figures and voices, a chill in the air, and a rotting smell have all been reported, especially inside the lighthouse, which has been uninhabited since the 1980s.
In popular culture, this site was the real-life location which inspired the “Point Lookout” DLC in the Bethesda game Fallout 3.
Know Before You Go
Check the website to see the park's current operating hours. Point Lookout sponsors historic programs and demonstrations throughout the year. Contact the park for a current schedule of historic programs.