Jim Dunbar, of the Point Lookout Prisoners of War association, sculptor Gary Casteel and Robert Long, commander of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans camp adjust a bronze statue of a Confederate prisoner onto its new resting place located at Confederate Memorial Park in Point Lookout
The private memorial to Confederate soldiers who died in captivity at the Point Lookout prisoner of war camp during the war between the states now puts a face to the rebel veterans who suffered there almost a century-and-a-half ago — a face cast in bronze.
The statue, which is at the center of the monument built by private donations to the Point Lookout Prisoners of War organization, stands some 17 feet high from its platform; the male figure sports a floppy hat, tattered clothes, a bearded countenance with long hair and is barefoot.
He stares towards home, towards the South.
Members of the group that commissioned the statue, as well as put in long hours to build the park surrounding it with some contractor help, say it’s been a long time in coming.
“We feel like it’s giving them their due,” said Jim Dunbar, of La Plata, a member of the Point Lookout Prisoners of War organization that had the monument built.
“ It’s sort of like a crowning touch; it’ll be quite impressive.”
The statue was fashioned by Gary Casteel of Lexington, Va. who has been commissioned to build similar statues to commemorate Civil War battles including one of General James Longstreet at Gettysburg National Military Park. “I love the history [of the Civil War] and putting together a statue that tells a story, and this one at Point Lookout certainly tells a story,”
The whole concept of what has come to be known as the Confederate Memorial Park was born out of a conflict with the federal government, which barred the flying of the Confederate battle flag in 1998 at the mass grave where prisoners who died at the prison camp were buried.
The memorial park sits right next to the federal site; only a small patch of woods separates them on Point Lookout Road.
While the monument park’s birth was followed with some controversy, Dunbar said, the monument was designed to help educate visitors about the Confederacy and to also highlight the contributions of African Americans who fought for the South and were imprisoned at the camp.
“We’re trying to give a part of history that’s been overlooked of black contributions to the Civil War,” Dunbar said.
One such black veteran was Joe Yerby, a cook who died at the prison camp.
There are three other black veterans honored at the memorial as well, Dunbar said including Richard “Dick” Poplar who was captured while fighting as a member of the 13th Virginia Cavalry.
John Stober, a local defense contractor employee and member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said his family connections to the prison camp and those who died there are deep.
“ I’ve got at least five ancestors there and one of them died,” Stober told The County Times.
The one who died, Stober said, was Rufus Bowden, a soldier with Co. “G” of the 47th North Carolina Infantry Regiment.
“ He could have gotten pardoned by signing an oath of allegiance [to the Union] but he didn’t,” Stober said of his decendent who reportedly died from chronic dysentery. “That takes a lot of conviction.”
The Point Lookout Prisoners of War organization disputes the federal government’s number of just how many people died at the prison camp.
The government claims about 3,500 to 4,000 died there, while the organization claims the number was closer to 14,000.
Stober said that he stood in awe of what his distant relatives endured at the prison camp, disease, foul weather, little food and poor medical care.
“ Everything was taken from them,” Stober said. “It kind of makes me feel insignificant versus what they endured.”
Visitors to the monument will even be able to view it at night time as the statue of the lone Confederate statue will be illuminated by ground lights. Flags representing each of the states that fought for the Confederacy will also fly surrounding the monument.
“ To have the presence of a Confederate flag, that’s all people are asking for,” Stober said. “Nobody’s shoving it in people’s faces, but being remembered by a descendent you’ve never met, that says something.”
…County Times (07/31/2008), article & photo by Guy Leonard