The Society of the Immortal 600 – No Monument for Morris Island
Okay fine, but who were the Immortal 600? The 600 (since you asked) were a group of former Confederate officers who had been intentionally placed under fire while held as prisoner of war. Veterans of the 600 had served time in various northern prison camps including Sandusky, Ohio, Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River, and ultimately on Morris Island, South Carolina – where they found themselves used as human shields in a stockade placed before the Union batteries conducting the siege of Charleston.
This may come as no surprise, but these practices along with the allegedly harsh treatment carried out by Union Colonel Edward N. Hallowell and his command of African American guards led many to direct anger northward – a practice that never subsided. In 1910, Thomas Coleman Chandler, a former officer who had left the Virginia Military Institute in 1861 to enlist with the Tyranny Unmasked Artillery, recalled his hardships after an early-twentieth century trip to Morris Island. This aging veteran, who had been wounded several times and captured at Spotsylvania, addressed his fellow former prisoners with imagery as vivid as it was animus. Chandler focused on a number of troubling aspects. “Suffering men” typical of most prison reminiscences formed the foundation of an argument attacking the Union commander and especially the “Negro guards” at Morris Island. These particular points most certainly would have stirred emotions among Confederate veterans reminded of the “brutal laugh of Hallowell and his niggers as they gloated over your suffering.”(This is Chandler’s language, not mine. As much as such language offends us today, I think it important to use their words as written).
Recognition of the official Immortal 600 veterans’ organization gained steam in the early-twentieth century when John Ogden Murray, a captain with the 11th Virginia Cavalry and member of the Society, began compiling information on the group with the purpose of publishing the first book-length paean to the 600. Funds generated by such a publication would be set aside to finance a monument to the group on Morris Island. In a powerful work intended to “give the world a true history of the wanton cruelty inflicted upon helpless prisoners of war, without the least shadow of excuse,” Murray vividly recounted how his Union captors “hated everything southern.”
While proceeds fell short of the funds necessary to construct a monument, Murray’s book nevertheless created a stir in the South and saw several printings. Seizing the commemorative reins, the Virginia state legislature recognized appeals to honor the 600 and appropriated necessary funds for the monument in 1910. Making sure to point out that any such monument would pay tribute to those “inhumanely treated by the United States Government,” Virginia legislators kept lingering hostilities in the forefront.
But the monument never materialized. For what ever reason, funding, politics – certainly waning interest did not play a part. Even today heritage foundations and other neo-Confederate groups demand recognition of the suffering of Confederate prisoners at the hands of the United States government. What do you think? Should the 600 have a monument?