Deadlines were common forms of crowd control in military prisons of the Civil War era, especially open stockade type prisons. What constituted the deadline varied widely from prison to prison. At many prisons, such as Andersonville, Camp Lawton, Camp Douglas, and Florence, the deadline was a low rail fence. At the stockade on Morris Island near Charleston, the deadline was a series of stakes with rope tied between them. At Belle Isle it was an embankment and trench. At several of the coastal fortifications, a deadline was not necessary, as prisoners were confined in the casemates. Interestingly, Elmira did not have a deadline, even though it was a stockade prison. The deadline at Rock Island consisted of a series of white stakes that were illuminated by lanterns at night.  Any prisoner crossing that line took the chance of being shot.

The Camp Sumter military prison at Andersonville was one of the largest Confederate military prisons during the Civil War. It was designed for a maximum of 10,000 prisoners. At its most crowded, it held more than 32,000 men, many of them wounded and starving in horrific conditions with rampant disease, contaminated water, and only minimal shelter from the blazing sun and the chilling winter rain.  During the 14 months the prison existed, more than 45,000 Union soldiers were confined here. Of these, almost 13,000 died here. 2011 to 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. 

Like many military phrases, American business has adapted the term to mean the time limit to complete a job – often at the risk of being "shot" if that limit is crossed.

Top image shows prisoners at Andersonville (Georgia) Prison.  Andersonville National Historic Site is the only park in the National Park System to serve as a memorial to all American prisoners of war.

 

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Tags: American Civil War,, Civil War, Military History, United States

Comment by Ryan O'Rourke on June 5, 2014 at 5:54am

This is great, Dee.  I have indeed wondered about the origin of the term "deadline."  It all makes sense now.  Thanks!

Comment by Kelly O'Rourke on June 5, 2014 at 7:56am

Very interesting!

Comment by The Wild Geese on June 6, 2014 at 12:41pm

one of the legendary Civil War chaplains, a man from Wexford, Father Peter Whelan, toiled among the sick and wounded and downtrodden imprisoned at Andersonville. Read more about it here: http://thenewwildgeese.com/profiles/blogs/fr-peter-whelan-serving-t...

Comment by Jean Sullivan Cardinal on June 6, 2014 at 1:49pm

Interesting!

Comment by Mary Collins Dolan on June 7, 2014 at 3:52am

Although we all know what 'deadline' means in modern terms, it is a fascinating piece of trivia to know where and how the word originated.  Thanks for sharing this!

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