It’s always exciting to have a box of new ECW books show up on my doorstep. The latest package, arrived this week, was filled with Derek Maxfield’s new entry in the ECW Series, Hellmira: The Union’s Most Infamous Civil War Prison Camp–Elmira, NY. While I didn’t write this one, it’s a project I was particularly pumped about, so I’m glad to finally see it in print.
St. Bonaventure University, where I teach, is about two hours or so to the west of Elmira. So, it’s not quite in my back yard, but it’s close enough to be familiar. I also used to drive through the area as a kid shuttling back and forth between divorced parents; as I traveled the Southern Tier Expressway, I always wondered, passing through Elmira, why the roadside signs all made such a big deal about “Mark Twain country.” Wasn’t he from somewhere along the Mississippi? Only after I grew up did I learn that Twain had married an Elmira girl, Olivia Langdon, and spent most of his summers there with her family.
I didn’t learn about the prison camp or Woodlawn National Cemetery until I was an adult. The camp had been buried under residential development long ago, so there was little to see. That has changed in recent years, as Derek’s book points out. The Friends of Elmira Prison Camp have done a lot to rejuvenate interest in the site, the Chemung Historical Society has preserved artifacts and history from the camp, and the John Jones Museum tells the important story of the former slave who buried the Confederates who died in the prison (Jones also had an important connection to the Underground Railroad).
I had once intended to write the Hellmira book myself, but Derek, who also lives just a couple hours away from the site—to the north—expressed interest in tackling the project. Knowing what a gifted lecturer and professor Derek is, and knowing that he grew up in the area near Elmira, I thought he’d do an excellent job. He proved me write. What a great little book he wrote.
Aside from Derek’s main narrative, the book includes the usual assortment of cool appendices you’ve come to expect from an ECW book:
- Jones W. Jones: The Great Care-Taker
- A “Most Appalling” Scene: The Shohola Train Wreck by Terrianne Schulte
- “The Best Avenue of Excape”: Berry Benson and His Escape from Elmira by Kevin and Kristen Pawlak
- “A Foretaste of Heaven”: How Elmira Gave the World Mark Twain
- Saving Hellmira by Terri Olszowy of the Friends of Elmira Prison Camp
The book also contains a driving tour of Elmira’s Civil War-related sites. I was pleased to contribute the foreword to the book.
While a lot of book stores are closed at the moment, making it hard to pick up a copy there, you can order the book online. And if you order through our publisher, Savas Beatie, you can get a signed bookplate for your copy.
For more on Hellmira, check out some of the past posts from the ECW archives:
The Ravages of Spring: Elmira’s POW camp swamped by Chemung Riverby Derek Maxfield
The Surprises in William Hoffman’s Photo by Chris Mackowski
Reconstructed prison building taking shape at “Hellmira” by Derek Maxfield
Escape from Hellmira! by Chris Mackowski
Who Do You Remember? by Chris Mackowski
Remembering “Hellmira” by Chris Mackowski
The Dead of “Hellmira” by Chris Mackowski
“Hellmira”—a Place of “Terrible Memory,” Nearly Forgotten by Chris Mackowski