When the inner gates swung open, new prisoners had their first vision of life inside. The noise, the stench, the crowd of emaciated men desperate for news, must have been overwhelming.
New arrivals were known as "fresh fish." Anything of value—money, buttons, clothing—might be conned or stolen from them. Even worse was the sight of other prisoners; in those skeletal forms and lifeless eyes, a new prisoner could foresee his own fate.
"Once inside...men exclaimed: 'Is this hell?' Verily, the great mass of gaunt, unnatural-looking beings, soot-begrimed, and clad in filthy tatters, that we saw stalking about inside this pen looked, indeed, as if they might belong to a world of lost spirits."
W.B. Smith, 14th Illinois Infantry
October 9, 1864.
Directly ahead stretched "Market Street," the only defined path through the jumble of shelters. Food wagons stopped there, prisoners had bartering sites, and prison merchants set up stalls in a pathetic parody of a commercial street.
Issuing rations to 33,0000 prisoners, August 1864