Devil’s Punchbowl: An American Concentration Camp
By Nishant Chhinkwani

  A concentration camp in the heart of Nature built for the Slaves

Along with wonderful and surprising facts there are several ugly truths buried in the depths of history. Incidents and facts are forgotten, ignored or sometimes, deliberately, hidden from the common knowledge of man. The existence of Devil’s Punchbowl in America during and after the Civil War is one such story buried in history. An infamous period marked by the flourish of slavery and white supremacy, American history cannot ever erase the existence of Devil’s Punchbowl; a concentration camp responsible for the deaths of thousands of slaves, long before people had learned to associate the word ‘Nazi’ with these heinous structures.

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During the Civil War, thousands of slaves were freed and the wave to ‘emancipate slaves’ was strong. The liberation of slaves was a difficult affair to put up with and hence, unhappy and angry men of the army decided to recapture these freed slaves and put them in concentration camps or labour camps. One of these camps was located in Natchez, Mississippi, and was known as Devil’s Punchbowl. This camp came into existence when a huge number of freed slaves migrated from the plantations towards the north, in search of safe haven. The soldiers unable to cope up with the idea of treating their ‘properties’ as human beings, took all these freed slaves captive in Natchez. It was found that the number of slaves held was more than ten times the town’s population. Naturally, there was a huge swell of population overnight and management of the town was in chaos. After the Union troop was asked to manage this chaotic state of the town’s people and captive slaves the camp was built and the slaves were walled off. The Union troops’ primary target was to find a solution for dealing with the slaves, no matter how impenitent or merciless it was.

The camp was built in a deep dark cavern like pit surrounded by thick concrete walls and covered with green trees at the top. It was the perfect place, in the heart of Nature, for the Army to enslave people and carry out their regime of torture. The men were forced to undergo heavy labour throughout the day while the women and children were simply locked up behind the walls. Every slave, man, woman or child, was starved and kept in the worst of hygiene conditions. The slaves died of torture by starvation and exhaustion. After the slaves were dead, the soldiers kept their bodies to rot inside the camps. They never cleared or buried the bodies. Instead, they provided the inmates with shovels to bury their slave brothers and sisters inside the camp. Such conditions along with the camp’s location and the climate of the region contributed to the outbreak of several diseases that infected and killed the slaves. One of the major diseases contributing to the fatality was Smallpox. Smallpox alone killed over 3000 slaves in a camp that had about 20000 slaves dying in a year.

While the amount of truth hidden from our knowledge keeps us from getting more facts and precise details of the time, it cannot be considered as just an exaggerated rumour with little plausible facts. There are several counter-theorists claiming that Devil’s Punchbowl and other such camps were in existence for little time and that only 1000 slaves died there. But knowing the history of atrocities against slaves in America, it is less likely that someone would not consider these camps in the same light as the Nazi concentration camps.

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