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  • Diane Janowski

Louis Leon, Captive at the Elmira Prison Camp

Updated: Jun 20

By Diane Janowski, Elmira City Historian



Louis Leon was born in Darmstadt, Germany, on November 27, 1841. Louis and his German-born parents, Abraham and Eva Leon, emigrated 1857 from England to New York’s Lower East Side. Shortly after arriving in the United States, Louis and his brother Morris moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. His parents stayed in New York.

Louis Leon in 1913. Image from his book Diary of a Tar Heel Confederate Soldier.


During the Civil War, Louis joined the “Charlotte Grays,” Company C of the 1st North Carolina Regiment. This regiment only lasted five months. He then joined the 53rd North Carolina Regiment as a private under Captain Henry White. Morris joined the 44th Georgia Regiment.


Louis fought in the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, was taken prisoner at the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia in May 1864, and was transferred to the Elmira Prison Camp on July 25, 1864.


According to his army service records, Louis was “5 foot 4 inches, with black hair, and dark eyes. He volunteered April 25, 1861 for six months. In April 1862 was conscripted for the War. Was born in Germany but has resided in this country since he was sixteen years of age. His parents and other relatives reside in New York City. Gave himself up voluntarily.”

In 1913, at 72, Louis Leon published his Diary of a Tar Heel Confederate Soldier as a first-hand account of a private. He mentions all of the daily chores at the Elmira Prison Camp, inconveniences, and events – some with humor, some with tragedy. As time went by, youthful enthusiasm turned to despair. Some excerpts from his diary include:



July 23, 1864 — Three hundred more were sent from here to the new prison in Elmira, N.Y., myself with them.


July 27 — We see the Jersey shore this morning. Our vessel was racing with another. We had too much steam up; the consequence was a fire on board, but we soon had it out. We landed at Jersey City at midnight and were immediately put in cars, and the officer who promised to send me to my parents refused to do so. We left here at 1 and got to Elmira at 8 in the evening.


July 29—There are currently some 3,000 prisoners here. I like this place better than Point Lookout. We are fenced in by a high fence in a 200-acre lot, I judge. There is an observatory outside, and some Yankee is making money, as he charges ten cents for every one who wishes to see the rebels.


September — It is very cold, worse than I have seen it in the South in the dead of winter.


April 1865 — I suppose the end is near, for there is no more hope for the South to gain her independence. On the 10th of this month, an officer told us that all those who wished to get out of prison by taking the oath of allegiance to the United States could do so in a very few days. There was quite a consultation among the prisoners. On the morning of the 12th we heard that Lee had surrendered on the 9th, and about 400, myself with them, took the cursed oath and were given transportation to wherever we wanted to go. I took mine to New York City to my parents, whom I have not seen since 1858.



On April 12, 1865, after spending eleven months in the Elmira camp, Leon took the oath of allegiance to the United States. He reunited with his parents at 93 Suffolk Street in New York City. In 1872, he married Sarah and had two sons, Clarence and Harry. They moved back to Charlotte, North Carolina, where Louis owned a steam laundry and later a clothing store.


Louis died July 28, 1919, and is buried in the Charlotte Hebrew Cemetery. He was one of Charlotte’s thirteen Jewish soldiers.



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