A Guide to the James A. Branch Collection, 1864-1867 Branch, James A. Collection Ms2010-054

A Guide to the James A. Branch Collection, 1864-1867

A Collection in
Special Collections
Collection Number Ms2010-054


Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Special Collections, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, Virginia 24061
Phone: (540) 231-6308
Fax: (540) 231-3694
Email: specref@vt.edu
URL: http://spec.lib.vt.edu/

© 2010 By Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. All rights reserved.

Processed by: Julia Viets Special Collections Staff

Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va.
Collection Number
James A. Branch Collection 1864-1867
Physical Characteristics
1 folder; 0.1 cu. ft.
James A. Branch
Two diaries and letters pertaining to James A Branch between the years of 1864 and 1867; they detail his life as a Confederate soldier, a prisoner of war at Point Lookout Camp, and a shop clerk.

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Collection is open to research.

Use Restrictions

Permission to publish material from the James A. Branch Collection must be obtained from Special Collections, Virginia Tech.

Preferred Citation

Researchers wishing to cite this collection should include the following information: James A. Branch Collection, Ms2010-054, Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va.

Acquisition Information

The James A. Branch Collection was purchased by Special Collections in 2009.

Alternative Form Available

Transcripts of diaries and letters are available in the collection.

Processing Information

The processing, arrangement, and description of the James A. Branch Collection was commenced and completed in July 2010.

Biographical/Historical Information

James A. Branch was a confederate soldier, a prisoner of war, and a shop clerk. He was mustered into service on June 5, 1862, and fought for the Confederate States Army until his unit was unknowingly surrendered to the Union Army on April 6, 1865. Until his parole on June 24 of that year, Branch was a prisoner of war at Point Lookout Camp, Maryland. Following the war, he ran a struggling shop with another man named Ned.

Branch was very close with his family. He often thought of his parents and visited his cousins during his breaks. Subsequently, Branch became inconsolable after the death of siblings Elizabeth (died on Oct 29, 1865) and Percy. In his free time, Branch enjoyed reading and taking nature walks. Throughout the war, Branch struggled with religious doubts and feelings of spiritual inadequacy; after the war, he physically struggled with sickness, most likely Consumption (Tuberculosis).

Point Lookout Camp, where Branch was held as a prisoner of war between April and June of 1865, was located on the tip of St. Mary's County, MD, where the Potomac River meets the Chesapeake Bay. Officially called Camp Hoffman, it was established on August 1, 1863, by Brig. Gen. Daniel H. Rucker. Initially, it was designed to hold 10,000 prisoners. Isolated, easily protected, and located next to a large hospital, Point Lookout Camp became the largest Union prison; it sometimes held up to 20,000 prisoners at a time and around 50,000 prisoners in total passed through its gates during the war's entirety. Prison conditions were poor: men were placed in outdoor pens lined with sand that contained only tents to protect them from the elements. Disease, water pollution, scant rations, extreme temperatures, and poor drainage were additional difficulties prisoners faced.

"Point Lookout Prisoner of War Camp." The American Civil War. Genealogy Inc, 26 July 2010. Web. 26 July 2010. http://www.mycivilwar.com/pow/md-point_lookout.htm.

Scope and Content

This collection contains two diaries written by James A Branch and two letters he received from his family.

The first diary is an 1865 account written in a repurposed 1864 Denton & Wood pocket diary. Branch describes daily life as a soldier: he records such activities as meals, guard duty, purchases, books read, correspondence, and sermons. A characteristic entry is one written on September 20, 1865:

Feel dull stupid gloomy. Have so much cold can hardly breathe. Early is reported leaving the valley stupendous achievements are on foot, and I feel anxious for the results. My God grant a happy tune rid of all our troubles.

The second diary covers the years of 1865 to 1867. It includes descriptions of Branch's surrender, his life as a prisoner of war, and the details of his parole. The diary also covers Branch's experiences after the war: he laments about his ill health, poor business, and the death of two of his siblings. Some notable entries include May 22, 1865: "Not a rumor after this morning God in mercy grant that we may speedily be released from this miserable prison This evening Gen Grant and staff passed through out pen in ambulances." On April 3, 1865, Branch wrote:

This is perhaps the sadest day of all the year to the Southern heart a most memorable day! One that decided the fate of R and the Confederacy May God grant not for over. How many here made poor by this step necessarily taken by our beloved chief May it prove for the better though we cannot see through the void as yet Just now our eyes were made to witness and our ears to hear negrew troops marching down our street cursing all white persons.

Of the two letters in this collection, one is missing the page's top half and is unsigned and undated. A prayer is written on one side of this letter and the other side contains a portion of a letter talking about family happenings. The other letter is written by Branch's father on July 10, 1864; he encourages his son not to lose faith.


This collection is arranged by material type.

Related Material

Carter J. Glass Collection, 1862-1864, Ms2009-004. Finding aid available on the Virginia Heritage database.

In Prison at Point Lookout , by C.W. Jones (E616.L8 J664 1866z Spec Civil War)

Point Lookout Prison Camp for Confederates , by Edwin W. Beitzell (E616.L8 B45 1972 Spec Civil War)

Smith Family Letters, 1861-1865, 1912-1996 (Bulk 1861-1865), Ms1996-018. Finding aid available on the Virginia Heritage database.

Index Terms


  • Civil War
  • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865
  • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Diaries

Contents List

Box-folder 1:1
Letters, undated, 1864.
Box-folder 1:2
Diaries, 1865-1867.
Box-folder 1:3