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Point Lookout is located at the southern tip of St. Mary's County, Maryland, on a peninsula formed by the confluence of Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River.[1][2] It is the southernmost spot on Maryland's western shore, the coastal region on the western side of the Chesapeake Bay. The point is part of Point Lookout State Park, a Maryland state park which preserves the site of an American Civil War prisoner of war camp and the Point Lookout Light, which was built here in 1830.[3]

Colonial period

Captain John Smith, the famed explorer who surveyed the Mid-Atlantic region for the British Crown, came ashore at Point Lookout in 1608.[4][5][6] He surveyed the lands and waters of the area, including the mouth of the Potomac River on the south side of Point Lookout and its small nearby tributary, the St. Mary's River. Smith gave very favorable reports on the area to the king of England, remarking on the abundant game and fishing opportunities, the fertile soil and the militarily strategic value of the area, overlooking the confluence of the Potomac River, Patuxent River and the St. Mary's River, along with its key vantage point on the Chesapeake Bay itself. All of these factors led to Smith describing the area as a prime spot for a potential British colony.

The first settlement in Maryland occurred in 1634 in nearby St. Mary's City. At that time, Point Lookout became part of St. Michael's Manor, one of the main holdings of Leonard Calvert, the leader of the new colony and the first proprietary governor of colonial Maryland.[7]

Because of its strategic position, Point Lookout was raided by British forces during the American Revolution.[3]

War of 1812

Origin of area name, "Point Lookout"

The area got its name from its role as a lookout post, used to watch British ship movements during the War of 1812.[8]

During the War of 1812 the Chesapeake Bay was a major route for British War ships, who established a naval and military base at near-by Tangier Island in Virginia for the Royal Navy under Rear Admiral George Cockburn with Fort Albion there, which constantly raided Chesapeake Bay waterfront towns, villages and farms and scattered community residents, and also eventually attacked and burned Washington D.C. and unsuccessfully attacked the City of Baltimore during 1813 and 1814.

Citizen militia in Point Lookout, pony express

During the War of 1812, a local citizen militia was organized in St. Mary's County. They established a clandestine base on Point Lookout in order to monitor movements of British warships on the Chesapeake Bay. The militia also established a secret nighttime pony express that sent riders with intelligence reports from Point Lookout all the way to Washington, in order to keep President James Madison up to date on British movements. St. Mary's County's roads were notoriously rough at the time, and the trek by horse was more than 80 miles, so a relay system was set up, passing messages from one rider to the next.

British forces take Point Lookout

The citizen militia worked clandestinely in the area for over a year, until the British came ashore, seized and occupied Point Lookout. The militia was no match for the overwhelming power and number of seasoned British ground troops. This had the effect of blinding American intelligence efforts in the region, and is thought to have contributed to the eventual Burning of Washington in August 1814 by British troops. President Madison and United States Secretary of War, John Armstrong, Jr. was later faulted for not aiding the militia in Point Lookout.

American Civil War

Sidney Lanier, noted poet, musician and academic who was a confederate prisoner in Point Lookout, Maryland.

Establishment of Camp

In 1862, during the American Civil War, much of the land around Point Lookout was transformed into a bustling port and temporary city of civilians and military personnel and numerous buildings, including a large Union Army hospital, a United States Army garrison at Fort Lincoln, and a Union prisoner of war camp to hold Confederate States Army soldier captives.

Prisoners of war held, conditions

Of the 50,000 soldiers held in the army prison camp,[8][9] who were housed in tents[8] at Lookout Point between 1863 and 1865, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, nearly 4,000 died,[8] although this death rate of 8 percent was less than half the death rate among soldiers who were in the field with their own armies.[3] The camp, originally built to hold 10,000 men, swelled to between 12,000 and 20,000 prisoners after the exchange of prisoners between armies was placed on hold.[8] The result was crowded conditions with up to sixteen men to a tent in poor sanitary conditions.[10] It was the largest Union-run prison camp, its reputation being one of the worst.[11][12][13][14]

Notable prisoners

War memorial and cemetery

Federal Confederate Cemetery Memorial plaque, over the site of a mass grave[8] of 3,384 Confederate soldiers, Point Lookout Maryland.

Mass grave

Today, a Confederate prisoner of war memorial and cemetery exist on the former grounds of the Point Lookout prisoner of war camp.[8][15] The mass grave[8] holds 3,384 Confederate prisoners of war who died at the prison camp. The grave is marked by a pillar inscribed at its base with the names of the dead.[16] The privately funded Confederate Memorial Park occupies a three-acre site next to the cemetery.[8][17] Although a United States flag is flown in front of the memorial, a prominent Confederate flag is situated on a flagpole just outside the gates of the grounds, in memory of those dead Southern soldiers.

Archeological remains

Because of the extensive water erosion of the Chesapeake Bay shoreline in the last 150 years, half of the original site of the prisoner of war stockade has been obliterated and washed away by the bay.[1][8]

State park and beaches

Today, Point Lookout State Park retains Point Lookout Light, the original lighthouse built in 1830, a fishing pier, boat launch facilities, public beaches and facilities, overnight camping, Civil War historical remains, and, reputedly, ghosts. The Civil War Museum/Marshland Nature Center has seasonal hours and is closed in winter.[1]

Whether real or not, Point Lookout State Park has long had a reputation in local folklore as a place that harbors numerous ghosts. This has been written about in the news many times since the Civil War.

In popular culture

The park is used as the setting in the Point Lookout add-on for the video game Fallout 3, which includes references to its use as a POW camp as well as various features of the park, including Calvert's manor and the lighthouse.[18]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Point Lookout State Park". Maryland DNR. Retrieved November 24, 2014. 
  2. "Point Lookout State Park". Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network. Retrieved December 26, 2013. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Point Lookout History". Maryland DNR. Retrieved November 24, 2013. 
  4. Hoobler, Dorothy; Hoobler, Thomas (2006). "Captain John Smith: Jamestown and the Birth of the American Dream". John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. pp. 153–159; 212–213. ISBN 978-0-471-48584-1. .
  5. Horn, James (2006). "A Land As God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America". Basic Books. pp. 83–87; 170–171. ISBN 978-0-465-03094-1. .
  6. Grizzard, Frank E.; Hoobler, Thomas (2006). "Jamestown Colony: A Political, Social and Cultural History". ABC-CLIO. pp. 203–207. ISBN 978-1-85109-637-4. .
  7. "St. Mary's County, Maryland: Proprietary Manors". St. Mary's Families. October 2002. Retrieved December 26, 2013. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 8.8 8.9 "Point Lookout Confederate Cemetery: Ridge, Maryland". National Park Service. 
  9. "Point Lookout Confederate Cemetery". U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved December 26, 2013. 
  10. "Point Lookout Prison Camp Records". University of Michigan. Archived from the original on February 26, 2005. Retrieved December 26, 2013. 
  11. "Prison History". Descendants of Point Lookout POW Organization. Retrieved December 26, 2013. 
  12. "Point Lookout Prisoner of War Camp". The American Civil War. Retrieved December 26, 2013. 
  13. Ken Stover. "Civil War Prison Camps". Civil War Retrieved December 26, 2013. 
  14. Brenda Smelser Hay. "Point Lookout Prison in the Civil War". Retrieved December 26, 2013. 
  15. "Point Lookout Confederate Cemetery". Find a Grave. Retrieved December 26, 2013. 
  16. "Point Lookout Confederate Cemetery". Retrieved December 26, 2013. 
  17. "Confederate Memorial Park". Confederate Memorial Park, Inc.. Retrieved December 26, 2013. 
  18. Brudvig, Erik (2009-05-19). "Aliens Invade Fallout 3". IGN. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
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