Back to All Events

Crossing the Deadlines: Civil War Prisons Reconsidered by Michael Gray


Crossing the Deadlines:
Civil War Prisons Reconsidered by Michael Gray


The presentation will focus on my new book, Crossing the Deadlines: Civil War Prisons Reconsidered, which fills a void in the scholarship of Civil War prison historiography into the new century. I attempted to assemble some of the most promising and established scholars in the field shed light on recent trends and original research. Due to its eclectic mix of contributors—from academic and public historians to anthropologists currently excavating at specific stockade sites—the collection appeals to a variety of scholarly and popular audiences.  Readers will discover how the Civil War incarceration narrative has advanced to include environmental, cultural, social, religious, retaliatory, racial, archaeological, and memory approaches. My own contribution will also be a main focus, how Civil War prisons became a dark tourist destination during the Civil War.

As the historiography of Civil War captivity continues to evolve, readers of Crossing the Deadlines will discover elaboration on themes that emerged in William Hesseltine’s classic collection, Civil War Prisons, as well as interconnections with more recent interdisciplinary scholarship. Rather than being dominated by policy analysis, this collection examines the latest trends, methodologies, and multidisciplinary approaches in Civil War carceral studies.   Unlike its predecessor, which took a micro approach on individual prisons and personal accounts, Crossing the Deadlines is a compilation of important themes that are interwoven on broader scale by investigating many prisons North and South.

Although race played a major role in the war, its study has not been widely integrated into the prison narrative; a portion of this collection is dedicated to the role of African Americans as both prisoners and guards and to the slave culture and perceptions of race that perpetuated in prisons.  Trends in environmental, societal and cultural implications related to prisons are investigated as well as the latest finds at prison excavation sites, including the challenges and triumphs in awakening Civil War prisons’ memory at historical sites.

Michael P. Gray is Professor of History at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania where he teaches courses on U.S. History to 1877, the Civil War, Interpreting Civil War Sites & Memory, U.S. Military History, and War and Society-he is currently developing a "special topics" course on Civil War prisons and the home front.  His first book, The Business of Captivity: Elmira and its Civil War Prison (Kent State University Press, 2001), was a finalist for the Seaborg Award, and a chapter of that work, first published in Civil War History, earned "Honorable Mention" for the Eastern National Award. In 2011, he wrote the new introduction to Ovid L. Futch's classic History of Andersonville Prison, and in 2013, "Captivating Captives: An Excursion to Johnson's Island Prison" in Union Heartland: The Midwestern Home Front During the Civil War.  Gray's latest work is an edited volume entitled Crossing the Deadlines: Civil War Prisons Reconsidered, available in October 2018. He has won internal and external grants relating to the prisons, including "Civil War Prison Archeology: Team Teaching Public History on Johnson's Island" (2011) as well as the "National Prisoner of War Grant," Andersonville, Georgia (2014).  Gray also serves as the series editor to Voices of the Civil War with the University of Tennessee Press, which has produced more than 50 primary source volumes related to the conflict. In 2013 he was presented with the "ESU Student Senate Award for Outstanding University Faculty Member," and in 2014, he was the recipient of the ESyoU Employee of the Year Award for "exceptional service to the university and success of students." In 2015 Gray's expertise on Civil War prisons resulted in him being interviewed by CNN.  In the past year, Gray was also featured on the Learning Channel's "Who Do You Think You Are" with Jessica Biel, which dealt with finding the history of a lost ancestor incarcerated at a Civil War Prison..