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In 1864, the Confederate Army imprisoned nearly 600 Union Army officers and more than 300 enlisted men as human shields against federal artillery in the city of Charleston in an attempt to stop Union artillery from firing upon civilians in the city.[1] In retaliation, United States Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton ordered 520 captured Confederate officers to be taken to Morris Island, South Carolina at the entrance to Charleston Harbor and used as human shields for 45 days in an attempt to silence the Confederate gunners manning Fort Sumter. These men became known in the South as the Immortal Six Hundred.

Three died from subsistence on starvation rations issued as retaliation for the conditions found by the Union at Andersonville, Georgia and Salisbury, North Carolina prisons.[2]

Upon an outbreak of yellow fever in Charleston, the Union officers were removed from the city limits, and in response the Union army then transferred the Immortal Six Hundred to Fort Pulaski just outside of Savannah, Georgia.[3]

There they were crowded into the fort’s cold, damp casemates. For 42 days, a "retaliation ration" of 10 ounces of moldy cornmeal and half a pint of soured onion pickles was the only food issued to the prisoners. The starving men were reduced to supplementing their rations with the occasional rat or stray cat. Thirteen men died there of preventable diseases such as dysentery and scurvy.

At Fort Pulaski, the prisoners organized "The Relief Association of Fort Pulaski for Aid and Relief of the Sick and Less Fortunate Prisoners" on December 13, 1864. Col. Abram Fulkerson of the 63rd Tennessee Infantry Regiment was elected president. Out of their sparse funds, the prisoners collected and expended eleven dollars, according to a report filed by Fulkerson on December 28, 1864.

Five later died at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. The remaining prisoners were returned to Fort Delaware on March 12, 1865, where an additional twenty-five died.[2]

The prisoners became known throughout the South for their refusal to take the Oath of Allegiance under adverse circumstances.[2] Southern apologists have long lauded their refusal as honorable and principled.[citation needed]

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