The Devil’s Punchbowl



Every day I find out something that makes me hate the whiteman even more.

These were the troops (Union) that we’re supposedly freeing the slaves. Ended up killing twenty thousand of those newly “freed.”


People mostly associate the term “Concentration Camp” with Nazi Germany but historians say they also existed in America.

During the Civil War Union Army officers in Natchez, Mississippi forced tens of thousands of freed slaves into camps built in what’s known as “The Devil’s Punchbowl”, local researcher, Paula Westbrook recounted.

Historians estimate that in one year following the Union troops’ arrival in Natchez, up to 20,000 freed slaves died in concentration camps.

“When the slaves were released from the plantations during the occupation they overran Natchez. And the population went from about 10,000 to 120,000 overnight,” Westbrook said. Her research included searching through Adams County Sheriff’s reports from the time.

“So they decided to build an encampment for them at Devil’s Punchbowl which they walled off and wouldn’t let them out,” Don Estes, former director of the Natchez City Cemetery, said.

Estes said that during his studies he learned that Union troops ordered newly freed but recaptured black men to perform hard labor. Women and children were all but left to die in the three “punchbowls”.

“Disease broke out among them. Smallpox being the main one. And thousands and thousands died. They were begging to get out. ‘Turn me loose and I’ll go home back to the plantation!’ Anywhere but there’,” Estes said.

“But they wouldn’t let ’em out,” Estes said.

Westbrook adds that, “The union army did not allow them to remove the bodies from the camp. They just gave ’em shovels and said bury ’em where they drop.”

WJTV NEWS CHANNEL 12 photographers would have liked to show viewers more of the terrain but it’s just too thick with plant life to get through. The bluffs are also straight down – so not only is it dangerous to navigate, it’s mysterious.

“It’s a bed of alligators and snakes,” Westbrook said.

“Then you come on up the bluffs, the washing away bluffs, and there’s the devil’s punchbowl that has so many people that no one knows how they got killed or when,” Estes said.

“And they’re still down there. Wasted,” Estes said.

“And even to this day they talk about wild peach trees that come up down there but no one in Natchez will eat ’em because they know what the fertilizer was,” Westbrook said.

Even now locals might discover old skeletal remains after flooding on the Mississippi River.