Belle Isle was a small island at the west end of the City in the James River. It was used as an incarceratory for enlisted men -  it had a few shacks and some Sibley tents. A hospital for prisoners and an iron factory also occupied the island.

The men were allowed to swim in the river and some escaped in this manner. Cannon and rifle pits effectively discouraged many attempts of this nature.

By 1863, almost 10,000 men were imprisoned here. The old Richmond & Petersburg Railroad bridge to the island was called by the prisoners "Bridge of Sighs".

Belle Isle Prison has long been a center of dispute. The South claimed a low death-rate; the North, a very high one.

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