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*The Devil’s Punchbowl episode is remembered on this date in 1865. This post-American Civil War atrocity in Black history took place in Natchez, (Adams County) Mississippi.
As Black slaves made their way to freedom, the town of Natchez quickly went from a population of 10,000 to near 100,000 people. In order to deal with the population influx of recent freedmen, a concentration camp was established by Union soldiers to essentially eradicate the slaves. Don Estes, former director of the Natchez City Cemetery, said. “So, they decided to build an encampment for ’em at Devil’s Punchbowl which they walled off and wouldn’t let ’em out,”
The camp was called the Devil’s Punchbowl because of the way the area is shaped. The camp was located at the bottom of a cavernous pit with trees located on the bluffs above. The women and children were locked behind the concrete walls of the camp and left to die from starvation. Many also died from the smallpox disease. In total, over 20,000 freed slaves were killed in one year, inside of this American concentration camp. Black men were recaptured by the Union troops and forced back into hard labor.
Researcher Paula 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.” Today the bluffs are known for the wild peach grooves, but the locals will not eat any of the fruit because some are aware of what has fertilized the trees. Estes said that during his studies he learned that women and children were all but left to die in the three “punchbowls”. “Disease broke out among ’em, 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’.”
One researcher has noted that skeletal remains still wash up when the area becomes flooded by the Mississippi River at the Devil’s Punchbowl.