Andersonville, the largest and the deadliest POW camp for the Americans
The POW camp at Andersonville, Georgia was the largest prisoner of War camp for the American.s It was called Camp Sumter, and it was the deadliest POW camp for the Americans. In all, 12,913 of the approximately 45,000 Union prisoners died there due to starvation, malnutrition, diarrhea, and disease. The condition at camp was so bad that over a hundred Confederate guard also die of malnutrition and disease while guarding the prisoners. Today, on the former site of Camp Sumter is a National POW Museum to honor American POW from all wars with an extensive collections from "Hanoi Hilton" and the Vietnam War, a cemetery for Union soldiers perished at the camp and the Camp Sumter itself. It is rather ironic that the largest and the deadliest POW camp for Americans is located on the American soil!
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The execution of Henry Wirz
10 November 1865 | Washington, DC
On November 10, 1865, at Old Capitol Prison, Henry Wirz received the last rites of his church. He told Father Boyle that he forgave his enemies. The officer in charge of the execution came and told him that his time had come. "I am ready, Sir," Wirz replied.
The gallows was near the spot where on July 7, Mary Surratt and three conspirators that plotted Lincoln's assassination were executed (see photo of execution of Lincoln Conspirators). For more information on Wirz execution, see the excellent footnote page "Civil war Hangings & other Execution" by BGILL in the related Pages.
In a carnival atmosphere, surrounded by soldiers shouting "Andersonville, Andersonville" over and over as Henry Wirz mount the steps of the gallows. The executioner did not grease the noose and made the drop short, so it will not break the Wirz's neck, thus assuring Wirz will not die quickly. He was buried next to the graves of conspirators for Lincoln's assassination.
Henry Wirz was the only Confederate official to be tried and convicted of war crimes
resulting from the Civil War.
In 1868, President Andrew Johnson finally did the right thing, what Lincoln would have done, he allowed Wirz and Mary Surratt's family to reclaimed the bodies and give them a proper burial. Also returned to his family was the body of John Wikes Booth, which had been secretly buried in prison yard. John's remain was reinterred in Booth family plot in Baltimore Maryland.
The Trial of Henry Wirz
23 August, 1865 | Washington, DC
After the war, Henry Wirz, commandant at Andersonville, was court-martialed on charges of conspiracy and murder. On August 23, 1865, a Military Commission of the War Department, on the orders of the President, filed two charges against Wirz, the first alleging that Wirz had conspired with Jefferson Davis, John H. Winder, and various other high ranking Confederate officials to "impair the health and destroy the lives" of Union prisoners of war. The second charge had thirteen specifications, alleging that Wirz had murdered thirteen Union prisoners of war at Andersonville by shooting, stomping, subjecting such prisoners to the mauling of bloodhounds, and various other mistreatment.
Wirz was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to death, even though there were no proof of him ever killed any of the Union prisoners. Wirz was offered a pardon if he would name president Jefferson Davis as a conspirator, but Wirz refused to make the false testimony against the president of the Confederate State of America.
1 January 1864 | Elmira, New york
During the American Civil War, captured prisoners of war were often exchanged in a process called parole. Capture prisoner are often allowed to go home with promise not to fight again until exchanged. This was why many Civil War soldiers were listed as being captured several times.
Problem with parole begun when African American started to enlist in the Union Army. The Confederate would send a captured African American soldier back to their slave owners and in some case, executed them on the spot as in the case of Fort Pillow, Tennessee.
The parole system broke down over the slave issues and both sides were forced to create POW camps for the captured prisoners. Neither sides treat the POWs well, for an example, many Confederate POWs were sent to Elmira, New York with no winter clothing. Approximately 12, 000 Confederate were held in Elmira, of this number, approximately 3,000 died.
Andersonville, the POW camp
1 January 1864. | Andersonville, Georgia
Andersonville was officially called Camp Sumter by the Confederate and was located near the town of Andersonville, Georgia. The prison originally covered about 16.5 acres of land enclosed by a 16-foot high stockade. In June, 1864 it was enlarged to 26.5 acres . The stockade was in the shape of a parallelogram 1,620 feet by 779 feet Guard towers, called pigeon roosts, were established at 30-yard intervals. Inside the stockade, a light fence known as "The Dead Line" was erected approximately 3 feet inside the stockade wall to demarcate a no-man's land keeping the prisoners away from the stockade wall. Anyone crossing this line was shot by sentries in the pigeon roosts. Many prisoners have chosen to cross dead line so can be killed rather than continue suffering.
Andersonville Prison was frequently undersupplied with food. Even when sufficient quantities were available, the supplies were of poor quality and poorly prepared. During the summer of 1864, Union prisoners suffered greatly from hunger, exposure, and disease. Within seven months, about a third of them died from disease and were buried in mass graves, where the bodies are laying side by side with their names a wooden board over their body.
The supplies for the prison guards were the same, except for their water supply, which was up stream from the prison, thus were cleaner. Confederate records indicated that 126 prison guards die of sickness during the period.
In September 1864, as William T. Sherman's advancing army came within one hundred miles of Andersonville. Even though there were virtually no Confederate Army in his way, Sherman decided to bypass the camp as he was in a hurry to "march to the sea ", although a handful of escapees from the camp did join him. Sherman want to capture Savannah. GA as a Christmas present for President Lincoln.
After the war, thanks to Clara Barton, the Union dead were reinterred with individual graves, and cemetary was created. It contains 13,714 graves, of which 921 are marked "unknown.", an amazing feat considering the bodies were buried in mass graves with only a wooden board to identify the deceased.
1 August 1863 | Andersonville, Georgia
The POW at Andersonville was notorious for its high death rate 0f 30%. This number would have been even higher, except for the miraculous appearance of the Providence Spring, which provided good source of water for the prisoners.
The water supply for the Andersonville camp was a small stream that runs the length of the camp. It was the water source and sewer for the prisoners. The prison guards and their animals lay upstream from the camp, so the prisoners get already polluted water. Then a miracle happened in August, as many prisoner praying for better food and water, They received a thunderstorm that appeared in a clear sky right over them and became very strong. They received the rain with freshwater. They also received a monster lightning bolt which struck the ground, and a new spring of cool, clean water that appeared at the spot the lightning hit. Increditably, no one was hurt by the lightning eventhough the camp was crowded.
The spring still flows today , it is now called Providence Spring, and probabily prevent the death toll from going even higher.
11 July 1864 | Andersonville, Georgia
The Andersonville Raiders were a band of rogue soldiers held prisoner at the Andersonville Prison during the American Civil War. Led by their chieftains Charles Curtis, John Sarsfield, Patrick Delaney, Teri Sullivan, William Collins, and A. Muir, these soldiers terrorized their fellow prisoners, robbing and sometimes even murdering them. An internal police force of other soldiers, called the "regulators," eventually formed to counter the raiders and brought them to trial. On July 11, 1864, six of the leading raiders were hanged, ending their control of the prison. The ropes and the woods for the gallow were provided the Confederate.
The executed raiders were placed in seperate graves well away from the mass graves for the other prisoners, ironically they were buried in their own seperate graves. Sadly, the death toll continued in the prison and the graves quickly grew passed the raider's graves. Today, the raider's graves are almost in the center of cemetery.
I visited Andersonville on Memorial Day 2007, there were American flags on every graves, except the six raider's graves.