The story of Andersonville is well known, often having been told by Hollywood, writers, and historians. The true story of Andersonville is not so well known.
Established as the location of a prisoner of war camp by the Confederacy during the War for Southern Independence because of its remote location from the front of the War and because of the location of the rail depot for transport, Camp Sumter at Andersonville was one of the primary POW camps in the South during the War.
Of the 45,000 Union prisoners held at Andersonville during the War, more than 12,000 perished, mainly from malnutrition and dysentery. The nearly 28 percent mortality rate among the prisoners is a sad fact of the War but is also one that is often grossly over reported, particularly in light of the fact that at the same Camp, 226 of the roughly 1,000 Confederate guards also died from the same conditions. Approximately the same number of Confederate guards and Union prisoners died at Andersonville because of the blockade that the Union had enforced upon the South, along with the scorched earth policy practiced by Sherman as he marched through Georgia and the Carolinas. Food and medical supplies were simply not to be had at that late date during the War.
To his credit, Captain Wirz attempted to alleviate the suffering of the Union prisoners by paroling five Union officers and sending them to the Union lines to offer the prisoners at Andersonville as an exchange for Confederate prisoners. In spite of the fact that the Union soldiers reported the scarcity of food and medicine available to the Confederates in Andersonville, their pleas fell on deaf ears with Union leadership. Union General Ulysses S. Grant had enacted a nationwide ban on prisoner exchanges; knowing that the South did not possess the food and supplies to properly care for prisoners, Grant sealed their fate by refusing to even accept an offer by Captain Wirz to provide food and medical relief for the prisoners.
Following the War, Captain Wirz was blamed for the malnutrition and lack of medical service provided to the prisoners in Andersonville. His efforts to alleviate their suffering went unheard; and on November 10, 1865 at 10:32 a.m., Henry Wirz was hanged in Washington, D.C. In an act of barbarity, his body was dismembered; and parts of it were placed on public display in Northern museums.
For the last 150 years, both Captain Wirz and the South have been blamed for the death of the prisoners who fell at Andersonville; but little has been said of his efforts to save them or of the same percentages of Confederate guards who died at the Camp. Still less is reported of the atrocities which occurred against Confederate POW’s in Union prison camps such as Elmyra Prison, New York where 25 percent of the prisoners died, or Camp Douglas, Illinois where more than 25 percent of the Confederate prisoners died as compared to less than five percent of the guards stationed there throughout the War. In fact, Senate Resolution 97, a joint resolution adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate in 1865, ordered that Confederate POW’s should be intentionally subjected to malnutrition, lack of medical attention, and exposure to the elements. While the stated purpose of the new U.S. policy was retaliation for the poor treatment of Union POW’s, it addressed neither the problem of the South having adequate food and medicine for prisoners nor the refusal of President Lincoln to provide for prisoner exchanges in order to alleviate the suffering of Union prisoners.
For interviews regarding the story of Andersonville or for more information on the Sesquicentennial commemoration of the War, please call Jack Bridwell, Division Commander for the Georgia Sons of Confederate Veterans at 1-866-SCV-in-GA or visit online at www.GeorgiaSCV.org