A Southern View of History: The War for Southern Independence
PART X. PRISONERS OF WAR
In part ten we briefly examine the issue of the Prisoner of War camps. Much has been written about the horror of Camp Sumter, or Andersonville. Confederates were cursed for evil acts to fellow human beings. Again facts that caused the conditions at Andersonville will be revealed. We will see that Union politics left their own troops to suffer lack of medicine, food, clothing, and to die unnecessarily. We will also examine the Northern prison camps and attempt to understand how a wealth, resource rich country such as the USA could have had such a high death rate in their prison camps. Perhaps Northern historians have pointed the finger at the South and Andersonville in order to shield us from looking at their atrocious prison record.
Objective: To develop an awareness of the politics surrounding the taking of prisoners, the operation of prison camps, resources of both Union and Confederate governments to care for prisoners, and the policy of parole and exchange.
A. Prison Camps
The study of prison camps from the War For Southern Independence presents us with a multitude of examples of extreme hardships that many Prisoners of War suffered through. Studying prison camps through U.S. history tends to place almost complete emphasis on one Confederate prison, Camp Sumter, otherwise known as “Andersonville,” Georgia. The prison at Andersonville was built to house 10,000 prisoners. When USA General William T. Sherman began his march into Georgia the prison camp numbers soon swelled. At one point some 29,000 prisoners were sent there over a four month period. There were some 6,000 sick in the hospitals at one time and there was no medicine, for the United States had declared medicine was a “contraband of war”, the first time in history that this had been done. By being contraband, it could not be imported from foreign countries due to the Northern blockade, nor could it be shipped from the North to the South to care for the Northern prisoners. Lincoln’s policy, enforced by his army and navy, was to starve the South by blockade, halting the importing of materials including food and medicine and to destroy all grain, stock, farming utensils, etc. This had impact not only on the South’s ability to feed, cloth and take care of medical needs of it’s own men in arms, but also of its civilian population, innocent women and children, and of course prisoners in their charge. The North wanted to bleed the South of all resources, including man power. They were satisfied allowing their captured troops to be held in camps. Camps that had to be in remote areas, away from the invading Northern troops. Camps that would require men be pulled from the fight against the invasion to guard the prisoners. The Union soldiers, held in Southern prisons were mere pawns in Lincoln’s campaign against the South. This is one of the first points made regarding Northern policies that contributed to the suffering and death of her own soldiers.
The extremely high death rate amongst the prisoners at Andersonville can be attributed to many causes. The single most cause of death was disease. The food supply was short there and many prisoners became weak and suffered malnutrition. But the food ration to the prisoners held there was exactly the same as was given to the Confederate soldier, including the guards at Andersonville. The South did not have the resources at that time to care for their troops, nor the prisoners held, yet the North refused to allow food to be sent to their own men. Again, it is seldom pointed out that there was a food shortage in the South, particularly when Sherman was pillaging Georgia. As a matter of fact, the death rate amongst the Confederate guards at Andersonville was higher than that of the prisoners.
The cemetery at Andersonville contains 12,912 marked graves. This was not done and is highly unusual at U.S. prisons containing Confederate POW graves. The most common scenario was that used at Camp Douglas, located just south of Chicago, Illinois. On the grounds where it once stood there is a Confederate “mound” containing the bodies of the 4,450 or more Confederate POW’s who died there. Rather than take care and have respect for a soldiers body, they frequently piled the dead Confederate prisoners up and buried them in mass graves. In February 1863, 387 of the then reported 3884 prisoners died or 10 percent in one month. Its abandonment as a prison cap was urged by H.W. Bellows, President of Sanitary Commission.
The highest death rate at any prison during the War was at Elmira, New York. Elmira was created in May of 1864 by enclosing a 30 acre site containing 35 barracks (two-story, low-ceilinged, with unsealed roofs and floors) which held only half of the 10,000 enlisted Confederate prisoners, with the rest living in tents or sleeping in the open, even in the worst winter weather.
Clothing and supplies sent from the South were warehoused by the Commandant and not distributed for up to six months. Food donated by local churches was sold to the prisoners by corrupt Union officers. Many more prisoners were transferred into Elmira from the Point Lookout, Maryland, prison. Broiled rat was regarded as a delicacy and any dog that wandered within reach was quickly slaughtered and consumed even though it was a punishable offense.
A one acre lagoon pond produced from stagnant river water within the compound served as a latrine and dump, and led to large disease epidemics. More than 10% of the prisoners had no blanket, food was scarce and usually spoiled. Scurvy was common. The Commandant refused to “waste” medicines on prisoners and also barred Sanitary Commission inspectors from entering the stockade.
One doctor boasted “I have killed more Rebs than any soldier at the front.” There were few escape attempts because few prisoners were healthy enough to try. Discipline was strict and brutal, even by contemporary military standards. Hanging by the thumbs was a popular punishment for infractions of the Union prison camp rules.
An Erie Railroad train jammed with Confederate prisoners collided with a freight train on July 15, 1864. More than 100 injured prisoners were dumped into the compound untreated and most died within a few days.
Elmira is noted for the observation towers that were built outside the compound walls. Private citizens could pay ten cents and climb the tower to view the Confederate soldiers within the compound. Lemonade and cookies were sold there as refreshments for the viewers. A second tower went up on the other side of the compound, competing for “business” with the existing tower. The second tower dropped the fee to five cents. Evidently this was quite an amusement for the ladies of the North, to see the starving, suffering Confederate prisoners as most of the customers were well dressed women. I
Elmira’s extremely conservative estimated overall death rate of 24% was the highest of any prison camp during the War. The Confederacy held some 50,000 more Union prisoners than did the Union held of Confederate prisoners, yet more total Confederate prisoners died in U.S. prisons than did U.S. prisoners in Confederate prisons.
Approximately 9% of all U.S. soldiers held prisoner in Confederate prisons died, while some 12% of all Confederate soldiers held prisoner in U.S. prisons died. The Union did not have the problems of lack of supplies such as medicine, food, clothing and articles such as blankets as did the South. The North had a bounty of goods, supplies and medicine. For the “good North” who is seen as the moral beacons of the American continent, they could not send that food South to their own men held prisoner, and did not see fit to share that bounty in humanitarian efforts with its Confederate prisoners.
|Number of Yankees in CSA prisons||270,000|
|Number of Confederates in USA prisons||220,000|
|Excess number of Union prisoners||50,000|
|Yankee deaths in Confederate prisons||22,570|
|Confederate deaths in Union prisons||26,436|
|Excess of Confederate deaths in Union prisons||3,866|
*from UCV sources in 1900
When the food rations amongst the Confederate soldiers would become smaller due to the lack of available food, the food rations would have to be cut for the Confederate soldier and for the U.S. soldiers who were held in Confederate prison camps. This ration for the Union prisoner was not smaller than that ration of the Confederate soldier.
Southern officials offered many times on humanitarian grounds to release the sick prisoners to Northern officials without the consideration of the return of Confederate soldiers. Pleas for medicine and doctors to administer to the prisoners were made by the Confederate government. These offers were all refused or simply ignored. The Confederate government, even though it was strapped for resources, offered to buy medicine for the prisoners with gold, cotton or tobacco and that Union Surgeons could bring the medicines down to the prison camps and administer them to their sick troops. The offers were ignored.
On several occasions Yankee prisoners were released from Andersonville to travel to Washington D.C. to plead for relief and the resumption of exchanges. Their heartrending petition was published in the New York and Washington papers. Their pleas fell on deaf government ears as there was no relief offered. Lincoln was unwilling to interfere with Grant’s inhuman determination. The prisoners were allowed to speak freely about Andersonville and the conditions there. No where in there report can it be found that any murders had been committed by Southern troops, nor did they speak evil of the Southern leaders. In fact they spoke of Major Wirz as a kind man, and of General Winder, Wirz’s commander, they had nothing but praise for his kindness.
On two occasions the Confederate authorities were requested to send their very worst cases of sick prisoners North. It was thought that possibly humanitarian efforts were forth coming. Instead the sick prisoners were taken to Annapolis, and then photographed as ““specimen prisoners”. This was another propaganda measure to trick the Northern population in to believing the South was willfully starving and mistreating the Northern soldiers.
The North had plenty of food, clothing, medicine, housing, and had every opportunity to purchase and import and supplies needed if they could not produce it themselves. The fact is that the mortality rate was higher in Union prisons than in Confederate prisons. Consider the inequality in resources. Why is Andersonville the shame? The truth is the South did the best they could with what they had. The North did the worst. They allowed suffering of their own men held in prison by their policies and practices. They tortured Southern soldiers with neglect, starvation and disease in the face of abundant resources that were available. Where were the real war crimes committed? Was it Wirz or Lincoln and Grant that were guilty of war crimes?
References and Details:
“The Lost Cause: The Standard Southern History of the War of the Confederates”, by Edward A. Pollard, Chapter 38.
“The Story of the Confederacy” by Robert S. Henry, Chapter 28.
“The Truths of History” by Mildred L. Rutherford, Chapter 7& 28.
“The South was Right” By James R. Kennedy and Walter D. Kennedy, Chapter 1 & 4.
“The Story of the Confederate States” by Joseph T. Derry, Part 3, Section 5, Chapter 1.
“Facts The Historians Leave Out” by John S. Tilley.
“Facts and Falsehoods Concerning the War on the South 1861-1865” by George Edmonds.
“Prison Life During the War”, by Fritz Fuzzlebug.
“Wrongs of History Righted” by Mildred L. Rutherford.
“The True Story of Andersonville Prison” by James Madison Page
“A Confederate Catechism, The War for Southern Self-Government”, by Lyon Gardiner Tyler
“The Treatment Of Prisoners During The War Between The States, Compiled by Rev. Wm. Jones, Secretary of Southern Historical Society” Southern Historical Society Papers. Vol. I. Richmond, Virginia., March, 1876 No.3 . REPORT OF THE JOINT COMMITTEE OF THE CONFEDERATE CONGRESS APPOINTED TO INVESTIGATE THE CONDITION AND TREATMENT OF PRISONERS OF WAR. (Presented March 3d, 1865.)
“The Treatment Of Prisoners During The War Between The States, Compiled by the Secretary of the Southern Historical Society.”, Southern Historical Society Papers Vol. I Richmond, Virginia, April, 1876. No. 4 THE TREATMENT OF CONFEDERATE PRISONERS BY THE FEDERAL AUTHORITIES. Inside of Rock Island Prison from Dec 1863 to June 1865 By J.W. Minnich.
“The Treatment of P.O.W. 1861-1865”, by Samuel E. Lewis M.D.
“300 Days in a Yankee Prison: Imprisonment at Camp Chase Ohio”, by John H. King, M.D.
“Prisoners of the Civil War”, Southern Historical Society Papers. Vol. XVII. Richmond, Va., January-December. 1889. PROFESSOR DABNEY VS. “THE NATION”–TESTIMONY OF A GERMAN
“Andersonville Prison, A Northern Witness for Captain Wirz”, Southern Historical Society Papers. Vol. XXXVI Richmond, Va, January-December. 1908. From N. O, La., Picayune, July 26, 1908
“Two Important Letters By Jefferson Davis Discovered”, Southern Historical Society Papers. Vol. XXXVI Richmond, Va., January-December. 1908 From N. O., La., Picayune, August 16, 1908
“Andersonville Prison”, Southern Historical Society Papers. Vol. XVII. Richmond, Va., January-December. 1889. . TESTIMONY OF DR. ISAIAH H. WHITE, LATE SURGEON CONFEDERATE STATES ARMY, AS TO THE TREATMENT OF PRISONERS THERE.