Burial of Prisoners
During much of the operation of Andersonville prison camp in 1864-1865, Dorence Atwater, a prisoner from the 2nd New York Cavalry, kept the hospital register. In addition to Atwater, dozens of prisoners were paroled to work around the prison. As he later recalled, "[prisoners] did all of the work except guard duty." Many of these parolees, like Atwater, had previous training or skills that would make them useful to the prison's operation. African American soldiers, many of whom were captured at the Battle of Olustee in Florida, and who were among the first prisoners to arrive at Andersonville, were frequently paroled for extra work. Among the prisoners paroled to work in the hospital was Solon Hyde, a prisoner from Ohio who had been a hospital steward with his regiment and, naturally, had been detailed to conduct similar work at Andersonville. He described the process of maintaining the death register:
The process of recording and burying the dead was an arduous task that required diligent work on the part of all of the prisoners involved. When Atwater began keeping the death register on June 15 there were just short of 2,000 dead. By the time he left the following February there were 12,631 on the list, meaning that Atwater, as clerk, recorded the names of more than 10,000 dead in just over seven months as clerk. In order to ensure accuracy the prisoners on the burial detail checked their work diligently. The men being buried in the long trenches were, after all, their comrades and they did their best to ensure accurate burial records. During his tenure as clerk only 1% of the graves were unknown, a testament to the work of Atwater and other paroled prisoners, including the African American prisoners of war.
Did You Know?
Around 30,000 Americans were kept as prisoners of war in and around New York City during the Revolutionary War. Most of these prisoners were held in warehouses, churches, and on ships in nearby harbors. An estimated 18,000 (60%) died as prisoners from 1775 to 1783. Of those, over 10,000 are thought to have perished on prison ships, most notably the Whitby and the Jersey.