Lesson Plan

Medical Conditions at Andersonville Prison Webquest

Drawing of the second Andersonville prison hospital
Drawing of the second Andersonville prison hospital
NPS/Andersonville National Historic Site


Nearly 13,000 prisoners died at Andersonville of disease and malnutrition.
This activity is designed to help students explore the medical conditions at Andersonville, and how those conditions contributed to a high rate of death. Some of the content of this activity is graphic and may not be appropriate for younger students.


At the end of the activity, the students will be able to:

  • Identify key diseases that were prevalent at Andersonville.
  • Explain the causes for the spread of these diseases.
  • Compare the treatments of these diseases at Andersonville to their modern treatments.


Provided by Teacher - Photocopies of the material included with this lesson.


Distribute copies of Dr. Joseph Jones' letter to the Surgeon-General of the Confederacy.

Using Dr. Jones' letter, have students identify the important diseases prevalent at Andersonville and the mortality rate at Andersonville. (dysentery, gangrene, diarrhea, scurvy. Death rate approximately 30% - 13,000 died out of 45,000 total prisoners).

Break the students into groups and assign each group one of these four Andersonville diseases.

Students will use the internet and Dr. Jones' letter to prepare presentations (PowerPoint, posters, etc…) on their specific disease. Each group should identify for their assigned disease:

(a) A "definition" of the disease

(b) The medical cause of the disease

(c) Why was the disease so prominent in Andersonville (focus on conditions in the prison)

(d) How was the disease treated during the time of the Civil War. Why were these treatments not available or unsuccessful at Andersonville?

(e) How is the disease treated or prevented today?

(f) If possible, a photo of the disease or its symptoms (not recommended for diarrhea & dysentery)

Have students present their disease to the class.

While each group is presenting, students should complete the graphic organizer "Diseases at Andersonville"

Follow up discussion - Discuss with students why diseases were so prevalent at Andersonville, why so many of these diseases were fatal, even though they may have been treatable. What challenges or difficulties might doctors have faced at Andersonville? (too many patients, lack of sanitary conditions, not enough medicine/supplies)