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Civil War Series

The Prison Camp at Andersonville

   

Escape was a constant topic of conversation among the prisoners and many attempts were made. Some prisoners attempted to tunnel out while others would run away when outside the stockade on detail. One ingenious prisoner pretended to be dead, had two friends carry him out to the dead house and after dark just got up and ran away. Afterwards, Wirz, suspecting the trick, had a surgeon inspect the bodies before permitting them out for burial.

Life within the enclosure became a routine, except for tricks that were played on the guards. When a prisoner died, the rest of the men in the detachment would hide the fact from the guards as long as possible so that they could get the dead man's ration. Many prisoners would be counted two or three times by the sergeant to hide the deaths. Also, when a prisoner died his friend would tie a strong piece of cord to the dead man with the other end tied to himself so that no one would steal the corpse during the night. Carrying his friend to the dead house would enable him to pick up a piece of wood the next day for cooking his food.

THIS 1864 PHOTOGRAPH WAS PROBABLY TAKEN NEAR THE NORTH GATE ON MARKET STREET. NOTE THE SUTLER'S STORE AND YANKEE TRADERS SHOPS. (NA)

PRISONERS BEING ISSUED RATIONS AND TRADING FOR SOMETHING MORE PALATABLE. (NPS)

RUNNING PARALLEL AND NEXT TO THE STREAM THAT PROVIDED DRINKING WATER WERE THE LONG SINKS OR LATRINES, AS SHOWN IN THIS 1864 PHOTOGRAPH BY A.J. RIDDLE. (NA)

MOST OF THE GUARDS AFTER EARLY MAY WERE MEMBERS OF THE GEORGIA RESERVES. THESE WERE MOSTLY OLD MEN OR YOUNG BOYS. (NPS LIVING HISTORY PROGRAM)

May 27, 1864

Some of the old prisoners made a raid on the new prisoners and stole their blankets and rations and the new fellows pitched in and there was a big fight and many a poor cuss got his head mashed with clubs or stones.

Albert H. Schatzel
Private, Co. A.
1st Vermont Cavalry


On May 21 the Sumter Republican reported, "The Andersonville prisoners nearly escaped. The commander discovered the plans. At this time there are 17,000 prisoners there and 500 are being added every day. They cannot be turned loose upon the people. 3,000 to 5,000 men are needed to keep them but there are only 500 men there. Col. Persons is aware of the problem. West Georgia is the Egypt of the Confederacy and the crops must not be destroyed." Also, the Macon Telegraph reported, "It will be too late to cry 'Wolf' when they have made their escape, and are sacking every smoke house in the country, cutting telegraph wire, burning government stores, destroying railroad bridges, killing stocks, etc."

Many of the Andersonville prisoners who arrived in the stockade in April and May were well supplied with money. The Federal armies were reclothed and paid off in the spring of 1864 for the spring campaigns. Many of the new recruits and reenlisted veterans had bounty money with them when captured. Greenbacks could be pressed into the sole of a shoe, or placed inside a brass button. Money was concealed about the person in various ways. Some swallowed their rings and others put their money into bowls of large Dutch pipes with a little tobacco sprinkled on top. When searched, they would pretend to be busy lighting their pipes and thus escape suspicion. Gambling was carried on quite extensively; faro, dice, and $10.00 stakes were commonly played for. Trade was carried on with the guards on the outside of the wall by talking through the cracks and throwing articles over the fence. Another trade was carried on as well, as noted by prisoner John Northrup, Co. D, 7th Connecticut Infantry: "There is one commodity never had in any market. It is ahead of any Dutch brewery extract; it is meal beer made by letting corn meal sour in water. The vendor cries, 'here is your nice meal beer, right sour, well seasoned with sassafras.'"


JOHN H. WINDER

John H. Winder was born February 21, 1800, in Somerset County, Maryland. He graduated from West Point in 1820 and taught artillery tactics there until 1823 when he resigned. He reentered the service in 1827 and fought with distinction in the Seminole War. He was brevetted major for gallantry at Contreras and Churubusco, and lieutenant-colonel for gallantry in the attack upon Mexico during the Mexican-American War. Winder resigned his Federal commission in April 1861, when the Civil War began, and the following June was commissioned a brigadier general in the Confederate army, with the appointment to provost marshal and commander of prisons in Richmond. Later he was given command of the Department of Henrico. In 1864, after the largest number of enlisted men had been transferred to Andersonville and many of the officers to Macon, he was placed in charge of all the prisons in Alabama and Georgia. He made his headquarters at Andersonville and arrived in June 1864. The following September he transferred his base to Camp Lawton at Millen, Georgia, and on November 21 was made commander of all Confederate prisons east of the Mississippi. He did not survive the war and died February 6, 1865, probably of a heart attack.

R. B. Winder, in his report to General Winder on May 25 stated, "And if the number of prisoners is very much increased and this camp made, as I suppose it will be, the grand receptacle for prisoners captured throughout the Confederacy, then I would by all means recommend that another area be enclosed with a stockade similar to the present one and that the grounds selected be on a stream about one-quarter of a mile south of the present camp." He went on to write, "Immediate arrangements should be made in which the prisoners may be sheltered from the rains and protected from the heat of the sun. Buildings should be commenced as soon as practicable for the winter, and in the meantime tents should be furnished for their use during the summer. Without this they will die off by hundreds, and will be a dead loss to us in the way of exchange."

THE SOUTH GATE HAD A GUARD HOUSE AND SENTRY TOWERS ON EACH SIDE AND SERVED AS THE SICK CALL AREA WHERE MEDICAL OFFICERS WERE POSTED. (LC)

Although it never bore fruition, Captain Winder planned to install a shoe factory at the prison. He had trouble finding tools and leather for this endeavor. In his report he wrote, "It will not answer to commence operations until every branch of the department was properly furnished both with tools and stock, a sufficient quantity of the latter being particularly required; without, the workmen would be idle in a very few days."

SKETCH OF ANDERSONVILLE HOSPITAL FROM KELLOGG'S LIFE AND DEATH IN REBEL PRISONS.

May 27, 1864

We twist up pieces of tin, stovepipe, etc. for dishes. A favorite and common dish is half of a canteen. Our spoons are made of wood. Hardly one man in ten has a dish of any kind to put his rations of soup or molasses in, and often old shoes, dirty caps are brought into requisition.

John L. Ransom


Food was always paramount in the prisoners' minds. Every day they thought about food and at night they dreamt about food. In his diary W.F. Lyon, Co. C, 9th Minnesota Infantry wrote, "It was Sunday; we were seated at the table; my brother sat opposite me, and my father opposite my mother. In the middle of the table, which was covered with a clean, white cloth, sat a plate of mother's biscuits. I couldn't wait for the blessing, but reached over and took one from the plate. Holding it up, I said, 'In Andersonville, three biscuits like this would have been worth a dollar.' Just as I was about to put it to my mouth I awoke. Imagine my disappointment."

On June 3 one of the prisoners wrote, "A number of the 54th Massachusetts regiment, and some others, were already of our number, and they were universally treated better than we white soldiers. They were taken outside every day to perform some labor, and allowed double rations, and also the privilege of buying things outside and bringing them into the prison at evening, and selling them to such as had any money, for a good round price in greenbacks."

There were also many cases of insane, helpless and entirely naked men inside the prison. Often, when a prisoner became helpless, gang members known as the "Raiders" would rob him. The boldness of the Raiders grew, and robbery sometimes resulted in murder of the victim.

PRISONERS ATTEMPTING TO ESCAPE BY TUNNEL. (NPS)

REBEL MODE OF CAPTURING ESCAPED PRISONERS, FROM LIFE AND DEATH IN REBEL PRISONS, ROBERT H. KELLOGG, 1866. (LC)

Prisoners wore a star on their hats or some conspicuous place if they were detailed to work. If they were caught outside the stockade without the star they were taken to Wirz's headquarters to receive what the boys called "the old Captain's jewelry," a 32-pound ball and chain.

As the summer went on it was mush for breakfast, mush for dinner and mush with no salt for supper. The crowding was getting worse and diseases were increasing. The rations continued to lessen and many days the prisoners received only a pint of boiled rice with no meat, bread or meal to go with it. The men, with very little shelter from the weather, were getting sores which in time often turned into gangrene. Diseases and sores were spread through lice. John Ransom wrote that, "Andersonville seems to be headquarters for all the little pests that ever originated, flies by the thousand millions." Lice became as much an enemy as the Confederate guards. Prisoner Bjorn Alakson, Co. H, 9th Minnesota Cavalry would write, "A man without lice was looked upon as a being to be shunned." Killing lice became a game and would help pass the tedious time.

In regard to some of the problems at the prison Captain Henry Wirz wrote the following letter on June 6th to Captain R.D. Chapman, acting adjutant of post:


May 28, 1864

There is one commodity never had in any market. It is ahead of any Dutch brewery extract; it is meal beer made by letting corn meal sour in water. The vender cries, "here is you nice meal beer, right sour, well seasoned with sassafras."

John Northup
Private, Co. D,
7th Connecticut Inf.


CAPTAIN: I most respectfully call the attention of the colonel commanding post through you to the following facts: The bread which is issued to prisoners is of such an inferior quality, consisting fully of one-sixth of husk, that it is almost unfit for use and increases dysentery and other bowel complaints. I would wish that the commissary of the post be notified to have the meal bolted or some other contrivance arranged to sift the meal before issuing. If the meal, such as it is now, was sifted the bread rations would fall short fully one-quarter of a pound.

There is a great deficiency of buckets. Rations of rice, beans, vinegar, and molasses cannot he issued to prisoners for want of buckets, at least 8,000 men in the stockade being without anything of the sort. If my information is correct, any number of buckets can be got from Columbus, Georgia, if the quartermaster of the post would make the requisition for the same.

Hoping that you will give us this your attention as soon as possible. I remain, Captain, Most respectfully, your obedient servant.

BIRD'S-EYE VIEW OF ANDERSONVILLE PRISON FROM THE SOUTHEAST, LITHOGRAPH BY J. V. MORTON, JR., 1890. (LC)

A SKETCH OF ONE OF THE DOGS USED TO HUNT DOWN ESCAPED PRISONERS. (SS)

May 31, 1864

We all expect the lice will rallie on us and take the whole party for a lunch for there isn't enough of us for a meal.

W F. Lyon
Private, Co. C,
9th Minnesota Infantry


Early in the month President Jefferson Davis ordered General John H. Winder to Andersonville as the best qualified officer to command that post. He arrived on June 17, and as soon as he arrived he asked for iron to make baking-pans for the newly constructed bake houses.

By June 17, 21,539 prisoners resided within the 16-1/2 acres surrounded by the stockade walls. By the end of the month there were 25,000, each man having approximately 33 square feet to live on. During the month 7,968 men were admitted to the hospital.

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