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Civil War Series

The Prison Camp at Andersonville

   

June 23, 1864

Another pass time was whitteling. Give a Yankee a jack knife and he can make almost anything. The rebels found out the most expert whittlers and furnished them materials to work upon and thus many prisoners earned extra rations in this way.

Thomas A. Gossett
Private, Co. I,
7th Indiana Infantry


On July 18 in a letter to Richmond, General Winder begged for $100,000 for the prisoners and $75,000 for pay of the officers and men of the guard. On July 21 he reported that there were now 29,201 prisoners in the stockade including 1,735 in the hospital. He reported that he had a complement of 2,421 guards with 517 on sick call each day.

It was in the latter part of July that a petition was circulated throughout the prison that was to be taken to the proper authorities in Washington, D.C., describing the atrocious living conditions of the prisoners. John Warren, 7th Wisconsin Artillery, wrote that the document declared, "We earnestly yet respectfully pray that some action be taken immediately to effect our speedy release, either on parole or by exchange, the dictates of both humanity and justice alike demanding it on the part of our Government. We shall look forward with a hopeful confidence that something will be done speedily in this matter, believing that a proper statement of the facts is all that is necessary to secure a redress of the grievance complained of." Although this petition was taken to Washington by prisoners on August 4, nothing ever came of it.

CARRYING OUT THE DEAD, NPS VOLUNTEER LIVING HISTORY PROGRAM. (NPS)

HANGING OF THE RAIDERS IN ANDERSONVILLE PRISON FROM BATTLEFIELD AND PRISON PEN.

There were many church meetings among the prisoners with Boston Corbett, among others, doing the ministering. There were reports of two Catholic priests, including Father Peter Whelan, working among the prisoners. As Reverend H. Claverevel wrote, "The religious work among the prisoners found expression in the throngs of individuals we met here and there, bowed down in the attitude of prayer or listening to a comrade who was reading from the Bible or addressing to them words of exhortation."

During July Confederate officials at Andersonville had plenty of reasons for concern. General William T. Sherman's army was near Atlanta and prison officials feared he would head toward Andersonville. They were also concerned that the prisoners, fueled by reports of new arrivals, would attempt a mass uprising. During this time slaves from surrounding farms were brought in to fell trees and dig additional earthworks in anticipation of a cavalry attack.

The concern was not unfounded. General Sherman did order two cavalry units to ride south and cut the Macon railroad. He also granted permission to General George Stoneman, who commanded one of these units, to advance on Macon itself. Stoneman planned to free the Union officers at Camp Oglethorpe in Macon, then make his way south to free the 29,000 prisoners at Andersonville.


June 28, 1864

To what extremes bad men will go to secure their own comfort was fully illustrated in the doings of a band of robbers in Andersonville, or "Mosby's Marauders", as the rest of the prisoners call them. Their rendezvous was near the southwest end of the prison.<

John W. Urban
Private, Co. D,
1st Pa. Infantry


General Stoneman had 2,500 men and a two-gun battery. At 3:00 a.m. on July 27, he left Atlanta and rode south. Before noon on the 29th the Union cavalry reached Clinton, but the Confederates were following them with 4,000 cavalry Stoneman met the Georgia militia, and in a number of skirmishes Stoneman's cavalry was defeated. The Union cavalry members were either killed or taken prisoner. The Confederates captured about 500 prisoners and took them to Andersonville. The prison's teeming population had been increased, not freed. During this period, a total of 1,200 prisoners was added to the population by the last day of July.

It was now August and during the month 2,933 would die. There were 1,305 sick in the hospital and 5,100 ill in the stockade. The average number of men in the stockade during August was 32,899, each having less than six square feet to call his own. In a letter to Colonel Chandler on August 1, Captain Wirz wrote, "As long as 30,000 men are confined in any one enclosure the proper policing is altogether impossible. A long confinement had depressed the spirits of thousands, and they are utterly indifferent. Hoping your official report will make such an impression with the authorities at Richmond that they will issue the necessary orders to enable us to get what we so badly need."

ILLUSTRATION OF PRISONERS' HUTS. (SS)

The common shelter was constructed with blankets, old shirts, half shelters tents, etc., some burrowed into the ground, while others had no shelter at all.

Warren Goss


The chief surgeon at the post and Captain Wirz kept directing letters to Richmond pleading for badly needed medicine, food, tents, tools and lumber, to no avail. As Private Northrup, 7th Connecticut Infantry, wrote, "One poor boy near cried all night and wished to die and suffer no longer; he is an awful object; his clothing is gone but a rag of a shirt; his body is a mere frame; his hair has fallen out from his head; his scurvy ankles and feet are as large as his waist. I never saw a sight more appalling. Than the awful thought that he is a man, somebody's darling boy, dead, and yet breathing." And so it went.

LOOKING SOUTH FROM THE SINKS, ANDERSONVILLE PRISON, AUGUST 1864. NOTE THE SINKS, THE SHEBANGS, STOCKADE, AND THE PIGEON ROOSTS. (LC)

July 2, 1864

Early in the morning seen a boy about to die. The little fellow called for his mother.

Albert H. Schatzel


The prisoners were dying at a rate of 100 per day. When a man died a label was attached to his body, giving his name and regiment. He was then taken to the Dead House, or more properly dead yard. The Dead House was located opposite the South Gate. When a person died he was buried naked, since the clothes were needed by the living prisoners both to wear and to build shebangs. Each day the dead were delivered to the graveyard in a lumber wagon. Twenty bodies constituted a load. The corpses were carried in full sight of the stockade, piled like pork, with limbs sticking out of the wagon.


CAHABA PRISON

Cahaba Prison was located in Cahaba, Alabama, approximately ten miles south of Selma at the junction of the Cahaba and Alabama Rivers. It was established in the summer of 1863. It was closed six to nine months later and the prisoners were sent to Andersonville. It was reestablished the last six months of the war. The prison was originally a warehouse. It became so crowded each man barely had enough room to lie down. Wooden bunks without straw or bedding slept 432 men. Water came from a natural spring which ran through the prison and emptied into the river. This spring was also used as the sinks.

Cahaba Prison held about 5,000 men altogether and was probably the best run of all Southern prisons. It is hard to say how many prisoners died at Cahaba. Confederate records list 142, while Federal records show 147. The dead were buried at a nearby cemetery and after the war the graves were dug up and the bodies were reburied at Marietta, Georgia.


July 4, 1864

So far as I known, the idea that brought about the overthrow of the murderous raiders, came from Wirz himself; and it is certain that the efforts of the "law and order" organization, and of the police force, all of whom deserve great credit in arresting the "raiders", would have been fruitless but for the cooperation of Wirz.

John E. Warren,
Wisconsin Artillery


By August 4 there were 33,000 prisoners inside the stockade including the 2,208 who were in the hospital. It was on the 5th of the month that a report was made to Richmond by the inspector general in which he wrote, "My duty requires me respectfully to recommend a change in the officer in command of this post, Brigadier General J.H. Winder, and the substitution in his place of some one who unites both energy and good judgement with some feelings of humanity and consideration for the welfare and comfort of the vast number of unfortunates placed under his control; some one who at least will not advocate deliberately and in cold blood the propriety of leaving them in their present condition until their number has been sufficiently reduced by death to make the present arrangements suffice for their accommodation, and who will not consider it a matter of self-laudation and boasting that he has been inside the stockade, a place of horrors of which it is difficult to describe, and which is a disgrace to civilization."

THE BAKERY CONTAINED TWO ROOMS, ONE OF WHICH HAD TWO OVENS. THESE TWO OVENS, FOURTEEN FEET IN LENGTH BY SEVEN FEET IN WIDTH, SUPPLIED THE PRISONERS WITH BREAD. (LC)

PERPENDICULAR TO THE NORTH GATE WAS NORTH STREET, OR MARKET STREET AS IT WAS CALLED BY THE PRISONERS. THIS STREET RAN THE WIDTH OF THE COMPOUND AND IS WHERE THE SUTLERS WOULD SELL THEIR WARES. ALMOST ANYTHING COULD BE FOUND, SOUGHT OR BARTERED FOR ON MARKET STREET. (NPS)

July 16, 1864

Today a tunnel was discovered by the rebel authorities. 4 of the prisoners had dug a well 60 feet deep about 20 feet down they had struck out dug 20 feet outside the stockade and were a going to escape in 10 nights, one of our men betrayed them for a plug of tobacco.

Samuel Burdick
Private, Co. H,
7th Iowa Infantry


The prisoners dug holes, not only for escape but for water. Some just dug holes to get out of the Georgia heat. The northern prisoners suffered in the heat of the South while the southern men suffered from the northern cold. Many of the holes would cave in and the prisoner would be suffocated. (At the turn of the century a storm revealed two bodies buried beneath the stockade site.) The water holes were drying up in the hot summer months of July and August, and the prisoners were praying for water in earnest. On the night of August 9 there was a heavy rain. It swelled the stream to a river and tore down the stockade where the stream ran into and out of the prison. Two cannon shots rang out from Star Fort and many of the sentinels fired at the prisoners thinking they would make a break out of the stockade. Some prisoners plunged into the flood to bring out floating timber or pieces of boards that had come down. The guards stood in line of battle for more than an hour, and when the rain ceased, they only had time to temporarily repair the damage before night. The storm had cleaned out "Stockade Branch" and the entire swamp inside the prison. As W.F. Lyon, Company C, 9th Minnesota Infantry, put it, "When the almighty cleans house he puts housekeepers to shame." The storm had created a stream of water inside the deadline just below the north gate. An ingenious Yank managed to get part of a sapling and used it to form a trough that reached from the outside of the deadline to the spring. With this trough he led the water like an old-fashioned eaves trough. The prisoners now had access to the spring water. The stream was named "Providence Spring."

A 19TH CENTURY LITHOGRAPH DRAWN FROM THE MEMORY OF PRISONER THOMAS O'DEA. (NPS)

DORENCE ATWATER

For prisoners who died at Camp Sumter, record keeping was shabby at best. There was great concern that after the war relatives would not be able to locate and identify the bodies of their loved ones. Into this situation stepped one prisoner, Dorence Atwater, of the 2nd New York Cavalry. Sent to Andersonville Atwater was detailed as a clerk to the surgeon who recorded all the daily deaths. Secretly, Atwater compiled a duplicate list of names and regiments of the deceased, keying them to numbers that were inscribed on the hastily erected posts or boards that were placed over the graves. With the war over, Atwater eventually saw this list of 12,912 names published, thereby enabling proper identification of the graves. He received no reward for his efforts, but Dorence Atwater was a true hero of the Civil War.


PLAN OF PRISON GROUNDS DRAWN IN 1865 BY DR. HAMLIN.

July 19, 1864

I have thought of my past life much and of the happy days when dear Mary was alive and alright. O why was my dear wife taken from me and others left that were not dishappy as we were? But God's ways are not our ways, or his thoughts our thoughts. and he doeth all things well. It is nine weeks since I was captured.

Amos E. Stearns
Private, Co. A,
25th Mass. Infantry


Prison authorities began repairing the old wall where the stream crossed it and they also began building a second wall outside the original wall. The new wall was erected to help stem the building of tunnels and for better security. During the first part of August, General Winder made a report to the inspector general regarding a new prison to be built at Millen, Georgia. "I do beg that you will give the officer at Millen full authority to press everything, including land, houses, teams, wagons, saw-mills, to enable him to press the work forward, so that we may relieve this prison." He also reported, "Colonel Forno (officer over the guards) is quite sick, Captain is very sick, produced entirely by overwork for want of assistance. He ought to have gone to bed two weeks ago, but kept up because he had none to whom the command could be turned over."

CASTLE REED, ERECTED ON THE NORTH SIDE OF STOCKADE BRANCH, WAS USED FOR THE CONFINEMENT OF UNION OFFICERS. FROM THE END OF FEBRUARY UNTIL THE FIRST WEEK OF MAY, ABOUT 65 OFFICERS WERE CONFINED THERE. THIS STOCKADE WAS BUILT OF HEWN PINES, EXTENDING 15 FEET ABOVE THE GROUND. (NA)

ILLUSTRATION BY THOMAS O'DEA OF THE "DEAD HOUSE" (TOP RIGHT). (NPS)

Beef was sometimes issued at Andersonville, and it was said that it was always stale and could be smelled at a great distance. Prisoners who had been captive for some time did not seem to mind the smell and only thought of quantity, but new arrivals found the smell nauseating. Beef bones, without meat, were sold inside the stockade at twenty-five cents a piece and always had to undergo a pounding process to extract the rich oil they contained. After the pounding they were used in soup.

Among the greatest scourges at Andersonville were the lice, flies and maggots. They were in the prisoners' clothes, on their bodies, in their shebangs, in the sand and in the food. Charles C. Fosdick, 5th Iowa Infantry, complained that, "Thus, night and day for dreary weeks, lengthening into long months, we were continually annoyed by the lice, maggots, flies and mosquitoes until our aggravations in this respect became almost beyond endurance."

The prisoners died in their shebangs, in the hospital, and in the swamp. A man could go to sleep at night and find two of his tent-mates dead in the morning. Some expired so quietly that it would have been impossible to determine when their last breath was drawn.

On August 17, 1864, a Confederate photographer, A.J. Riddle, arrived at the prison. Many of the prisoners commented on him in later years. He took photographs from sentry boxes at different points around the stockade.

ILLUSTRATION FROM LIFE AND DEATH IN REBEL PRISONS SHOWS THE FLOOD CAUSING PART OF THE STOCKADE TO COLLAPSE.

August 3, 1864

Thieving was the order of the day. When we lay down at night we would tie our cup and spoon to our arms and I have often felt a pull at my string. None but an old prisoner can realize the value of a cup and spoon to our boys in prison.

S. O. Lord
Private, Co. D,
11th Connecticut Inf.


Late in August Captain Winder wrote to the quartermaster in Macon that work at the stockade had ceased for the lack of nails. According to Winder, he needed 200 kegs of nails with 100 kegs being 8-penny and the rest assorted. In addition he asked for leather, 250 tents, a blacksmith's bellows and shipment of iron and steel. He also asked for iron kettles for the cookhouse.

On August 21 Union General Ulysses Grant wrote Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, "Please inform General Foster that under no circumstances will he be authorized to make an exchange of prisoners of war. Exchanges simply reinforce the enemy at once, whilst we do not get the benefit for two or three months, and lose the majority entirely."

NINE SLEEPING UNDER TWO GUM BLANKETS, BY J.E. TAYLOR, 1896. (LC)

THIS PHOTOGRAPH TAKEN IN 1897 SHOWS FORMER PRISONERS WHO RETURNED TO ANDERSONVILLE TO DRINK WATER FROM PROVIDENCE SPRING. (LC)

August 9, 1864

On the 7th, 8th, and 9th the weather was so awfully hot that it really appeared as if the heat would kill us all; those were the most terrible days in the history of our prison. On the 9th one hundred and seventy five prisoners died, and the mortality in the three days was nearly five hundred.

John W. Urban


The pall of death that hung over the 26-1/2 acres in August was stronger than any other month that the prison was in operation. The gravediggers were kept busy and listing of the names of the dead by a New York Cavalry Sergeant, Dorence Atwater, became a 24-hour job. As Melvin Grisby, Co. F, 23rd Kentucky Infantry, wrote in his diary in August, "I bought a chance to go out with a dead body. I had to carry the end of the stretcher on which the head lay. The stretcher was an old gunny-sack nailed to poles. The sack part was too short. The feet hung over it at one end and the head at the other. There had been no tender loving hand to close those eyes when the last breath had gone. They were open and glaring. The head hung over my end of the stretcher and the eyes glared up at me. They haunted me for weeks. I never bought another corpse."

Rumors, or "war-chin" as the prisoners called them, never stopped. The rumors spread like wildfire through camp: "Sherman is falling back in front of Atlanta;" "Sherman fell back on the left, drawing Hood after him, then threw in his right wing and captured 22,000;" "Parole has been agreed to by the Commissioners of both the Confederates and Yankees." These rumors kept some men alive by providing hope of imminent release.

THIS 1867 PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS THE INNER AND MIDDLE STOCKADES, WEST FRONTS, LOOKING SOUTH. (NA)

After six months the authorities showed some form of organization with the "Rules of Andersonville Prison." John Warren, 7th Wisconsin Artillery, recalled that there were thirteen rules including, "There will be two daily roll calls at the prison, one at 8 a.m. and one at 4 p.m., and "To prevent stealing in camp the prisoners have the right to elect a chief of police who will select as many men as he deems necessary to assist him. He and his sergeants of the divisions have a right to punish any man who is detected stealing. The punishment shall be shaving of one half of the head and a number of lashes, not exceeding fifty." The rules were long overdue in the running of the prison.

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