September 1, 1864
From the fourth of July until the first day of September, every day
in those two months, I killed three hundred lice and nits. When I got up
to this number I would stop killing until the next day.
Edmund J. Gibson
Pvt., Co. K,
25th Maryland Inf.
It was the beginning of winter and the guards relaxed much of their
sternness and rigor. The prisoners entered into conversation with them,
and trading became more prevalent. The prisoners made toothpicks out of
bones from the meat they were fed. They made pipes out of green wood
that they picked up while outside the stockade. Prices for the items
depended on the amount of time a prisoner put into his pipe or
toothpick. Another business opportunity was called "raising" in which
the amount of a Confederate note was increased. The script was poorly
made, both in design and execution. The prisoners always tried to get
change in "ones" or "twos." The $1 bill would be converted into a $10
bill and the $2 bill would be made into a $20 bill. The counterfeiter
guaranteed his work and style of art to his customers.
Camp Oglethorpe Prison was located near Macon, Georgia. It was used
to confine Union military officers during the last full year of the
Civil War, 1864. The officers survived well. No ill-treatment was noted
by the over 1,600 officers confined at Macon. Only one officer was shot
and killed by a Confederate sentinel for crossing the dead line. The
camp was located south of Macon on a sandy incline formerly used as the
county fair grounds. Shelter was provided for the Union prisoners as
well as water and wood for heating. The old Floral Hall, a one-story
frame building located in the center of the fair ground, was used to
house 200 men. A stockade 16 feet high and similar in construction to
the Andersonville stockade, surrounded the enclosure.
A raid on Macon in late July by General George Stoneman's cavalry
persuaded Confederate authorities to remove prisoners from Macon to
Charleston and Savannah. By the end of September 1864 the prison
virtually ceased operation.
PRISONERS ENTERING ANDERSONVILLE PRISON ILLUSTRATION FROM BATTLEFIELD
AND PRISON PEN.|
Elmira, New York, is situated five miles from the Pennsylvania line.
In the beginning the camp was used for new recruits, but by May 15,
1864, some of the barracks were set aside for prisoners-of-war. A
twelve foot-high fence was constructed, framed on the outside with a
sentry's walk four feet below the top and built at a safe distance from
the barracks. Housing consisted of thirty-five two-story barracks each
measuring 100 by 20 feet. Two rows of bunks were along the walls and as
the prison became crowded some prisoners lived in "A" tents.
The first group of prisoners, shipped from Point Lookout, Maryland,
arrived at Elmira on July 6 and numbered 399 men. By the end of July,
4,424 prisoners were packed in the compound with another 3,000 en route.
By mid-August the number leaped to 9,600. The inmates of Elmira
weathered hunger, illness and melancholia but, even worse, exposure to
the elements. Late in the winter of 1864-65 some stoves were distributed
to the prisoners but not enough for everyone. The southerners were
exposed to temperatures of ten to fifteen degrees below zero and many
succumbed to freezing.
Of the total of 12,123 soldiers imprisoned at Elmira, 2,963 died of
sickness, exposure and associated causes. The camp was officially
closed on July 5, 1865. All that remains today of Elmira Prison is a
well-kept cemetery along the banks of the Chemung River.
September 13, 1864
On the 13th of September the only remaining one of my company died,
leaving me alone as far as my company was concerned. This event made me
very sad. I, the youngest boy in the regiment, and sick besides, I
nerved up for the worst and resolved to stand the thing through, that I
might tell the poor boys' friends where they died.
On November 8 the prisoners held an election for President. Four
thousand six hundred votes were cast, Lincoln secured a 734 majority.
The prisoners hoped he would be as successful at home.
Although the hot summer and over-crowding were over, the lice,
graybacks as they were called, kept up their steady work. As one diarist
wrote, "I tried to bear it but matters grew worse, till I hobbled out to
a guard's fire nearby and begged a firebrand. Taking the blazing pitch
pine brand and going back into the tent, I took off my clothes and
killed over 400 graybacks by actual count. They were as large as a very
large kernel of wheat, and the scars where they bit me I shall carry to
ANDERSONVILLE PRISONERS WHO HAD WASTED AWAY TO LIVING SKELETONS WERE
PHOTOGRAPHED AFTER BEING EXCHANGED. THESE PHOTOS WERE LATER PUBLISHED IN
NORTHERN NEWSPAPERS AND USED AS PROPAGANDA AGAINST THE SOUTH AND USED AS
EVIDENCE TO HELP CONVICT CAPTAIN WIRZ. (LC)|
1867 PHOTO SHOWS THE COVERED WAY, WITH THE MIDDLE STOCKADE ON THE RIGHT
AND THE THIRD STOCKADE WALL ON THE LEFT. (NA)|
Fort Delaware prison was located on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware
River. Approximately 33,565 Confederate prisoners passed through during
its existence. The prison was constructed as a fort to protect northern
cities. A 12-foot-deep, 30-foot moat surrounded the prison. The granite
walls were seven to thirty feet thick. The prison was plagued with the
usual diseases and malnutrition of all prisons north and south during
the Civil War.
At this prison 2,436 Confederate prisoners died. Their bodies were
transported by boat to the New Jersey side of the Delaware River and
buried in trenches at a place called Inns Point. A towering granite
obelisk marks the spot and at its base are plaques with the names of the
soldiers in the common grave.
September 19, 1864
A priest belonging to the Catholic church was almost daily among
us, and worked faithfully among the sick and dying members of his own
church. He had also always a kind word for all of us.
John W. Urban
In the latter part of November, four or five wagon loads of
vegetables were brought in by the citizens of nearby Americus. The
vegetables were never distributed to the prisoners and were consumed by
the authorities of the prison. In December the toll continued with 165
deaths. The grounds of the stockade looked like a battlefield with
abandoned shebangs and items such as cups, canteens and worn-out
clothing strewn throughout the grounds. It had been a battlefield in
some sense. Many, many deaths occurred here as the nearby cemetery could
testify. These men had not been torn apart by bullets but by loneliness,
disease, malnutrition, filth and vermin. They didn't die fast but
slowly, perhaps remembering their wives, children, mothers and
At the beginning of December 2,000 prisoners arrived from Salisbury,
North Carolina. On December 22 in a letter to General Cooper, inspector
general of the Confederacy, General Winder wrote, "Savannah evacuated.
Had not the prisoners from Columbia, Salisbury and Florence better be
removed immediately to Andersonville. Only one road now open by way of
Branchville to Augusta. I think there is not a moment to be lost. Please
answer at once." General Winder would die of an apparent heart attack
while on an inspection trip to Salisbury Prison on February 6, 1865.
Camp Florence was located in Florence County, South Carolina and was
one of the largest Southern Civil War prisons. The prison was 23 acres
in size and was enclosed by a wall of logs 12 feet high. An embankment
outside the wall stood three feet below the top of the wall and served
as a walkway for the guards. No tents or shelters were furnished to the
prisoners. Wood was left inside the stockade and the first arrivals used
the wood for huts and cooking. Lack of adequate food, pure water,
sanitation facilities and shelter was responsible for 20 deaths per
The prison was open for five months from September 1864 to February
1865. Between 15,000 and 18,000 Federal prisoners passed through the
gates, and 2,802 died within the compound. Florence National Cemetery,
in Florence, South Carolina, consists of 5-3/4 acres. Because the
listing of the deaths was lost, there are 2,1167 unknowns.
October 23, 1864
As for myself, I never felt so utterly depressed, cursed, and
God-for-saken in all my life before. All my former experiences in
battles, on marches, and at my capture were not a drop in the bucket as
compared with this.
Walter E. Smith
Pvt., Co. K
14th Illinois Infantry
As December 25 approached, Michael Daghtery, 13th Pennsylvania
Cavalry, surely spoke for many of the prisoners when he wrote, "On
Christmas Day thinking of our friends at home enjoying themselves, and
how we are situated here no rations of any kind. Little of our friends
at home think we are in this situation. God grant them health to enjoy
many more. This is my sincere wish to my poor mother and sister. I hope
I will see them soon."
Prisoners were again arriving daily. It was cold and wet, a typical
Georgia December. To beat the cold some would band into groups and lay
next to each other all night and most of the day to stay warm. They
would only leave this huddled mass to answer roll call and receive their
rations. Graybacks could also interrupt their attempt at warmth. Private
Lassel Long, 13th Indiana Infantry, related that, "As soon as we would
begin to get a little warm they would commence their daily and nightly
drill. They would have division, brigade, regiment, and company drills,
ending up with a general review. When those large fellows began to
prance around in front of the lines it would make some one halloo out,
'I must turn over, I can't stand this any longer.' So we would all turn
to the right or left as the case might be. This would stop the chaps for
a short time."
THE BODIES WERE LAID TO REST SIDE BY SIDE IN SIX-FOOT WIDE BY THREE-FOOT
DEEP TRENCHES. THIS PHOTO AT THE CEMETERY WAS TAKEN IN THE SUMMER OF
ILLUSTRATION FROM HARPER'S WEEKLY OF RELEASED PRISONERS
EXCHANGING THEIR RAGS FOR NEW CLOTHING.|
The new year claimed 197 deaths its first month. Four thousand to
five thousand arrived from other prison camps during January with most
of them occupying the south end of the prison. At the end of January,
Captain Wirz complained about the prisoners stealing hospital property
and selling it to the guards. There were also frequent escapes from the
hospital. Wirz mentioned in a letter dated January 21 that a covered way
and a third stockade wall had been started but asked whether this new
stockade should be finished or the six-foot-high fence around the
hospital be torn down and a real stockade built around the hospital to
stop the stealing, trading and escapes. The covered way was never
completed and a stockade around the hospital was never started.
December 29, 1864
We sit around our scanty fires shivering and hungry thinking of what
good times we might enjoy were we permitted to be at home. We endeavor
to keep a stiff upper lip.
George M. Shearer
Private, Co. E,
17th Iowa Infantry
According to historical documents the winter of 1864-1865 was the
coldest winter in twenty five years in southwest Georgia. One night the
temperature was eighteen degrees above zero. The prisoners were poorly
clad and the wood they attempted to burn for warmth was too wet to do
much good. Toward the end of January more new prisoners were brought in.
As Charles Fosdick wrote, "We old dried skeletons gathered around them
in such great numbers that it is a wonder they did not get frightened to
death at our ghostly appearance.
February began more pleasantly than the long cold month of January.
The captives knew that if Sherman had been defeated there would have
been a larger influx of prisoners. The only ones coming in were
prisoners from other locations in the South. The weather broke with
pheasant and warmer days. The prisoners took more exercise, and they
even began to sing patriotic songs. For the first time in twelve months
the boys were optimistic. The rumors were good rumors: exchange, the end
of the war, going home. Private Lassel Long wrote that a newly arrived
prisoner made a speech to many of the prisoners saying, "I tell you this
blasted rebellion cannot succeed. It was born in sin and cradled in
iniquity, and it is going to pieces like a ship driven upon a rock. Bill
Sherman is at this time cutting a swath through South Carolina forty
miles wide." At this point the prisoners began cheering, and after they
had cheered until they were hoarse, someone started up, "Rally around
the flag, boys," then it was taken up all over the camp.
AN 1867 PHOTOGRAPH OF THE CEMETERY. (NPS)|
THE EXECUTION OF HENRY WIRZ
Historians who have studied the tragic episode of Andersonville agree
that even in the grip of understandable hysteria after President Abraham
Lincoln's assassination, an indefensible travesty of justice was
committed against Captain Henry Wirz. Worn and haggard, he was still at
his post when Union Captain Henry E. Noyes arrived at Andersonville in
early May with orders for his arrest. Noyes took Wirz to Washington
where a military commission tried, convicted, and sentenced him to hang
for: (1) conspiring with Jefferson Davis, Howell Cobb, John H., Richard
B., and W.S. Winder, Isaiah H. White, R. Randolph Stevenson, and others
to "Impair and injure the health and to destroy the lives.., of large
numbers of federal prisoners.., at Andersonville" and (2) "murder, in
violation of the laws and customs of war." Wirz was tried under these
charges, convicted and sentenced to death. The sentence was carried out
on November 10, 1865, on the courtyard of old Capitol Prison.
February 24, 1865
Our clothes were nearly worn out, and we had to go around and seek
out the dead and rob them of the clothes they had in order to keep from
freezing to death ourselves.
In March death still visited Andersonville Prison. One hundred and
eight died, mostly prisoners in the hospital. Through the guards,
prisoners learned that the Yankees had captured Selma, Alabama, and
would soon be coming. New prisoners, and there were very few, brought
only good news. Still, at Andersonville rations were just enough to keep
the prisoners alive. On March 25, 800 prisoners left and there was talk
that a train would leave every day full of prisoners. On March 28 new
prisoners brought word that General Wilson's Cavalry was on the way.
In April the end of the war was in sight. Twenty-eight died during
this last full month of Andersonville's existence. Most of the prisoners
were sent to Vicksburg for exchange. Slowly but surely the prisoners
left Andersonville. When Union forces finally arrived at Andersonville
in May, about three weeks after the war had ended, only a small number
of prisoners remained. Arrangements were made to transport these sick
and frail soldiers home. While the prisoners waited, Andersonville
claimed its last victim.
March 7, 1865
In March, 1865, we began to hear rumors of the advance of our
forces from the guards, and to look forward with hope to the time when
we should once more be free.
Thadeus L. Waters
Private, Co. G,
2nd Michigan Cav.
It was over. The ground now was bare of the living. Where only a
short time before had been masses of living and dying there was now an
assortment of discarded blankets, handmade cooking utensils and worn-out
clothing. In only fourteen months, 12,914 had died on this ground. Their
sacrifice will always be remembered, their experience never
What became of the prisoners who left Andersonville? Hundreds
perished on their way home when the steamboat they were on, the
Sultana, exploded and sank near Memphis, Tennessee. Countless
others died in northern hospitals, or in their hometowns of the diseases
incurred during their captivity at Andersonville.
ON JULY 25, 1865 CLARA BARTON ARRIVED IN ANDERSONVILLE WITH AN
EXPEDITION OF 37 MEN. WITH THE HELP OF DORENCE ATWATER'S DEATH LIST, SHE
MARKED THE GRAVES OF THE PRISONERS WHO HAD DIED WITH PAINTED BOARDS. SHE
HELPED TO DEDICATE THE CEMETERY ON AUGUST 17, 1865. (HARPER'S WEEKLY)|
MEMORIAL DAY AT ANDERSONVILLE NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE. (NPS)|
Over the years, the finger of blame has pointed in many directions,
but the facts show that events of the time made this national tragedy
happen. As the war dragged on and the exchange system collapsed,
thousands of prisoners-of-war, Union and Confederate alike, found
themselves in hastily constructed and poorly supplied prison camps. Many
never returned to their homes, families or friends. At Andersonville
human misery reached its zenith. The tombstones in Andersonville
National Cemetery and the written words of the prisoners tell a tragic
Andersonville National Historic Site|
(click on image for a PDF version)
Back cover: Photograph of the Providence Spring Memorial at
Andersonville National Historic Site. (NPS)|