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Setting the Stage

When the Southern states first considered secession, most people believed that if war came, it would be brief. They did not envision four years of fighting that would lead to cruel deaths and the thousands that were captured as prisoners of war. In 1862 a system of parole and exchange was informally adopted by the Union and Confederate governments. A "paroled" prisoner pledged not to participate in the war or assist his allies. He would often be released on the spot to proceed to a camp where paroled soldiers were concentrated until the two governments officially exchanged prisoners. He could then return to the military. In the fall of 1863, the U.S. government suspended exchanges. The growing number of captured soldiers soon began filling Union and Confederate prisons.

Although conditions were bad in both Southern and Northern prison camps, the large number of prisoner deaths at Georgia's Andersonville Prison, or Camp Sumter as it was officially known, combined with the defeat of the Confederate states resulted in national attention and public outrage on the treatment of Union prisoners there.




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