Successful Escapes From Andersonville

Visitors to Andersonville National Historic Site frequently inquire about prisoner escapes. Escapes are a major part of our popular culture, as films like "The Great Escape," and even "Escape From Alcatraz" or "The Shawshank Redemption" have ingrained into collective memory the heroic adventures of a prison escape. This is especially true at Andersonville. Even before the movie, "Andersonville," which featured an escape from the prison stockade, tales of tunnels and runaway prisoners being tracked by hounds are nearly as old as the prison itself.

The Wirz Trial was filled with testimony about the techniques used to track down escaped prisoners and the punishments doled out those recaptured. Nearly every published prisoner memoir in the years after the war told of an escape attempt either by tunneling or by running away from work details, and many survivors regaled family friends with adventures of escape. All of this has created a vision of Andersonville in which escape plays a major role in not only the prison's story, but in the experience of each individual prisoner. Many descendants who visit the site today share family stories of how their ancestor escaped from Andersonville.But how widespread was escape? If the published memoirs and family stories are any indication, it seems that a significant majority of the prisoners escaped from Andersonville, and that the forests and farmland surrounding the stockade were a superhighway crowded Union soldiers on the run. However, this is not the case.

According to surviving Confederate records, only 351 prisoners escaped from Andersonville, which means that only around 0.7% of all prisoners ever managed to escape. However, those same records indicate that many of these men were recaptured and returned to Andersonville or sent to other prison facilities. But how many of these men actually made it back to Union lines in a successful escape?

The US Army recorded each soldier who returned to Union lines as an escaped prisoner. This document is available in the National Archives as part of Record Group 249, M1878 as part of the Records of the Sultana. This document allows us to go through and identify exactly who successfully escaped from not only Andersonville, but from a variety of Confederate prisons. According to these records, 32 Union soldiers are confirmed to have escaped from Andersonville between February of 1864 and May of 1865. This means that 0.07%, or only one out of every 1,400 prisoners held at Andersonville successfully escaped. What happened to the remainder of these unaccounted-for escapees is unknown. Perhaps they quietly returned home instead of reporting back to the army. It is likely that many of these men died while on the run.

Successful escape from Andersonville was virtually impossible, and it was much rarer than what has often been portrayed. Even most of those who managed to successfully escape from Andersonville did so between the Fall of 1864 through the Spring of 1865, when the prison and its security systems were breaking down as the war ended. For example, Nicholas Williams, of the 4th US Cavalry is documented as having escaped Andersonville on May 1, 1865 when fewer than fifty Union prisoners remained. Many of the prisoners who claimed to have escaped from Andersonville often either escaped from other camps or in transit between camps. Ultimately, escape from Andersonville was not an everyday occurrence, but rather was a symbol of hope.

The men documented by the US Army as having successfully escaped from Andersonville to freedom are:



Date of Escape/Return to Union lines

James Benson

8th Iowa Cavalry

Reported to Union lines April 14, 1865

John Botton

17th Indiana Cavalry

Dec 12, 1864

George Bostwick

20th Ohio Infantry

Oct 7, 1864

John Bolton

17th Indiana Infantry

Dec 12, 1864

Andrew J. Beller

53rd Ohio

May 2, 1865

Madison Canady

2nd Tennessee Volunteers

Nov 27, 1864, reported to Union lines in east TN Dec. 26

Henry S Cowan

14th Illinois Volunteers

Nov 11, 1864, reports to Union lines at McDonough, GA Nov. 16

Josiah Dye

52nd Ohio Infantry

Oct 17, 1864, reported to Hilton Head Nov. 22

John Denn

93rd Indiana Infantry

Sept 22, 1864

Patrick Davis

8th Iowa Cavalry

April 3, 1865, reported to Union lines May 9, 1865

George Fullford

71st Ohio Infantry

Dec 12, 1864, reptd to Camp Prole, Jan. 2, 1865

Elijah Fry

42nd Illinois Infantry

April 18, 1865, sent to Benton Barracks, June 22, 1865

Benjamin F Hall

5th New York Cavalry

March 26, 1865, reported within Union lines April 20, 1865

David Jones

101st Pennsylvania Infantry

Oct 18, 1864 – reported to Union lines in Key West Nov 14, 1864

Jackson Lee

Purnell's Legion

Sept 8, 1864, reported to Union lines near Savannah December 23, 1864

Robert Longstaff

5th Pennsylvania Cavalry

Reached Union Lines February 22, 1865

JJ Moorefield

111th Illinois Infantry

Reported to Union lines East Point, GA Sept 24, 1864

John Foley

2nd Battery Vermont Light Artillery

Sept 9, 1864, reported to Union lines at Decatur, GA Sept 26, 1864

Thomas Hammond

16th Illinois Cavalry

Aug 23, 1864

Solomon Halfhill

59th Ohio Infantry

Aug 22, 1864, rept to Union lines Atlanta Sept 16, 1864

Adam Head

12th Ohio Infantry

July 12, 1864, reptd to Union lines Aug 24, 1864

George Potter

2nd Tennessee Volunteers

Reported to Union lines March 13, 1865

Henry McKinzie

14th Illinois Volunteers

Aug 24, 1864 – reported to Union lines at New Orleans Sept 23, 1864

William Stepp

2nd Tennessee Volunteers

Nov 27, 1864, reported to Union lines in Knoxville, TN Dec 26, 1864

Stanley Calaway

1st Tennessee Volunteers

Sept 10, 1864, Reported to Knoxville Nov 2, 1864

George Telford

71st Ohio Infantry

Dec 11, 1864

John Turner

23rd Michigan Volunteers

Reported to Union lines April 20, 1865

Franklin Cass

7th New Hampshire Volunteers

Sept 17, 1864, reported to Union lines at Atlanta Sept 20, 1864

Nicholas Williams

4th US Cavalry

May 1, 1865, reported to Union lines, May 19, 1865

John Wallace

7th Ohio Cavalry

March 25, 1865, reached Union lines at Nashville April 15, 1865

Henry Gould

28th Massachusetts Infantry

Reported to Union lines December 15, 1864

John Eager

5th Iowa Cavalry

Sept 22, 1864

Last updated: November 29, 2022

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