Myth: Andersonville is the only prison that is preserved or discussed.

Park ranger dressed as a Confederate soldier held at Castle Williams in the New York harbor.
A living historian at talks with visitors about the experiences of Confederate soldiers held prisoner at Castle Williams, one of two Civil War prison sites that are a part of Governors Island National Monument.

NPS/Governor's Island National Monument

Myth: Andersonville is the only prison that is preserved or discussed.

Origins: At one point in our nation's history, there was some truth to this. The majority of published prisoner memoirs were from Andersonville, and Andersonville received the bulk of the attention during the monument building phase around the turn of the twentieth century. Families of those men held in other prisons, especially Federal Military Prisons, began an active campaign to raise awareness about other prisons. "Remember these other prisons, because nobody ever talks about them" became a rallying cry that has been passed down for generations.

However, in recent years this has not been the case and, in a sense, this campaign of memory has achieved significant success. Currently there are twelve Civil War military prisons that are preserved by the National Park Service, and there are many other prison sites that are preserved by state and local agencies and organizations. Programming is in place at most of these sites to share the Civil War prison story. Additionally, current scholarship and publication trends do not support this notion. In the last fifteen years or so there have been numerous books published on either broader Civil War prison policies or focused on specific camps other than Andersonville. These include, but are not limited to While in the Hands of the Enemy by Charles Sanders, Portals to Hell by Lonnie Speer, Lincoln's Code by John Witt, Andersonvilles of the North by James Gillespie, To Die in Chicago by George Levy, Life and Death in Civil War Prisons by Michael Martinez, and The Business of Captivity: Elmira and its Civil War Prison by Michael Gray. During this same time there have been relatively few works published specifically on Andersonville. So while this belief that other prisons are ignored may have once been founded in truth, it no longer represents current preservation or scholarship efforts.

One of the reasons that this myth persists is that neither Camp Douglas nor Elmira, two of the most infamous Federal Military Prisons, were preserved after the war. Both of these prisons were in urban environments, and after the conclusion of the war, the cities of Elmira, NY and Chicago, IL, simply enveloped the old prison sites through urban growth before any real preservation could take place. This issue of urban overgrowth is not limited to Camp Douglas and Elmira. For example, many of the prisons around Richmond have suffered the same fate, as have many of the urban battlefields of the war such as Franklin, TN. This lack of preservation is not unique to these two sites.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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Andersonville National Cemetery
National Prisoner of War Museum
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Andersonville , GA 31711


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