Few images are as synonymous with Andersonville as the photographs of emaciated prisoners; so thin that you can see all of their bones and joints. They often remind us of images we see from the concentration camps of the 1930s and 40s. But who are these men? Are they even Andersonville prisoners? What do these photos tell us about the Civil War prison experience?
Although some of these images are 1865 photographs of Andersonville survivors, many of these famous photographs are actually of recently released prisoners from Richmond in early 1864. After the prisoner exchange cartel broke down, large numbers of Union soldiers captured in late 1863 were crammed into warehouses around Richmond and on Belle Isle. This rapid influx overwhelmed the Confederacy's ability to feed them or provide medical care. The Confederate army quickly began to search for a replacement prison and Andersonville was selected in the fall of 1863. Construction on the new prison began in January 1864 and the first prisoners arrived from Richmond in February. These transfers continued throughout the spring of 1864. By April 1864, most of the enlisted prisoners remaining in Richmond were those too sick to move. Many of these sick prisoners were paroled and turned over to Union hospitals for medical care.