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NPS History E-Library

Civil War Series

The Prison Camp at Andersonville


An increase in prisoners meant there were more soldiers who tried to escape. Many tunnels were dug, and some prisoners did get out. Sometimes for a mere morsel of food, prisoners would inform the authorities of escape plans they were aware of, leading to the capture of men. Tunnels were discovered 14 feet deep and from 90 to 100 feet long.


The guards numbered 1,178, many of whom were ill from whooping cough and the measles. Most of the guards were raw recruits. The authorities were always afraid that the prisoners would escape through the tunnels and ravage the surrounding countryside. A letter from General Winder dated June 24, 1864, echoed the need for more guards: "Twenty five thousand men, by the mere force of numbers, can accomplish a great deal. If successful, the result to the country would be much more disastrous than a defeat of the armies; it would result in the total ruin and devastation of this whole section of the country. Every house would be burned, violence to women, destruction of crops, carrying off negroes, horses, mules, and wagons. It is impossible to estimate the extent of such a disaster. A little timely, prudent preparation will easily render it impossible. At the bottom of this letter, he wrote, "We have just discovered a tunnel reaching 130 feet outside the stockade." On June 20 it was reported that two guards had been hanged for attempting to escape with the prisoners.


Camp Morton was located in Indianapolis, Indiana. The first prisoners arrived on February 22, 1862. The camp closed in July, 1865. The camp had run-down barracks and the hospital facilities were inadequate. The prisoners did not have enough blankets or clothing. Rations were sparse. During its existence, it was reported that Camp Morton held 12,082 prisoners and 1,763, or 14.6%, died.

The dead were buried at Greenlawn Cemetery. Some were taken south by relatives after the war. The bodies were later moved to Section 32 of Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. The location is marked by a stone monument.


While the month of June found the prison authorities pleading for more guards, the doctors desperately sought more tents and supplies. The new hospital on the outside of the prison had tents for 800, and there were 1,035 in the hospital with another 3,000 sick in the compound. As Private Aslaksan, 9th Minnesota Cavalry, later wrote, "The sight of all this misery, the starved, dying and half-naked humans all around, those with scurvy misshaped limbs, swollen limbs, swollen joints, and festering sores infected with gangrene, all contributed to make the newcomer so unnerved that he would soon get into a mental condition of dispair out of which the ghost beacon of death seemed welcome."

May 28, 1864

A man named Turner; who lived near the prison kept a pack of bloodhounds, and he was employed by Capt. Wirz to catch those who escaped. Every morning at daylight the dogs were called together and with their master, who was mounted on a large bay horse, they made a circuit of the prison.

Josiah Brownell
Private, Co. A,
13th U.S. Infantry

A select group of 300 prisoners worked on the outside of the stockade. They went into the country to get vegetables and perform odd jobs. They had a camp of their own with only one officer to guard them. They chopped logs for the stockade addition, worked in the bakery where provisions for the prisoners in the stockade were cooked, and worked as carpenters. They also buried the dead and served as teamsters and litter-bearers.

It was the end of June when, with the help of Captain Wirz, the "Raiders" were identified and removed from the stockade for trial. Throughout the existence of the camp these men had robbed, murdered and in all ways made life even more horrible for the prisoners. A police force had been organized within the prison called "The Regulators" which was headed up by a man known as "Limber Jim."


June 1, 1864

Took a walk around camp. Deplorable sight. Some without clothing, some in last agonies of death; others writhing under the pangs of disease or wounds; some as black as mulattos with smoke and dirt.

Eugene Forbes
Sgt., Co. B.
4th New Jersey Infantry

On June 30, under the signature of General Winder, it was determined that the Raiders would be tried for crimes against their fellow prisoners. Winder said in his order, "On such trials the charges will be distinctly made with specifications setting forth time and place, a copy of which will be furnished the accused. The proceedings, findings, and sentence in each case will be sent to the commanding officer for record, and if found in order and proper, the sentence will be ordered for execution."

The trial was held and some of the guilty Raiders were ordered to wear a ball and chain, while others were strung up by their thumbs or set in the stocks. Six of the leaders: Collins, Delaney, Curtis, Rickson, Sarsfield and Munn, were found guilty of murder and were ordered to be hanged. Their sentence was to be carried out the following month.

On July 11, 1864, the six Raider leaders were hanged. During the execution attempt Collins' rope broke and he tried to escape. He was caught by fellow prisoners and was hanged for a second time, begging for his life.


On July 1 the addition to the prison had been completed, adding another ten acres to the stockade. It was now 26-1/2 acres. There were 26,367 prisoners in the compound. At 10:00 in the morning the moving commenced and it continued until sundown. At least 10,000 prisoners crowded through an opening. Of the 90 detachments in the prison, 45 detachments were ordered to move. There was a stampede for the new ground and many of the prisoners were hurt pressing through the 12-foot opening. The crowd was so great that the sick, falling down in the press, were trampled and killed; strong men became wedged between the moving mass and the standing timbers. How many were killed outright is not known. A large number of strong and weak alike were so injured that they never recovered.


From the July 1 Sumter Republican: Andersonville Prison Camp (called Camp Sumter in this story) has been enlarged. It is now 20 acres sufficient for...50,000 of Linkhorn's hirelings. There are 27,000 there now and 500 to 1000 a day...make applications for admittance. The mortality is about fifty a day." Actually during the month of July, 1,817 died—nearly 59 a day.

June 11, 1864

I went down to the gate and got the exact number of prisoners in the bullpen both black and white and I found them to be 22,330 and we are all packed on ten acre square. There is 18 in the piece but 8 of it is taken up for what is called the dead line and woe to the yank that gets his body inside of that line for every yank they shoot they get 30 days furlough and they don't stop to let you get in far before rip goes you Jacket.

Albert H. Schatzel

Those who had gone to the new side of the prison found that the clay in the ground was suitable for the making of brick or adobe by mixing it with water. Scores of prisoners thus went into the brickmaking business. A great many of them built the walls of their huts with this adobe mixture, which hardened nicely in the Georgia sun.

When the new portion of the prison was opened, the inmates took the wood from the old wall and used it for their shebangs and for cooking raw rations. This so infuriated Captain Wirz that they did not get rations for two days. According to Private John Northrup, 7th Connecticut Infantry, Captain Wirz was heard to say that "he would learn the God damn Yankees that he was in command and if the sons of bitches died like hell there would be enough left." After the prisoners had been without rations for two days, the authorities distributed beef. After being held for over two days the beef was crawling with vermin when finally served, but the famished men dared not allow such trifles to stand in the way of satisfying their hunger, and it was devoured with a relish.

Bread was baked in the prison ovens and was devoured by the prisoners.

June 17, 1864

It was often that the last to arrive at the prison were the first to succumb. The beans were so wormy and weavel eaten that it took one of us to skim off the maggots and insects all the time it was boiling.

Bjorn Aslaksan
Pvt., Co. H.
9th Minnesota Cavalry

Captain Wirz, at the recommendation of the medical staff, began the brewing of "corn beer." This was given to those suffering from scurvy and acted as an antidote to the scorbutic poison. The beer was made from cornmeal and whole corn scalded in hot water until it turned to mash. Some yeast was added to promote fermentation, and in a few days a sharp acid beverage was produced which was very wholesome and palatable. As prisoner John E. Warren, 7th Wisconsin Artillery wrote, "This same corn beer was made within the stockade by the prisoners, but not to the extent that it was manufactured on the outside, nor of so good a quality." The food situation seemed to be improving since prisoners could also buy green corn within the stockade at 25 cents per ear.

Food, water and death were on the minds of all of the prisoners. Prisoner Asa B. Isham, Co. F, 7th Michigan Cavalry, would write in later years, "A few steps to the right we find a hideous object lying in a hole, which his hands have scooped out in the sand. The tattered rags that partially cover him can not conceal the bones that gleam through the skin; his eyes move fearfully in his head, his hands clench tightly together, his limbs are drawn up in horrible contortions by the cramp. Placing our ear to his lips, we gather from his faint whispers that but a short time before he had left a happy home, flushed with hope and courage, to battle for liberty and right. A fond mother pressed her lips to his brow as, with tearful eyes, she bade him farewell; in the field he had performed deeds of valor. He was captured, and even while we linger beside him a faint shudder passes through his frame, and all is over."


Money and wordly goods could keep a man alive, especially during the difficult days of the summer of 1864. Captain Wirz had allowed sutlers inside the walls to sell items to the prisoners. If a prisoner had money, and many did, he could buy the necessities of life: peas, pones, wheat, flour and salt. These items were very expensive and rapidly ate up the prisoner's money. Luxuries such as tobacco, onions, eggs, soda, red pepper, gingerbread, soap, taffy, sour beer, apples and peaches were available to those with money. A great variety of items were exchanged for food: money, gold and silver watches and rings, shrewdly secreted from the sharp-eyed officials during the search prior to admission to the prison. Other valuable items included pocket-knives, mugs carved from wood and laurel pipe bowls. These could be easily traded with the guards. A peach could be purchased for fifty cents; salt, twenty-five cents per tablespoon; and soap, one dollar and a half per bar. The traders were noisy and persistent when yelling their wares: "Who has this nice ration of beef, for ten cents, only ten cents." "Here you can buy your cheap onions, only seventy-five cents apiece." Money or worldly goods could keep a man alive, mostly during the difficult days of the summer of 1864.


Camp Lawton was located about five miles from Millen, Georgia, and on the Augusta Railroad. The prison was laid out in the customary style of Confederate prisons with sloping hills at each end and a small stream flowing between the hills. The walls were 15 feet high and sufficient wood was left inside the walls so that the prisoners could construct crude huts. Rations were somewhat better than Andersonville but were still not sufficient to sustain life.

The prison was open for two months. The Lawton cemetery held 784 bodies. These bodies were moved to Beaufort National Cemetery in South Carolina in February 1868. Where Camp Lawton stood in 1868 there is now a state park, Magnolia Springs.



John Warren, 7th Wisconsin Artillery, later wrote of an encounter with Captain Wirz on July 16, 1864. "I met Wirz while on one of his inside visits. He stopped his horse, and I explained to him briefly the situation and the condition of my comrades. Said I, 'if something is not to be done for them at once, in a few days death will be the result'; and this was the substance of his reply, 'I am doing all I can, I am hampered and pressed for rations. I am even exceeding my authority in issuing supplies. I am blamed by the prisoners for all of this suffering. They do not or will not realize that I am a subordinate, governed by orders of my commanding officer. Why, sir, my own men are on short rations. The best I can do is to see that your sick comrades are removed to the hospital. God help you, I cannot', and his eyes were filled with tears."


Johnson's Island is located three miles north of Sandusky, Ohio, in Sandusky Bay. The island consists of 300 acres of clay and loam soil, two to eight feet deep, underneath which is solid limestone. The prison was located in a cleared area of fifteen acres on the southeast shore of the island. The area was surrounded by a plank stockade fourteen feet high. The prisoner's quarters were comprised of thirteen two-story barrack type frame buildings. Each building was 120 feet by 28 feet, designed to accommodate 250 men. There was a woodburning stove in each building. Water was obtained from two surface wells, but pipes were installed later from the bay.

The first prisoners arrived in April 1862. The prison was an officer's prison. Over the period of 40 months the prison was open, at least 12,000 Confederate officers were imprisoned at Johnson's Island. All that remains today of Johnson's Island prison is the cemetery where 206 Confederate soldiers and a few enlisted men are buried. At the entrance to the cemetery stands a statue of a Confederate soldier peering out over the waters of the bay. It is called "The Outlook."

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