Civil War Prisons

WWW Guide to Civil War Prisons
by Richard Jensen, professor emeritus of history, U of Illinois

revised 4-9-2004

online at
  1. James Ford Rhodes, leading historian of 1890s evaluates the prison issue sources used by Rhodes, with hot links
  2. Study Questions
    1. Describe the layout of Andersonville prison.
    2. Why did the prison have such a high mortality rate? How many prisoners were so sick or badly injured they would have died even with very good care?
    3. Who was responsible for the conditions and deaths at Andersonville?
    4. Did the Yankees deliberately mistreat their Confederate prisoners? Analyze in terms of camp locations, heat, food, medical care, and psychological pressures. If so, why?
    5. Why did the system of prisoner exchanges break down; who gained the advantage?
    6. After the war, Yankee prisoners returned with horrible stories of prison life. Politicians routinely pointed to their sufferings (this campaign rhetoric was called "waving the bloody shirt.") What post-war events were directly influenced by former prisoners?
    7. "Wirz was the last casualty of Andersonville." Do you think this is true? Explain your reasons. Was justice carried out? Discuss.

    2004 Bibliography

    Primary Sources

    primary sources are coded in green in this font
  3. Links to Civil War Military Resurces
  4. Links to Civil War Political Resources
  5. 19th Century Secondary Sources

    Recent scholarly studies (secondary sources)

    annotations from America History and Life
    • Blakey, Frederic. General John H. Winder, C.S.A. (1990), good biography of Andersonville's commander.
    • Byrne, Frank L., "Libby Prison: A Study in Emotions," Journal of Southern History 1958 24(4): 430-444. Southern fear, rather than Confederate shortages, caused the incidents which were most criticized by the prisoners in Libby Prison at Richmond during the Civil War. Hampered by their own inadequacies, the prison officials doubted their ability to maintain control. Their sometimes desperate precautions aroused the hatred of the prisoners, who disregarded the effect of their own lack of discipline upon conditions, and interpreted life at Libby as a systematic Confederate oppression. The interaction of the guards' fears and the prisoners' hate brought the two parties to their respective lowest points - the Libby powder mine and the imprisonment of the prison inspector without charge.
    • Burnham, Philip. "The Andersonvilles of the North," MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History (1997) 10(1): 46-55.
    • Burnham, Philip. So Far from Dixie: Confederates in Yankee Prisons (2003)
    • Butts, Michele Tucker. Galvanized Yankees on the Upper Missouri: The Face of Loyalty (2003), about Confederate prisoners who joined Union army in the west.
    • Chesson, Michael B. "Prison Camps and Prisoners of War," in Steven E. Woodworth, ed. The American Civil War (1996), 466-78; good review of published studies.
    • Michael P. Gray, The Business of Captivity in the Chemung Valley: Elmira and Its Civil War Prison (2001)
    • Hesseltine, William B. Civil War Prisons: A Study in War Psychology Ohio State University Press: Columbus, 1998 (see Originally published 1930, but remains an excellent overview.
    • Hesseltine, William B. "The Propaganda Literature of Confederate Prisons," Journal of Southern History (1935 1:56-66.
    • Hesseltine, William B. "Civil War Prisons - Introduction" Civil War History 1962 8(2): 117-120. Controversy raged, and continues to rage, over treatment of Northern and Southern troops in prisons. Some 193,743 Northerners and 214,865 Southerners are thought to have been confined. About 30 thousand Union and nearly 26 thousand Confederate prisoners died in captivity. Prisons were inadequate, but imponderables affect statements of deaths and alleged cruelties. Both sides confused issues with propaganda.

    • Futch, Ovid. "Prison Life at Andersonville," Civil War History 1962 8(2): pp. 121-135. Prisoners suffered from inactivity. Much of their time was spent ministering to their own necessities. Conversation, food, rumors of battles and prisoner exchanges, plans for escape, reading matter, correspondence, religious services are among topics covered.
    • McLain, Minor H. "The Military Prison At Fort Warren," Civil War History 1962 8(2): pp. 135-151. The Federal prison in Boston Harbor housed Confederate prisoners of war who learned to live in conditions of mutual respect with their captors. This occurred despite problems in overcrowding and inadequate rations. Local feelings divided on whether to be kind or harsh to prisoners. Only 12 of them died in the Fort during the war.
    • Walker, T. R. "Rock Island Prison Barracks," Civil War History 1962 8(2): pp. 152-163. This prison in the Mississippi River was built for and received its first Confederate captives in 1863. To some it was a Northern "Andersonville"; others defended it as adequate for the purpose. Extreme cold and a smallpox epidemic caused suffering and hundreds of deaths. Problems of burial, building additional facilities, and treatment of the sick absorbed administrations. Many prisoners took advantage of the President's Amnesty Proclamation of December 8, 1863.
    • Byrne, Frank L., ed. "A General Behind Bars: Neal Dow in Libby Prison," Civil War History 1962 8(2): pp. 164-183. Libby was a Confederate prison for Union officers at Richmond, Virginia. Dow, famous promulgator of the "Maine Law" against liquor-selling, became a brigadier general who was captured in 1863. He joined some one thousand Federal officers in confinement. His diary, reproduced in part, reflects their tribulations and concerns.
    • Robertson, James I., Jr. "The Scourge of Elmira," Civil War History 1962 8(2): pp. 184-201. Here a conservative 24 percent death rate among Confederate prisoners topped even that of the more publicized compound at Camp Sumter, Georgia. Elmira's enclosed barracks in New York began receiving Confederates 15 May 1864. Overcrowding, offensive garbage and sewage conditions, the indignity of being observed in their misery by townspeople, winter conditions, hunger, and and it so continued until Lee's surrender.
    • Downer, Edward T., "Johnson's Island," Civil War History 1962 8(2): pp. 202-217. This site, three miles north of Sandusky, Ohio, not far out in Lake Erie, was novel to Southerners in captivity; some had never before seen snow. The prison functioned from early 1862 to the end of the war. Problems included efforts to escape when the water froze, and fears of Confederate assaults from Canada.
    • Armstrong, William M., "Cahaba to Charleston: The Prison Odyssey of Lt. Edmund E. Ryan," Civil War History 1962 8(2): pp. 218-227. This prison diary is by a Pennsylvanian who was captured on two separate occasions and suffered eight months of imprisonment in more than six Confederate prison camps.
    • Michael Horigan, Elmira: Death Camp of the North (2002) "There are quite a large number of barracks at Elmira, N.Y., which are not occupied and are fit to hold rebel prisoners. Quite a large number of those lately captured could be accommodated at this place." These words, written by Brig. General Edward D. Townsend to Col. William Hoffman, commissary general of prisoners, began the terrible saga of Elmira, the horrifying Union prison camp where, from July, 1864 to July, 1865, 3,000 prisoners out of 12,000 died from malnutrition, exposure and disease.
      In the first book ever published on Elmira, Michael Horigan provides a chilling, well-researched narrative that explores the history and the inhuman conditions of a place that has achieved a reputation equal to the infamous Andersonville. Elmira: Death Camp of the North shows that the deaths at the prison stemmed from conditions caused by overcrowding, poor sanitation and the deliberate restriction of rations, part of an aggressive policy of retaliation that was endorsed and promoted by Edwin Stanton, Lincoln's strong-willed and autocratic Secretary of War.
      Despite original estimates of a maximum capacity of 5,000 men, Col. Hoffman judged the total number should be 8,000 to 10,000—a decision that defies explanation to this day. He was known as a budget-conscious administrator who withheld large sums of money for rations, clothing, and medical supplies. This tight-fisted policy perfectly meshed with the feeling of Stanton, who had long known of the poor treatment Union prisoners were subjected to. He informed Lincoln that Union prisoners "are undergoing ferocious barbarity or the more horrible death of starvation," and suggested that "precisely the same rations and treatment be...practiced to the rebel[s] our hands." When the prison first opened, there were no hospital facilities; a chief surgeon did not arrive until a month later. The man who assumed the post, Maj. Eugene F. Sanger, was known for his surgical skill as well as his icy demeanor and harsh, unforgiving nature. One of the most controversial Union officers to serve at Elmira, he was viewed by many as a "great source of evil." The root of the horrendous lack of sanitation was Foster's Pond, a stagnant body of water that ran through the camp. From the first days of the prison's existence, the pond's lethal potential was noted and drainage was immediately suggested as a remedy. Unfortunately for the inmates, this never happened.
      Ironically, prisoner exchange had been carried out to some degree throughout the war. By 1864, however, Gen. Ulysses Grant—by now general-in chief of the Union armies—made it clear that this practice would halt: "Every man we hold, when released on parole...becomes an active soldier against us...If we hold those caught they amount to no more than dead men."
    • Martinez, J Michael. Life And Death In Civil War Prisons : The Parallel Torments of Corporal John Wesly Minnich, C.S.A. and Sergeant Warren Lee Goss, U.S.A. (2004) see
    • Marvel, William. Andersonville: The Last Depot. (U. of North Carolina Press, 1994). 337 pp. Excellent scholarly study.
    • McAdams, Benton. Rebels at Rock Island: The Story of a Civil War Prison (2000) Rock Island Barracks was one of a half-dozen large Northern prisons, but one of only three facilities built specifically for that purpose. Soon after opening its doors in December 1863, the barracks teemed with 5000 sick and starving Confederates—more than it could possibly accommodate. There were more hardships to come that first winter. Ice storms hit the area, freezing the river; there was a shortage of coal, and an abundance of smallpox that began to decimate the inmate population. To make matters worse, the Union's miserly Commissary General of Prisoners, William Hoffman, did not exactly endear himself to the inmates when he cut their molasses rations on Christmas Eve.
      However, the author persuasively argues that conditions here were really no worse than at other Union prisons--and paled in comparison to the horrors of Andersonville. The mortality rate at Rock Island was a robust 16 percent, true, but nothing like the 30 percent experienced at Andersonville, or even the 24 percent at a comparable Northern prison at Elmira, New York.
      So why was Rock Island Barracks singled out for opprobrium by historians and novelists? McAdams traces the myth, in part, to a newspaper duel between Adolphus J. Johnson, the camp's flinty commandant, and Joseph Baker Danforth Jr., the editor of the Rock Island Argus. A staunch Democrat and opponent of the war, Danforth used his journalistic pulpit to decry conditions at the prison and demonize Johnson in particular. Johnson did little to help his own cause with intemperate remarks about wanting to see the prisoners starve. And when the camp finally shuttered its doors in 1865 there were plenty of bitter ex-POWs around to spread the word about inhumane jailers and induced suffering. Read excerpt
    • Neely, Southern Rights: Political Prisoners and the Myth of Confederate Constitutionalism (1999) book review
    • Speer, Lonnie R. Portals to Hell: Military Prisons of the Civil War. (Stackpole, 1997), 410 pp.
    • Temple, Brian. The Union Prison at Fort Delaware: A Perfect Hell on Earth (2003)
    • brief scholarly articles on "Prisoners of War" and "Prisons" in Richard N. Current, et al., eds. Encyclopedia of the Confederacy. ( Simon & Schuster, 1993); reprinted in The Confederacy: Macmillan Information Now Encyclopedia (1998)
  6. Popular Descriptions
  7. Andersonville National Park
  8. Life as a Prisoner
  9. Castle Thunder Prison in Richmond VA see also the recent book: George W. Alexander and Castle Thunder: A Confederate Prison and Its Commandant by Frances H. Casstevens (2004)
  10. Finding specific Information:
  11. Civil War Research Database search for individual soldiers
  12. How to Order Civil War Records
    The National Archives has most of the prison records. Write them at
    Phone # of Civil and Old Military reference staff=202-501-5385
    National Archives Civil & Old Military Records
    700 Pennsylvania Ave NW, room 13W
    Washington,D.C. 20408

    If you know his name and unit, POW status should be in his "military service record"--also at the National Archives in DC.
    For Andersonville prisoners, look at the cd-rom

  13. Rhodes 1904 History

    Editors' note: the treatment of captured prisoners was highly charged emotionally and politically during and after the Civil War. Both sides used atrocity stories to further their political goals. During Reconstruction and as late as the 1880s, politicians "waved the bloody shirt" to stir up hatred of the other section, and most often they reminded voters of the atrocities committed against prisoners of war. James Ford Rhodes was a Yankee historian on the 1890s best known for his meticulous research and his ability to move beyond sectional hatred. His analysis is a secondary source and it remains one of the clearest and least polemical. We have hot-linked most of Rhodes' sources. Page numbers in [brackets] refer to the 1920 edition. The maps and graphics included here were added by the editor and are not in the Rhodes book. We have used the 1920 reprint of the 1904 book; a copy is in many public and college libraries.

    James Ford Rhodes
    History of the United States of America:
    From the Compromise of 1850 to the McKinley-Bryan Campaign of 1896

    Vol 5: 1864-1866 Chapter XXIX
    New York: Macmillan, 1904; 1920 edition
    copyright has expired; this is a public domain document


    I [Rhodes] have reserved for a separate chapter the consideration of the treatment of the prisoners of war and some cognate topics. No subject is so difficult of discussion between Southern and Northern men as that suggested by the word "Andersonville." Military strategy and tactics in all of the battles are discussed in a calm spirit; the merits and faults of Confederate and Union generals are impartially weighed; political and social questions are taken up as if they were a century rather than lithe more than a generation old; even the emancipation of the Negro is examined with candour by Southern writers and the devastation of territory though often still arousing indignation can be talked or written about without loss of temper. For arriving at the truth about the treatment of the prisoners of war the materials are ample and the time has come when this subject should be considered with an even mind.(1) The publication of series ii. of the Official Records brings to light new evidence and arranges the old in proper juxtaposition. Though the United States government is a party to the case, the accomplished editors of the War Department have printed the letters and documents acquired largely through their industrious research, wholly with the view to ascertain the truth no matter which side it should favour. Acting thus in the true historic spirit they have recognized the right of South as well as North to a share in the literary property of the United States; and the historical student who emulates their industry and impartiality will be able to present an accurate relation of the treatment of the prisoners of war. The material is enormous and a year were none too much for an exact and comprehensive study of it.... (1) I do not mean to imply that the subject has not been impartially treated. Certainly I cannot hope to do better than Professor Rufus B. Richardson has done in his article on Andersonville in the New Englander for November, 1880. I possess, however, the advantage over him of the convenient arrangement o! the important material to which he had access and of the new material which if brought to light in series ii of the Official Records. There may be other impartial disquisitions that deserve the high praise to which Professor Richardson's paper is entitled, but I do not happen to know them. The second-hand material which I have read, except Professor Richardson's, has been entirely polemical. Rufus B. Richardson, "Andersonville,"New Englander Nov. 1880.
    In this mass of material the man with a preconceived notion can find facts to his liking. If he desire to prove that the Union prisoners at the South were badly treated and that the Confederate prisoners at the North were dealt with in "a noble, magnanimous manner"(1) he will find evidence to support his proposition; he will be able to adduce Southern testimony sustaining both parts of his thesis. If on the other hand he desire to show the reverse, that the cruelty was at the North and the kindness at the South he can bring forward Northern testimony in support of his view. A shrewd advocacy of either of those preconceived notions may be all the more insidious when supported by evidence from the enemy fairly presented; the apparent proof may them be made stronger by garbled quotations from the same source; and to clinch the argument an overpowering mass of testimony may be adduced from the side whose cause he has espoused. Contemporary statements of those who suffered may be found in profusion and systematic presentations of one argument or the other may be read in papers of high Confederate or Union officials and committees of Congress especially empowered for the investigation of the subject. In no part of the history of the Civil War is a wholesome skepticism more desirable and nowhere is more applicable a fundamental tenet of historical criticism that all the right is never on one side and all the wrong on the other. (1) Report of a commission of inquiry appointed by the U. S. Sanitary Commission, p. 96. Online are: Extracts from the Minutes of Proceedings of the Standing Committee of the United States Sanitary Commission...1864 and
  14. Appendix to the Report of the Sanitary Commission (1864).
  15. Prisoners Exchanged at Start of War

    Prisoners began to be taken in 1861; and in 1862 great numbers were captured by both armies. Had the war been one between two nations the procedure would have been simple. Exchanges would at once have been made. But here the question was complicated by the North desiring to avoid recognizing in any way the Confederate government while the Confederate agents endeavoured to entrap the Northern representatives into some such recognition. At first the Confederacy held the greater number of prisoners but after the capture of Fort Donelson that balance fell to the side of the North and as one of the points made was that the excess remaining over the actual exchanges should be paroled, each side changed its attitude conformably to its immediate interest. A good deal of fencing, a natural concomitant of the situation, went on which finally resulted July 22, 1862 in the arrangement of a cartel between Generals Dix and D. H. Hill under which with only brief interruptions exchanges went on until December 28 1862 when Secretary Stanton ordered the discontinuance of the exchange of commissioned officers. (1) This action was due to a proclamation of Jefferson Davis issued five days previously declaring Benjamin F. Butler "a felon deserving of capital punishment" for having (1) O. R., series iii. vol. v. p.128. [page 486]
    executed William B. Mumford in New Orleans (1) and ordering that no commissioned officer be released on parole until Butler had been punished for "his crimes." Davis further declared that all commissioned officers serving under Butler were "robbers and criminals" and if captured should be reserved for execution. Taking up the Negro question which now became a part of the controversy owing to Lincoln's proclamation of emancipation of September 22, 1862 and the attempts to enlist Negro soldiers he decreed that "all Negro slaves captured in arms" and their white officers should be delivered over to the respective States of the Confederacy to be dealt with according to their laws (2) they could thus be proceeded against under the rigorous statutes relating to Negro insurrections. (1) Mumford hauled down the U. S. flag which had been raised upon the U. S. Mint by Farragut, "dragged it through the streets and tore it in shreds." He was executed June 7, 1862. Butler to Stanton, June 10, OR, series ii. vol. iii. p. 673 .
    (2) Ibid., vol. v. p. 795.

    Special exchanges however went on for a while under an extra- cartel method but these were stopped May 25, 1863 by an order of General Halleck, this order being probably an answer to the joint resolution of the Confederate Congress defining the status of Negroes in arms and their white officers who might be captured. (3) The declaration by the Confederate commissioner that a large portion of the prisoners captured and paroled by General Grant at Vicksburg were to be regarded as having been exchanged and that the Confederate government did not recognize the paroles at Port Hudson interjected another difficulty. Both points were contested by the Union authorities and a long and voluminous correspondence full of mutual recrimination followed together with many ex-parte statements and report.

    (3) Ibid., p, 696; vol. vi. pp. 136, 647. The joint resolution of the Confederate Congress, approved May 1, 1863, declared, "That every white person being a commissioned officer. . . who shall command Negroes or mulattoes in arms against the Confederate States. . . shall be deemed as inciting servile insurrection, and shall if captured be put to death or be otherwise punished at the discretion of the Court." A final section provided that the Negroes captured should be delivered to the authorities of the States to be dealt with according to their present or future laws. Statutes at Large, Confederate States. See correspondence between Generals Grant and Taylor, O. R., vol. xxiv. part i. pp. 425, 443, 469, also pp. 589, 590.

    Conditions in 1863

    Thus in 1863 a large number of prisoners were held by each side. The prisons at the North were overcrowded(1) The arrangements for getting rid of the faeces were defective, the supply of water was often short, bathing facilities hardly existed, the ventilation left much to be desired and the drainage was bad. The policing was imperfect, vermin abounded. Filth is the word most frequently met with in the descriptions of the prisons. Some of the commandants were inefficient, others were intemperate. In the winter the prisoners suffered from the cold and on the still-remembered bitter day of January 1, 1864 when it is said the mercury at Johnson's Island, Ohio went down to 25 degrees below zero and at Camp Morton, Indianapolis to 20 below the suffering was acute. But they had an abundance of food and everywhere the shelter of barracks, except at Point Lookout where tents were provided.(2) Clothing and blankets were furnished them and stoves were put up in the barracks. The orders were that they should be supplied with the same rations as soldiers in the army but as it was not expected that they would consume so much, the value of articles that could be withheld conveniently constituted a "prison fund," out of which eatables conducive to the health of the captives and not included in the army ration were to be purchased. Prisoners who had money were permitted to buy food and clothing and sympathizing relatives and friends at the North sent boxes of these articles which under certain restrictions as to clothing were delivered to the men for whom they were intended. (1) Confederate prisoners were held at Camp Douglas, Chicago, Camp Butler, Springfield, Ill., Camp Morton, Indianapolis, Camp Chase, Columbus, Johnson's Island, Ohio (set apart for officers); also at Elmira, N.Y., Rock Island and Alton, Ill., and St. Louis, Point Lookout, Maryland, and Fort Delaware, Del.
    (2) At other places the tents were temporary makeshifts.

    map of all camps; Andersonville = #8
    In 1863 the Union prisoners were for the most part confined in tobacco houses in Richmond, Libby being [page 488] chiefly devoted to officers, and on Belle Isle an island in the James River. Filth, vermin and generally unsanitary conditions prevailed; but the Richmond prisons were well supplied with water and at Libby there were bath-rooms, although there was a lack of soap. The ventilation was good. At Belle Isle there was no shelter but tents and not nearly enough tents to go round. The intention of the Confederate government was to furnish the prisoners the ration of their army but it sometimes failed and they as well as soldiers and citizens were a prey to the pangs of hunger. Those who had money were allowed to buy food in the market. It was impossible to supply bedding and clothing in any needed quantity and from the lack of these and sufficient fuel the winter's cold was hard to endure. For a while boxes of food, clothing and blankets were with the consent of the Confederate authorities sent from the North to the prisoners by the Federal government, by the Sanitary and Christian Commissions and by private parties. The clothing and blankets reached those for whom they were designed but not all of the food, much of which was eaten by hungry Confederates, although there was no authorized embezzlement.

    Complaints of Maltreatment

    Mutterings in the North against the Confederacy for the treatment of their prisoners of war began in 1862 developing the next year into systematic complaints. It was reported that the exchanged or paroled Union prisoners who arrived at Annapolis were generally "in a state of extreme destitution, with lithe or no clothing and that covered with filth and vermin. They are often physically emaciated and suffering from hunger and disease." (1) (1) March 3, 1863, O. R., series ii. vol. v. p. 328; see also pp. 396, 478, 487. The dissemination of such reports was met by the Southerners with counter complaints. "You take away the health and strength of Confederate soldiers," wrote Robert Ould, the Confederate agent of exchange to the Union officer holding a like position. "You your self see the living wrecks which come from Fort Delaware - men who went into that cruel keep hale and robust, men inured to almost every form of hardship and proof against everything except the regimen of that horrible prison." (1) "Can nothing be done," Ould again asks, "to stop the fearful mortality at Fort Delaware? Is it intended to fill our land with mourning by such means of subjugation?"(2) The other side is shown in the report of an assistant surgeon of the United States army touching 189 sick and wounded prisoners who were received at City Point from Belle Isle and destined for Annapolis. "Every case," he wrote, "wore upon it the visage of hunger, the expression of despair and exhibited the ravages of some preying disease within or the wreck of a once athletic frame. . . . Their hair was dishevelled, their beards long and matted with dirt, their skin blackened and caked with the most loathsome filth, and their bodies and clothing covered with vermin. Their frames were in the most cases all that was left of them. A majority had scarcely vitality sufficient to enable them to stand." Eight died on the passage to Annapolis and twenty-seven more soon after their arrival.(3) Stanton in his report to the President of December 5, 1863 said that the Confederate prisoners of war had been "treated with the utmost humanity and tenderness consistent with security," while the Union soldiers held captive at the South "were deprived of shelter, clothing and food and some have perished from exposure and famine." In his opinion this "savage barbarity" had been practised to force the Union government to the plan of exchange desired by the Confederate. (1) July 13, 1863, O. R., series ii. vol. vi. p.113.
    (2) Ibid., p.181.
    (3) Nov. 2, 1862, ibid., pp. 474, 475. 490
    On the other hand Jefferson Davis said in his message to his Congress December 7, 1863 that the "odious treatment of our officers and soldiers" had constrained the United States authorities, in order to shield themselves, to make misstatements "such as that the prisoners held by us are deprived of food." They are given, he asserted, the same rations "in quantity and quality as those served out to our own gallant soldiers in the field which has been found sufficient to support them in their arduous campaigns." Indeed, he continued, we have been indulgent in allowing them to be supplied by their friends at home with comforts superior to those enjoyed by their captors while "the most revolting inhumanity has characterized the conduct of the United States towards prisoners held by them." (1) At this stage of the controversy the crowning argument so far as concerned the effect on Northern public sentiment was presented by the Committee on the Conduct of the War who were requested by Stanton in May, 1864 to "examine with their own eyes" some prisoners at Annapolis who had been returned from Belle Isle. With the usual partisan report fortified by the usual ghastly details they sent out photographs of eight of the men, seven of whom in a naked or partly naked condition were taken sitting up, while the eighth apparently from extreme weakness was reclining in bed. The emaciation of the bodies and woebegone expression of the faces were horrible.(2) (1) O. R,., series ii. vol. vi. p. 679.
    (2) Report No. 67, 38th Cong. 1st Session
    What I have cited illustrates the spirit in which this question was approached from each side. The statements of those in authority must be regarded as partisan documents issued for the purpose of swaying public sentiment in the hottest campaign ever fought in America. This view does not imply that Davis and Stanton were insincere, for the native vindictiveness of these men and their intense devotion to their respective causes impelled them to believe any evil of their enemies and discredit any good. The feeling ran so high that [page 491] under officials were unconsciously affected and read into their observations and reports their own preconceived notions. The surgeons in their diagnoses were hardly governed by sectional animosity but when they speculated on causes, they ascribed to bad treatment ills that may well have had another origin. There was no intention on either side to maltreat the prisoners. A mass of men had to be cared for unexpectedly. Arrangements were made in a hurry and, as neither side expected a long duration of the war, they were only makeshifts devised with considerable regard for economy in expenditure. There was bad management at the North and still worse at the South owing to a less efficient organization with meagre resources. And it plainly appears from the mass of the evidence that the prisoner at the North was the better off of the two as he had always food and shelter. All testimony is concurrent that there is no torture equal in intensity to the fierce longing for food and this was often the lot of the captive Union soldier. The condition of many was aggravated after December 11, 1863 when the Confederates for what they deemed valid reasons refused to receive provisions and clothing sent from the North for the Federal prisoners.(1) (1) O. R., series ii. vol. vi. p. 686. Had the war ended with the year 1863, the treatment of poisoners North and South could have been considered dispassionately with substantial agreement in the conclusions of candid inquirers. To the refusal to exchange prisoners and to threatened retaliation by the North and to Andersonville at the South are due for the most part the bitterness which has been infused into this controversy.


    The Confederate government appreciated that it was impossible to feed their prisoners if retained in Richmond and on Belle Isle and from time to time they sent some of them to places farther south. In November, [page 492] 1863 an order was issued for the establishment of a prison in Georgia, the granary of the eastern part of the Confederacy, and for this purpose a tract of land was selected near the town of Andersonville. A stockade 15 feet high enclosing 16 1/2 acres was built and this in June, 1864 was enlarged to 26 1/2 acres but 3 1/4 acres near the centre was too marshy to be used. A small stream ran through the enclosure which it was thought would furnish water sufficient for drinking and for bathing. The trees within the stockade were cut down and no shelter was provided for the expected inmates, who began to arrive in February, 1864 before the rude prison was completed according to the design and before an adequate supply of bacon for their use had been received. Prisoners continued to come until on the 5th of May there were about 12,000 which number went on increasing until in August it exceeded 32,000: their condition was one of extreme wretchedness. Those who came first erected rude shelters from the debris of the stockade; later arrivals burrowed in the ground or protected themselves with any blankets or pieces of cloth of which they had not been deprived according to the practice of robbing men who were taken prisoners, which prevailed on both sides. Through an unfortunate location of the baking and cooking houses on the creek above the stockade the water became polluted before it reached the prisoners, so that to obtain pure water they must dig wells. After a severe storm a spring broke out within the enclosure and this became one of the main reliances for drinking water. The sinks were constructed over the lower part of the stream but the current was not swift enough to carry away the ordure, and when the stream was swollen by rain and overflowed the faecal matter was deposited over a wide area producing a horrible stench. This was the famous prison of Andersonville.

    Worse suffering still came from the pangs of hunger. It was the intention of the authorities to issue the same ration to the prisoners as to the soldiers in the field, viz. one-third of a pound of pork, one and a quarter pounds of corn meal and occasionally beans, rice and molasses. The meal was issued unbolted and when baked made a coarse and unwholesome bread. At times provisions ran short. On July 25, 1864 General John H. Winder, the commandant telegraphed to Adjutant General Cooper: "There are 29,400 prisoners, 2650 troops, 500 Negroes and other laborers and not a ration at the post." He further expressed the opinion that there should be at least ten days' rations kept on hand.(1) This despatch was submitted to the commissary-general who reported that Lee's and Hood's armies were largely dependent upon Georgia for their supplies; that he had no money either to buy or impress provisions; and that when Lee's army was but a day's ration ahead it was unreasonable to think of providing a ten days' store for the prisoners.(2) Sometimes the food was stolen by the Confederates or by the detailed prisoners who had charge of its distribution. Even when there was sufficient food at the post cooking utensils and facilities for distribution were lacking. Captain Henry Wirz the "Captain commanding prison" reported that at least 8000 men in the stockade must be deprived of their "rations of rice, beans, vinegar and molasses" because of the lack of buckets.[3] To supplement the cooking houses the raw food was turned over to some of the prisoners who were ill provided with wood as well as utensils for its proper preparation. When the quantity was sufficient its quality afforded but harsh nutriment to the Northern soldier accustomed to the generous rations of his own government. It is entirely comprehensible that the Southern man should have marched long and fought well on his accustomed fare of "hog and hominy "from which the hungry and sick prisoner at Andersonville sometimes turned with disgust used as he had been to fresh meat, wheaten bread and coffee.

    (1) O. R., ser. ii. vol. vii. p. 499.
    (2) Ibid.
    (3) June 6, 1864, ibid., p. 207.
    Thus insufficiently nourished, exposed by day to the fierce southern sun, by night to dews, drenched with torrential rains, languishing amidst filth and stench, breathing polluted air, homesick depressed desperate, these men were an easy prey to the diseases of diarrhoea, dysentery, scurvy and gangrene. Owing to their "depraved blood," "a pin scratch, a prick of a splinter, an abrasion or even a mosquito bite" would cause gangrenous ulcers; and these also were caused by vaccination, which was ordered when smallpox made its appearance in the prison.(1) The hospital was originally located within the stockade but a brief trial showed this plan to be a fatal mistake and it was moved outside and placed by a stream under a grove of trees. But it was inadequate to accommodate all who were sick and hundreds of men who were unable to find room in the hospital died in the stockade. The physicians for the most part seem to have been honest and humane but even if they had been skilful they could have accomplished little in the absence of a proper diet, bedding and medicines for the sick. Andersonville was in the words of the Confederate surgeon Joseph Jones a "gigantic mass of human misery." Nearly one-third of the captives died within seven months (2) and the human wrecks who finally reached home caused an impression which must be reckoned with in any account of Northern public sentiment after the end of the war. (1) Report of Assistant Surgeon Thornburgh (Confederate), O. R., ser. ii. vol. viii. p. 626.
    (2) Jones wrote Oct.19, 1864: "Since the establishment of this prison on the 24th of February, 1864, over 10,000 Federal prisoners have died; that in near one-third of the entire number have perished in less than seven months." -Ibid., vol. vii. p.1012.
    Andersonville, drawn by prisoner

    To form an estimate of the horrors of Andersonville it is not necessary to go beyond Southern contemporaneous [page 495] testimony. As early as April 17, 1864 Adjutant General Cooper had from thence the report of a "frightful mortality." (1) On May 5 Howell Cobb wrote to him that the prison was "already too much crowded"; that if the number of prisoners were increased without enlargement of the prison these would be "a terrific increase of sickness and deaths during the summer months." The prison was enlarged and might then with some regard to sanitary conditions have accommodated 10,000 but the mighty duel going on between Lee and Grant was constantly giving the Confederacy many new captives. These were sent to Andersonville; where on August 12, 1864 the number of prisoners reached 32,911.(2) They must have shelter or "they will die of by hundreds" is the word which had reached Cooper by the end of May. (4) Captain Wirz pleaded that the meal for the prisoners be bolted; the bread which it makes, he wrote, consists "fully of one-sixth of husk, is almost unfit for use" increasing as it does "dysentery and other bowel complaints." (5) Again on August (1) Captain Wirz wrote: "The prison although a large addition has been made is too crowded; almost daily large numbers of prisoners arrive; all internal improvements. . . will come to a dead halt for the want of room. As long as 30,000 men are confined in any one enclosure the proper policing is altogether impossible. A long confinement has depressed the spirits of thousands and they are utterly indifferent." (1) O. R., ser. ii. vol. vii. p. 63.
    (2) Ibid., p. 593.
    (4) Ibid., p. 168.
    (5) June 7, 1884, ibid., p. 207.
    The most important document is the report of Colonel D. T. Chandler made on August 5, 1864 to the authorities in Richmond subsequent to an inspection of the prison. After a graphic description of the place and a statement of the disabilities under which the prisoners lay he said: "There are and can be no regulations established for the police consideration for the health, comfort and sanitary condition of those within the enclosure and none are practicable under existing circumstances. . . . Numbers have been found murdered by their comrades and, in their desperate efforts to provide for their own safety a court organized among themselves, by authority of General Winder, granted on their own application, has tried a large number of their fellow-prisoners and sentenced six to be hung which sentence was duly executed by themselves within the stockade with the sanction of the post-commander. . . . The crowd at [sick-call] is so great that only the strongest can get access to the doctors, the weaker ones being unable to force their way through the press. . . . Many -- twenty yesterday -- are carted out daily who have died from unknown causes and whom the medical officers have never seen. The dead are hauled out daily by the wagon load arid buried without coffins. . . . The sanitary condition of the prisoners is as wretched as can be. . . . The arrangements for cooking and baking have been wholly inadequate. Raw rations have to be issued to a very large proportion" who lack proper cooking utensils and do not have a sufficient supply of fuel. ". . . The rate of deaths has steadily increased from 37.4 per 1000 during the month of March last to 62.7 per 1000 in July." Colonel Chilton the official in Richmond to whom this report was immediately made indorsed on it, "The condition of the prison at Andersonville is a reproach to us as a nation." He took it to Judge Campbell who writing on the back of it, "These reports show a condition of things at Andersonville which calls very loudly for the interposition of the Department in order that a change may be made," carried it to the Secretary of War, but according to some Southern testimony it was never seen by Davis.(1) (1) For Chandler's report and the indorsement, see O. R., ser. ii. vol. vii. pp. 546-551. Two reports of the chief surgeon were submitted with it, pp. 524, 541. Winder, Wirz and some other officers at Andersonville attempted to traverse Chandler's statements, ibid., p. 755 et seq. Chilton was of the opinion that Chandler's report was entirely truthful. No doubt can now be entertained of the complete accuracy of that which I have cited in the test and the substantial accuracy of the whole report. Chandler seems to have been a gentleman of high character. For the authority for the other statements, see Southern Historical Society Papers, vol. i. p.198 et seq. In consequence of the overcrowding of Andersonville and in response to Winder's recommendation, the Secretary of War by the order of Davis had already authorized the establishment of a new prison to which a number of these captives should be removed. (1) A camp five miles from Millen, Georgia was selected and a stockade prison was planned, but as the material, tools and labor had to be impressed and funds were short the work went on slowly and the new prison was not ready until about October 1. In the meantime the capture of Atlanta (September 1, 1864) by Sherman had compelled the abandonment of Andersonville. All the prisoners who were not too sick to be moved were sent to Savannah and Charleston. These cities could not care for so many and those at Charleston were sent to Florence (S.C.) and those at Savannah to Millen as soon as it was ready. Millen was a large prison and never crowded, and although food was scarce the arrangements were in other respects fairly good. It was occupied for only a brief period, Sherman's march to the sea compelling its abandonment, and the sending of the prisoners back to Andersonville where owing to altered conditions the misery of the summer was never repeated. Florence (S.C.) and Salisbury (N.C.) (whither a large number of captives were sent in November) reproduced the worst phases of Andersonville but the commandants and other officials endeavoured to alleviate the sufferings of the men, failing for the most part from lack of means. (1) Winder, July 26, Seddon, Aug. 5, O. R., ser. ii. vol. vii. pp. 493, 546. The date of the indorsement (p. 550) indicate that Seddon had not seen Chandler's report when he issued this authorization, but Chandler afterwards expressed the opinion that his report resulted in much benefit to the prisoners, ibid., vol. viii. p. 527.

    The Exchange of Prisoners

    [page 498] The importance of Andersonville lies in the question, How far may the Confederate government be held responsible for its horrors? An important consideration in coming to a conclusion in this matter is the position they took in regard to the exchange of prisoners. Whatever may be the right or wrong of the previous controversy the fact stands out clearly that in 1864 the Confederate authorities were eager to make exchanges, their interest being on the side of humanity. In 1863 the status of Negro prisoners and white officers of Negro regiments had been one of the obstacles, Stanton having asserted that these men must be protected by the exaction for them of equal rights. The Negro question had a moral side of importance and furnished an excellent argument for the Washington government if it were desired to avoid exchanges but practically it was of comparatively little moment. There were very few Negro captives and with rare exceptions they were not abused. The Union had an excess of prisoners and as the sequel proved the Negroes were well protected by Lincoln's threat of retaliation.(1) In fact owing to the pressure of public sentiment at the North during 1863, which was fostered by the reports of ill treatment of Federal prisoners, and the known readiness of the Confederate government to continue exchanges under the cartel, the United States War Department made at the end of the year a proposition which left the Negroes out of the case. Halleck offered to Lee a man to man exchange for the captives in Richmond.(2) Lee perhaps technically correct but really short-sighted refused this offer insisting upon the cartel which required the Federal government to release on parole their excess of prisoners. (1) Proclamation of July 30, 1863.
    (2) Dec. 7, 1863, O. R., ser. ii. vol. vi. p. 659.
    As the campaign of 1864 was about to open and the great need of soldiers at the South was painfully apparent the Confederate government receded from one of [page 499] their positions and expressed their willingness to treat free Negroes and white officers of coloured troops as prisoners of war although they still contended that former slaves should be returned to their masters. But now Grant was in command and although others saw a clearly as he that the South must be subjugated, he it was whose iron nerve was equal to carrying out remorselessly the policy of subjugation. On April 17, 1864 he ordered that not another Confederate prisoner of war should be paroled or exchanged until there were released a sufficient number of Union officers and men to equal the paroles at Vicksburg and Port Hudson and unless furthermore the Confederate authorities would agree to make no distinction whatever between white and coloured prisoners.(1) These were subterfuges. In the previous November he had ignored the alleged breach of faith concerning the Vicksburg paroles; (2) moreover as long as the North had the excess of prisoners she held ?? s gage for the former slaves who had volunteered to fight for the freedom of their race; and according to a letter of General Stoneman and two other officers from their prison in Charleston the condition of these Negro soldiers who were again made slaves was "happiness compared with the cruel existence "of the prisoners at Andersonville.(3) (1) O. R, ser. ii. vol. vii. p. 62 .
    [2] ??
    (3) 14, 1864, ibid., vol. vii. p. 617.
    (4) Ibid., pp. 578, 705.
    On August 10, 1864 the Confederate government proposed to exchange officer for officer and man for man, accompanying their communication with a statement of the mortality at Andersonville.(4) This offer with the great pressure on Washington to effect the release of the Northern soldiers (whose sufferings seemed unnecessary for the protection of the former slaves) forced Grant to declare the real reason of his policy. "It is hard on our men held in Southern prisons not to exchange them," [page 500] he wrote from City Point, "but it is humanity to those left in the ranks to fight our battles. Every man we hold, when released on parole or otherwise, becomes an active soldier against us at once either directly or indirectly. If we commence a system of exchange which liberates all prisoners taken, we will have to fight on until the whole South is exterminated. If we hold those caught they amount to no more than dead men. At this particular time to release all rebel prisoners North would insure Sherman's defeat and would compromise our safety here." (1) (1) Aug.18, 1864, O. R., ser. ii. vol. vii. p. 607; see also vol. viii. p. 811. Despite the many influences brought to bear upon Lincoln, some of which were political he stood by his general and Grant had his way. On October 1, 1864 Lee proposed to Grant a man-to-man exchange for the prisoners of their armies. Will you deliver the coloured troops "the same as white soldiers?" Grant asked in reply. "Negroes belonging to our citizens are not considered subjects of exchange," returned Lee. I therefore "decline making the exchanges you ask" was the rejoinder of Grant.(1) Less than four months later (January 24, 1865) the Confederate government reiterate their offer of an exchange of man for man and this was then accepted by Grant who undoubtedly foresaw the imminent collapse of the Confederacy. (1) O.R., vol. vii. pp. 906, 909, 914. While the South is entitled to credit for her concessions in order to effect exchanges, the local management and the Richmond government may be justly charged with negligence in not providing shelter for the prisoners at Andersonville. The prison was in a wooded region and the captives should have been set to work under parole to build for themselves log huts or clapboard dwellings as they were afterwards at Florence.(2) (2) The erection of barracks by prisoners when practicable, was also ordered for Elmira, New York, ibid. , vol. vii. p. 918. [page 501] A Southern defence against this charge is that the men at Andersonville, who were all private soldiers and noncommissioned officers, were of such bad character that they could not be trusted to keep their pledge; indeed some who went outside on parole broke it and escaped. That many of the prisoners were outcasts is true. A large number of then were of the bounty-jumping class(1) who, prevented from desertion by the vigorous discipline of Grant, allowed themselves to be taken captive in the May and June battles about Richmond: the accessions during the summer of 1864 came largely from Grant's army. The thefts and murders committed by these miscreants resulted, as we have seen, in the banding together of the better sort and the trial and execution of six culprits. But it would have been easy for the prison commandants to discriminate; the prisoners from Belle Isle and Sherman's army were in the main worthy of confidence and a wise and humane management would have taken account of this and bettered the condition of the men without incurring the risk of their escape. (1) Thieves, pickpockets, and vagabonds would enlist, take whatever bounty was paid in cash, desert when opportunity offered, change their names, go to another district or State, re-enlist, collect another bounty, desert again, and go on playing the same trick until they were caught, or until such chances of gain were no longer available. see Rhodes, History vol. iv. p. 431; New York Times, Jan. 6, 1865 , page 4 col. 3, cited by R. B. Richardson, New Englander, Nov.1880, p. 756. When the Confederate government perceived that they could neither feed their prisoners nor properly care for them and when their effort to secure exchanges had failed they should have paroled the captive soldiers under the most solemn oath and sent them North. This is not merely a utopian idea conceived after the event. Vice-President Stephens urged such a plan on Howell Cobb who as major-general of the Georgia Reserves had a supervision of the Andersonville prisoners.(2) Cobb did not adopt this view in its entirety but suggested to Seddon that all the men who were opposed to the election of Lincoln should be paroled and sent home.(3) (2) Stephens, The War between the States, vol. ii. p. 516.
    (3) Sept. 9, 1864, O. R., ser. ii. vol. vii. p. 796.
    [page 502] A "poor man" from Georgia wrote thus to Jefferson Davis: "Please read the sixth chapter of Second Kings. Follow the example of the King of Israel. Send the prisoners at Andersonville home on their parole. Send them home before the cold proves more destructive of their lives than the heat has been in the open and unshaded pen your officers provided for them. It will prove the greatest victory of the war and do our cause more good than any three victories our noble troops have gained." (1) An indorsement on this letter would appear to indicate that the advice therein had been considered by Davis and his private secretary, Burton N. Harrison. The "poor man" made a mistake in his chapter meaning instead the twenty-eighth of Second Chronicles.(2) This is noted by Harrison as he wrote "Respectfully referred by direction of the President to the Secretary of War."(3) A prominent citizen of South Carolina advised the paroling of the prisoners as a matter of policy and mercy (4) and even General John H. Winder urged at two different times that the men held captive at Florence be paroled and sent home; and in this recommendation he was supported by the Governor of South Carolina and by General Chesnut (5) (1) Sept. 7, 1864, O. R., ser. ii. vol. vii. p. 783.
    (2) "The children of lsrael carried away captive of their brethren [of Judah] two hundred thousand. . . . But a prophet of the Lord said 'Deliver the captives again. . . for the fierce wrath of the Lord is upon you.'. . . and the men rose up and took the captives and. . . clothed all that were naked. . . and shod them and gave them to eat and to drink and anointed them and carried all the feeble of them upon asses and brought them to Jericho to their brethren."
    (3) The indorsement is dated Sept. 14 .
    (4) Sept. 21, 1864, O. R., ser. ii. vol. vii. p. 855. The letter containing this advice was forwarded to Seddon.
    (5) The second time, in a despatch to Cooper, Jan. 20, 1865, O. R., ser. ii. vol. viii. p. 96.
    That Jefferson Davis may have failed to see Colonel Chandler's report by no means implies that he was ignorant of the horrors of Andersonville. [page 503] Cooper and Seddon received many accounts of them and considering the relations between the three it is incomprehensible that he should not have shared their knowledge; moreover the one letter of the "poor man "from Georgia is likely enough but one of many such. In truth the suffering at Andersonville in the summer of 1864 was notorious in the Confederacy. To parole the prisoners required an exceptional man - a man of great magnanimity and rare foresight and these qualities Davis did not possess. Undoubtedly his view was in accord with Seddon's indorsement on the letter of the prominent citizen of South Carolina. "It presents a great embarrassment," he wrote, "but I see no remedy which is not worse than the evil. For the present we must hope the enemy will be constrained to relinquish their inhuman policy of refusing exchange. We are not responsible for the miserable sufferings of the captives and cannot afford to release them to replenish Yankee armies and supply Yankee laborers."(1) (1) O. R, ser. ii. vol. vii. p. 856.

    No Deliberate Confederate Policy to Maltreat Prisoners

    The general opinion of officials and citizens at the North was that the suffering and deaths at Andersonville and other prisons was due to a deliberate policy of the Confederate government for the decimation of the enemy's ranks, and that the words attributed to Captain Wirz, "I'm killing more Yankees than Lee at the front," were only an indiscreet avowal of Jefferson Davis's wish and intent.(2) (2) I will cite two representative statements. A commission of inquiry appointed by the United States Sanitary Commission consisting of three physicians, one judge, one clergyman and one private citizen and in their report o! September, 1864: "The conclusion is unavoidable, therefore, that these privations and sufferings have been designedly inflicted by the military and other authority of the rebel government:" and cannot have been "due to cause which such authorities could not control."-p. 95. A Committee of the House of Representatives on the Treatment of Prisoner of War by Rebel Authorities and in the famous Report No. 45 presented in 1869: "The opinion of the committee carefully and deliberately formed [is) that the neglect and refusal of the rebel authorities to provide sufficient and proper rations was the result of a premeditated system and scheme of the confederate authorities to reduce our ranks by starvation, and that they were not forced to these deprivations from accident or necessity." - p. 216. [p 504] That there is no positive evidence in support of this opinion the search I have made enables me to affirm with confidence;(1) and this conclusion from present investigations receives a strong attestation from a significant fact in the past. During 1865 and afterwards officials connected with the executive department of the government, army officers, senators and representatives, were eager to fasten upon Davis some direct responsibility for the suffering of the Union prisoners of war. With all the records at their command and with all facilities for eliciting testimony from living witnesses they failed to bring to light any evidence on which he might be tried by a military commission or any acts or words which in the freer judgment of history might leave a stain on his character. The irresistible conclusion is that the whole case against the Confederacy lies in bad management at the prisons, some negligence at Richmond, and the non-adoption of a policy of mercy which few rulers would have seriously considered. (1) Descanting on the excellent physical condition of the Confederate and the bodily wrecks of the Union prisoners, some Northern writers by taking a sentence from its context and perhaps citing it as if it were a later date have made the words of Ould the Confederate Agent of Exchange apparently support their argument. Speaking of an arrangement for exchange he wrote to Winder, "We get rid of a set of miserable wretches and receive some of the best material I ever saw." The context shows clearly that political prisoners and their mental and moral qualities were referred to. Moreover the date of the letter is March 17, 1863, O. R., ser. ii. vol. v. p. 853. It is worthy of notice that Lincoln bore no part in this controversy. Nowhere did he charge the Confederates with cruelty. In no message to Congress, in no public or private letter did he make a point of the alleged barbarous treatment of Northern soldiers held captive at the South; and when Stanton proposed to him that Confederate officers in Federal hands should [p 505] be given the scarce rations and treatment as Union soldiers or officers received in the Confederacy (1) Lincoln, so far as the record shows, remained silent. That no such order was issued implies that he did not approve of Stanton's suggestion. Lincoln was great in his omissions as well as in his positive acts. (1) May 5, 1864, O. R., ser. ii. vol. vii. p.114.

    Union Retaliation

    In retaliation for the alleged inhuman treatment of Union prisoners the United States War Department on April 20, 1864 reduced by about twenty per cent. the ration to the Confederate prisoners which had hitherto been the same as the army's ration; and on June (1) all but the sick were deprived of coffee, tea and sugar. The difference between the reduced ration and that furnished the soldiers in the field should constitute the "savings" to form the "prison fund" out of which anti-scorbutic might be purchased if the surgeon thought they were required. In August, 1864 all supplies by gift or purchase were cut off.(2) It is universally agreed that the reduced ration was sufficient to preserve the health and strength of the men but on the other hand the evidence is irrefragable that at some Northern prisons during the year 1864 the food was insufficient and that suffering from hunger ensued. Moreover there was more sickness, especially scurvy, than there ought to have been with a proper application of the prison fund. For this discrepancy the Official Records do not account. Some embezzlement is shown but not enough nor on a sufficiently large scale to explain why prisoners went hungry when the government intended to furnish them an adequate supply of food. It may be conjectured that there was bad management connected with the distribution of the rations and also that since retaliation had been announced as the policy of the government in high quarters some keepers of prisons inspired by vindictive feelings took it upon themselves to make the threatened reprisal so far real that the Confederates should suffer from hunger. (2) For a while in the autumn of 1863 such supplies of food had been forbidden but in the beginning of 1864 they were again permitted. [p 506] In the brutal treatment of prisoners by punishment and shooting the two sides may be said to have offended in about the same degree. Instances abound in the writings of the period. Every prison had its "dead line" or what corresponded to it. This at Andersonville was a line at a certain distance from the stockade beyond which no prisoner could pass without being shot. In other prisons the contrivance was similar and the plan is said to have originated in one of the best-managed places at the North. Certain circumstances must be borne in mind. The prisoners were always trying to escape; the guard at the South was deficient in numbers and discipline; and in both sections naturally the high-spirited, brave and generous officers were not made commandants of prisons. Such work was apt to be assigned to the cowardly or inefficient; and excessive drinking too was often responsible for harsh treatment of prisoners. The testimony on both sides is that prisoners were always well treated at the front but the difference was marked when they came into the clutches of the stay-at-home soldiers. As the most brutal of all jailers of the Civil War John H. Winder and Wirz have come down to our generation. The Confederate Colonel Chandler in his famous reports of August 5, 1864 charged Winder with gross cruelty but commended Wirz for "untiring energy and devotion." These last words connote probably a too favourable verdict. After the war Wirz was tried and condemned to death by a military commission convened at Washington and was hanged on November 10, 1865. Winder would have met a like fate had he not died before the end of the war. [p 509]


    The controversy has led to the employment of incorrect statistics. Jefferson Davis, Alexander H. Stephens and other Southern writers have taken the number of deaths of Confederate and Union prisoners from Stanton's report to the House of Representatives of July 19, 1866 and, joining thereto an alleged statement of Surgeon-General Barnes of which however there is no official record, have arrived at the result that the mortality at the North was over three per cent. greater than at the South.(1) If there be any evidence for this conclusion, which is doubtful, it is entitled to no credit whatever. (1) Confederate Government, vol. ii. p. 607; War between the States, vol. ii. p. 508. Stanton's report was based on that of the commissary-general of prisoners (O. R., ser. ii. vol. viii. pp. 946, 948), and gave the following statistics:
    Deaths of Confederate prisoners of war . . . . .26,436
    Deaths of Union prisoners of war . . . . . . . 22,576
    Number of Confederate prisoners of war . . . . . 220,000
    Number of Union prisoners of war about . . . . . 126,950
    Neither Davis nor Stephens gives these numbers of prisoners but cite SurgeonGeneral Barnes (U.S.) as authority for the statement that there were 220,000 Confederate and 270,000 Union prisoners of war. Davis indicates no authority but Stephens refers to an editorial in the National Intelligencer as his source for Barnes's figures. I have not been able to unearth any such statement of Barnes, and General F. C. Ainsworth advises me under date of June 29,1903 that in official record of it has been found. At all events the statement is incorrect.
    It may be affirmed on the highest authority that while the records of Union prisons are nearly complete those of the Confederate are meagre: of twelve Southern prisons the War Department has not been able to secure the "death registers" and of five others only partial records were obtainable; hence "the total number of deaths in Confederate prisons. . . may never be definitely known." General F. C. Ainsworth, Chief of the Record and Pension Office, to whom I am indebted for this information adds:
    " According to the best information now obtainable, from both Union and Confederate records,it appears that 211,411 Union soldiers were captured during the civil war, of which number 16,668 were paroled on the field and 30,218 died while in captivity; and that 462,634 Confederate soldiers were captured during that war, of which number 247,769 were paroled on the field and 25,976 died while in captivity." (1) Thus the mortality was a little over 12 per cent. at the North and 15% at the South. Taking into account the better hospitals, more skilful physicians, the ample supply of medicines and the abundance of food at the North and the exceptionally high death-rate at Andersonville, Florence and Salisbury one might have expected a greater difference, which would probably be the case were all the deaths in the Confederacy known. Still it should be remembered that as the Southern summer bore hardly on the Union prisoners so did the Northern winter increase the mortality of the Confederates as the number of deaths from pneumonia bear witness. (1) June 29,1903. All things considered the statistics show no reason why the North should reproach the South. If we add to one side of the account the refusal to exchange the prisoners and the greater resources, and to the other the distress of the Confederacy the balance struck will not be far from even. Certain it is that no deliberate intention existed either in Richmond or Washington to inflict suffering on captives more than inevitably accompanied their confinement. Rather than to charge either section with inhumanity it were truer to lay the burden on war, recalling in sympathy with their import the words of Sophocles, "The man. . . who taught Greeks how to league themselves for war in hateful arms. . . wrought the ruin of men."
    ed note: this history was written by James Ford Rhodes 100 years ago!

    Rhodes' Sources

    In my treatment of this subject I have been much assisted by a paper prepared for me by D. M. Matteson of Cambridge who under my direction made an exhaustive research in series ii. of the Official Records; in the House Report No. 45, on the Treatment of Prisoners of War, 40th Cong. 3d Sess.; in "Trial of Henry Wirz"; and to some extent among other authorities. For the assistance of students I will give the references which were made for me.

    primary sources are coded in green in this font

  16. O.R. = Official Records = The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies all Series of this 125 volume collection of US and Confederate official reports are online.

  17. O. R., series. ii. vol. i. pp. 70, 77, 88, 93, 101, 103, 168,174;
  18. O. R. vol. ii. p. 390;
  19. vol. iii. pp. 5, 8, 9, 32, 47,55,121,122,126,130,131,136,142,153,157, 160, 184,191,196, 199, 211, 213, 216, 217, 221, 223, 226, 229, 242, 243, 246, 247, 248, 251, 253, 254, 260, 269, 270, 275, 287, 300, 310, 317, 324, 339, 348, 353, 355, 360, 364, 374, 375, 376, 379, 400, 402, 410, 417, 419, 422, 458, 460, 497, 507, 509,526, 553, 562, 565, 586, 610, 650, 654, 662, 663, 666, 670, 674, 691, 706, 712, 716, 746, 749, 751, 788, 789, 812, 821, 824, 855, 886, 899;
  20. vol. iv. pp. 30, 36, 37, 45, 106,133,152, 169,174,198, 253, 255, 260, 266, 277, 278, 332, 353, 508, 545, 553, 561, 593, 600, 620, 621, 627, 677, 691, 738, 760, 777, 779, 787, 799, 822, 829, 830, 836, 857, 900 909, 913, 916, 945;
  21. vol. v. pp. 7,10, 48, 71, 75,113,127,132,140,150, 186, 193, 213, 216, 217, 237, 239, 251, 267, 267, 281, 286, 298, 305, 320, 322, 328, 343, 361, 379, 386, 388, 391, 397, 399, 418, 431, 435, 442, 443, 449, 455, 462, 477, 508, 511, 537, 556, 587, 607, 611, 659, 674, 690, 691, 696, 698, 701, 746, 754, 768, 770, 773, 789, 796, 806, 819, 832, 838, 853, 855, 867, 919, 925, 930, 940, 953, 959, 960
  22. vol. vi. pp. 4,11,12,17, 21, 25, 28, 35, 45, 60, 78, 80, 82, 96,113,117,118,120 123,129,135,152,153, 181,190, 192, 209, 218, 238, 240, 241, 250, 262, 264, 267, 275, 277, 281, 282, 301, 315, 328, 330, 331, 339, 348, 353, 354, 369, 363, 364, 365, 370, 372, 374, 379, 387, 391, 392, 395, 401, 403, 408, 420, 422, 424, 426, 431, 437, 438, 439, 441, 444, 453, 459, 465, 471, 473, 475, 479, 482, 484, 485, 501, 504, 510, 516, 527, 528, 537, 552, 557, 558, 566, 569, 587, 602, 609, 625, 634, 638, 641, 642, 647, 651, 659, 663, 686, 693, 704, 711, 717, 740, 746, 748, 754, 755, 768, 769, 777, 809, 826, 843, 848, 849, 871, 878, 887, 888, 893, 900, 908, 913, 920, 921, 924, 934, 937, 938, 951, 954, 962, 968, 972, 977, 978, 985, 996, 1014, 1022, 1039,1048,1079,1087,1111,1121,1124
  23. vol. vii. pp.15, 29, 43, 46, 51, 53, 60, 62, 63, 69, 72, 76, 78, 80, 81, 83, 84, 89, 93,104,108,111,113,117,118, 122, 130,151,172, 183, 184, 185,198, 203, 204, 205, 207, 208, 216, 222, 224, 366, 381, 386, 392, 397, 399, 400, 408, 413, 421, 438, 448, 459, 460, 465, 480, 484, 493, 495, 499, 505, 508, 512, 515, 517, 521, 533, 535, 541, 546, 557, 565, 567, 571, 573, 578, 583, 587, 604, 611, 612, 617, 673, 682, 687, 698, 705, 708, 714, 773, 782, 783, 787, 790, 791, 793, 796, 830, 837, 856, 863, 870, 872, 874, 878, 879, 906, 915, 923, 954, 955, 956, 967, 972, 976, 986, 987, 990, 996, 997, 1004, 1012,1020,1075,1078,1082, 1092,1098,1116, 1129, 1130, 1137, 1141, 1143, 1150,1159,1162,1206,1217,1219,1221,1229,1246,1248,1258;
  24. vol. viii. pp. 19, 33, 62, 63, 64, 65, 67, 96, 97, 122, 137, 147, 156,161, 167, 170, 171, 175, 187, 193, 197, 211, 215, 227, 236, 270, 294, 330, 339, 355, 358, 363, 364, 376, 389, 393, 456, 529, 534, 537, 581, 585, 592, 650, 659, 665, 667, 704, 722, 730, 748, 754, 771, 811, 946, 952, 957;

  25. in House Report No. 45, [not online; available in large university libraries, Government Documents collection] pp. 24, 25, 30, 33, 35, 42, 44, 45, 47, 51, 56, 58, 70, 71, 72, 77, 81, 82, 83, 86, 88,115, 161, 166,169, 171,172, 185, 195, 205, 208, 208, 210, 212, 217, 218, 228, 249, 250, 252, 341, 343, 774, 788, 792, 795, 797, 798, 803, 804, 807, 808, 810, 822, 824, 825, 827, 830, 831, 837, 852, 856, 857, 864, 866, 881, 899, 902, 927, 933, 945, 951, 954, 957, 964, 965, 982, 985, 991, 994, 1005, 1016, 1021, 1024, 1030, 1032, 1035, 1067, 1090,1106, 1108,1109,1143;
    "The Trial of Henry Wirz," Exec. Doc., No. 23, 40th Cong. 2d Sess., [not online; available in large university libraries, Government Documents collection] pp. 24, 30, 38, 40, 45, 50, 53, 57, 63, 83, 88, 94, 103,104, 111,133,141,144,176, 206, 209, 240, 248, 249, 254, 269, 270, 271, 273, 276, 298, 326, 330, 333, 334, 335, 363, 371, 376, 380, 386, 406, 408, 436, 458, 463, 464, 471, 473, 474, 480, 486, 487, 489, 492, 511, 644, 646, 651, 659, 666, 671, 672, 674, 751, 773.
    My account is based chiefly on series ii. of the Official Records, all the references to which I read carefully. I examined a number of the references to Report No. 45 and a few to "Trial of Henry Wirz." Besides these I read with interest, care and satisfaction
  26. Professor Rufus B. Richardson's article in the New Englander for Nov. 1880; and I have also read: Report of the Committee on the Conduct of the War, Report No. 67, 38th Cong. 1st Sess.; the article on "The Treatment of Prisoners during the War between the States;" vol. i. (1876), Southern Historical Society Papers, and the article "Discussion of the Prison Question," ibid., vol. ii; "Narrative of Privations and Sufferings of United States Officers and Soldiers while Prisoners of War, Report of a Committee of Inquiry appointed by the United States Sanitary Commission" (1864); articles of
  27. J. T. King, ,
  28. Horace Carpenter, on a camp in Ohio; and
  29. "Cold Cheer at Camp Morton" by John A. Wyeth, on an Indiana camp, Century Magazine; vol. xli (1891); reply by W. R. Holloway to Wyeth, and Wyeth's rejoinder, Ibid., vol. xliv., and their further discussion, ibid., vol. xliii. I have likewise consulted Jefferson Davis's Confederate Government, vol. ii.; A. H. Stephen's War between the States, vol. ii.; John McElroy, Andersonville, (1879). end of Rhodes

    by Richard Jensen 4-9-2004
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    Copyright (c) 2004. Richard Jensen. This Guide was prepared with support from the Robert H. Michel Civic Education Grants sponsored by The Dirksen Congressional Center. Scholars are invited to post the complete Guide to campus WWW sites and distribute it to students.