August 05, 2004


Erin O'Connor, over at Critical Mass, has a very interesting post about the Conferedate prison camp at Andersonville. I found it to be a fascinating article, written with Erin's customary erudition. Erin writes about the horrors of Andersonville as follows (go visit Erin's site for all the cool links she included in the text below and for the rest of her great post):

Andersonville was designed to hold about 10,000 men. But by the time it was itself closed down later that summer, it held 30,000. Many were nearly naked (the Confederates did not supply clothing), all were nearly starved (what little food was rationed to the prisoners was often rotten or, in the case of corn bread, so thick with jagged pieces of unground cob that the men could not eat it for fear of the damage it would do to their already bleeding intestines). Those who had shelter of any kind slept under "shebangs," makeshift tents comprised of clothing and blankets draped over short wooden poles. The stench of the place could be smelled for miles. The death rate, from starvation, scurvy, gangrene (which could arise from even the smallest scratch), dysentery, and so on, was astronomical--nearly one third of the men confined there died there. The death rate was also, tragically, avoidable--what the Confederate officers lacked in the way of resources and basic compassion the local Georgians did not. They attempted on more than one occasion to bring food and clothing to the prisoners in the stockade, often robbing their own closets and tables to do so. But they were turned away at the gate.


It reminded me that I had gone to see, sometime in the summer of 2000, with my father in law, an exhibit at the New York Historical Society concerning Andersonville and, with a little digging on the web, I unearth it for you here: Eye of the Storm. It has, in addition to the below, links to photgraphs by Matthew Brady, including: a bird's eye view of Andersonville; a shot of ration distribution; and a shot of the privies.

Union Private and map-maker Knox Sneden (out of NY, by the way) produced some five hundred watercolor drawings and maps about his experiences fighting for the Union and then later as a prisoner of war. He also wrote a journal. The scholars at the NYHS considered the drawings and journal to "constitute one of the most important Civil War documents ever produced". The interview with the historian who first realized the importance of these documents makes for fascinating reading as well. If you click on the above link for the Eye of the Storm, go to journal entries to read moving extracts such as the following concerning Sneden's captivity in Andersonville. Sneden's watercolors are associated with each panel of the Journal. If you want to read directly about Andersonville, go straight to panel #15. I am putting the quotations from the Journal in the extended entry below. Go read them there, they will move you.

The following entry concerns the general conditions and how cold the prisoners were:

April 7, 1864

We are having warmer weather but it rains every day for an hour or two. The Rebel quartermasters are very wroth because several axes and shovels which they lent us to build the causeway across the swamp cannot be found. They threaten to stop our rations if not found and returned to them. The prisoners want them to chop stumps with. And at night sounds of three or four axes are heard in the swamp. The nights are still cold and damp, many sleep during the day in a sunny place on the ground and keep working at the tree stumps for fuel most of the night, while hundreds lay on the bare ground shivering with the cold until they can start a small fire next morning.

And this entry dealing with the gangs of criminals who preyed on the more helpless prisoners:

April 8-20, 1864

One of the prisoners was killed last night by some of the Raiders with clubs, he was of course robbed of his overcoat and money, his head was smashed in with a pine club which had been hardened in the fire recently as the black smut left its mark. He was an old Belle Island prisoner who had his miserable hovel near what is known as Raider's Island, a small spit of sand on the brook and swamp near the sinks. As it was very foggy at the time the Raiders got away and are not known. About thirty of these scoundrels keep together and rob prisoners nearly every foggy night.

The following extract was terribly poingant. These men were dying alone and isolated with no way to communicate with their families and with the letters they wrote being stolen for the value of the postage stamp:

The death rate for this month is very large, over 300 have died since 1st April! Sixty or more are lying helpless, and there is not much chance for them. The hospital (so called) will be soon moved out of the stockade to the hill east of the battery on the hill. Walsh and Colvin who were captured with me are very low with diarrhea and cannot walk. The other friends attend to their wants and cook their rations for them as best they know how. As life is very uncertain in this hell hole, and our families at home have no conception of the horrors of this place, we have made contracts with each other in case any of us who were captured together are exchanged or escape to do all we can to let our folks at home know our fate and have written each others addresses and residences so that we may personally apprize those who as yet do not know our destiny or fate. The letter which I wrote home from Crew and Pemberton Prison must never have reached my folks in New York or I would have had an answer of some kind. Turner probably has seized on the 10¢ silver piece which must have been sent in the letter for postage to me

I found this journal to be riveting. The exhibition of the drawings and maps was moving but, somehow, I think I just got more out of quietly reading the extracts from his journal sitting here in the peace of my office than I did in seeing the works in the flesh four years ago.

Posted by Random Penseur at August 5, 2004 04:21 PM

I read a book Andersonville when I was a lot younger; college or high school, I don't remember which. Very well written, very upsetting.

I wish I could remember the title of the book, as I would love to read it again.

Posted by: Rachel Ann at August 5, 2004 04:38 PM

That's some fascinating stuff. I was aware of the existence of Andersonville but I must admit I had no idea of the actual goings on there.
You continue to educate the blogosphere.
Thanks a lot Random!

Posted by: Mick at August 5, 2004 10:13 PM

very interesting read.

Posted by: kbear at August 5, 2004 11:52 PM

I'm glad you all enjoyed it. Go check out the journal I linked to, though, you will easily lose and hour of time.

Posted by: RP at August 6, 2004 08:14 AM

Please read:

Elmira, Death Camp Of The North. Michael Horigan.

The difference between Elmira and Andersonville:

The South did not have the food and clothes to supply their prisoners amply whereas the North did.....There would have been no "Andersonville" if the exchange of prisoners had not been stopped by the North. Prisioners and guards received the same ration at Andersonville.

Posted by: Brock Townsend at August 7, 2004 06:41 PM

EDITOR: This comment has been deleted because I think it is bad form to cut and paste a whacking big book review using the Mu.Nu bandwidth when a simple link would have sufficed. I therefore edit the below comment to remove the text and replace it with the link to the author's review.


By Bill Ward

Posted by: Bill Ward at August 8, 2004 09:03 PM

Brock, thanks for the suggestion. I have not heard or read the the rations for guards and prisoners at Andersonville were the same. And, even if true, as Mr. Sneeding points out, the guards were also stealing from the prisoners.

Posted by: rp at August 9, 2004 10:59 AM

I am so impressed with your page on Andersonville prison I have added it to my blog, I hope this is OK with you, I have added the link and not even thought about copyright stuff, do you want me to add you name to the blog as the author of the link? Thank you for this important information.

Posted by: Afraid at October 2, 2005 03:05 PM
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