Andersonville Essay, Research Paper
Torture, screams, no food: These are the conditions of prisons during the Civil War. The lack of attention to prisoners led to many gruesome things such as eating live animals. The two most infamous prisons were Andersonville in the South and Elmira in the North. Both had terrible conditions that were largely caused by the psychology of the War: If the other side doesn?t have men they can?t fight and likewise with weak men. Both prisons were alike in that men died, but each is infamous in their own way of how the men died.
Since the Confederacy was collapsing, the South had little food and medical supplies. It was suffering greatly and to stop this an exchange system for prisoners of equal rank went on for one and a half years. Also, men were paroled and released after signing a paper stating that would not bear arms until officially exchanged. Later the exchange system was stopped because the North realized that it was benefiting the Confederacy. After all, the North could afford to lose men as prisoners but the South couldn?t afford to replace troops. The Union then could stop the South?s ability to carry on the War. As a result of this, the number and size of prisons increased. Crowding, inadequate provisions, and poor sanitation was then a consequence of the greater number of prisoners which caused 49,000 men out of 346,000 prisoners during the War to die. A public outcry over prison conditions made Abraham Lincoln send Professor Francis Lieber of Columbia to set rules for the treatment of prisoners during war. His set of rules were called the Lieber Code. Both prisons violated this code and that is what I am going to show through this report.
Andersonville is probably the most well known of the prison camps. It was a Confederate camp in Georgia from 1864 on. Its main problem was the massive overcrowding. It was built for 10,000 but at one time held 33,000 men. It was built of a roughly hewn pine log stockade. It was only 16 and a half acres. Andersonville was also known as Camp Sumter in the South. The structure of Andersonville was very unique. It had guards in sentry boxes called pigeon roosts at 30 yard intervals along the top of the 15 foot high stockade wall. 19 feet from the wall was the infamous deadline which prisoners were forbidden to cross upon the threat of death. Another infamous idea of Andersonville were the Raiders, a gang of prisoners who stole men?s supplies by beating and killing them. They were later hanged for killing six men.
In 1864, Andersonville was the fifth largest city in the Confederacy because of it?s 32,000 men as prisoners. When prisoners were put in Andersonville their first concern was a living space, which they made from whatever they could scrounge. They were each allotted a space of 4 feet by 6 feet. The Confederacy was struggling to provide food, clothing, and medical supplies for its own men let alone prisoners of the Union. As a result, men were often neglected unless they had money in which case they could buy staples, coffee, fruits, and vegetables from the camp?s sutler. However, most men came in with little or no money so only occasionally got fed. They were given the typical ration which was a double handful of unbolted cornmeal with the cob still on. The lack of nutrition and food caused an epidemic of scurvy except in the rare case that the prison quartermaster issued rice, molasses, and beans along with foul-smelling meat. Most rations were uncooked, so this created another problem. Prisoners had to scrounge for fire wood and skillets which is why the prisoners began to steal and join the Raiders.
Another problem of the prison was that their only water supply was also their only means of sewage disposal. It was a simple stream known as Stockyard Creek which flowed through the prison yard . It was too small to serve both purposes for so many men that it became the main cause of illness. Some stronger bodied prisoners dug wells and sold the water for whatever could be traded. Others simply prayed for help from God. In August, 1864 a miracle happened. A heavy thunderstorm washed the pen clean of human waste and according to legend, a spring bubbled up after a strike by lightning. The thankful prisoners had an answer to their prayers and named the spring Providence Spring. Despite the sudden supply of clear water, later in 1864 over 100 men died each day in Andersonville because of lack of food and water.
With not much to do but wonder if they were going to be alive the next day, men kept busy through unusual means. One private braided a simple necklace of pine straw. Another wittled a crude wooden spoon to pass the torturous time at Andersonville. The prisoners also wanted to communicate with their loved ones outside. They tried to send mail but it was often censored and on top of that to even write the letter they would need paper, a pen, and money to pay or bribe the guards to send the letter.
One of the worst things in Andersonville was being put through watching their friends die. They were simply buried by burial details. The corpses were placed in trenches shoulder to shoulder. Rows of wooden stakes marked with consecutive numbers corresponded to the entries in the hospital register to identify the dead.
Andersonville was not a place you would want to be sent to because you would most likely get out by dying than leave any other way. Men were constantly trying to escape but were always caught and punished harshly. Much of the suffering was caused by the Swiss Commander Henry Wirz, the superintendent of Andersonville. His orders led to the death of many men. He was hung after the War for war crimes.
Elmira was the Union prison in New York which was known as the Northern Andersonville and ?Hell hole.? It as not as infamous and well known as Andersonville but just as treacherous.
Elmira started out in May, 1861 as a Drilling ground and army barracks for Union troops because of the call for men to suppress the Southern Rebellion. For three years it was used this way until 1864, when it then had no use. The Union found their chance to use the barracks as a prison camp. On May 14, 1864 E.D. Townsend, the assistant adjutant general, sent a memo to Colonel William Hoffman, the Commission General of prisoners. In the letter it is stated that Elmira had a number of barracks which could be used as a prison camp for recent Confederate prisoners. A great mistake which would later cause much suffering was made by Hoffman. He wrote to the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, stating that Elmira could hold 10,000 prisoners transferred from other camps. Lt. Colonel Frederick Eastman was put in charge of Elmira prison. Also, another mistake by Hoffman, a letter from Hoffman to Eastman stated that only Barracks number three should be used as a prison camp. It also stated the specifics for the fence. Furthermore it said that 8,000 or 10,000 men could arrive shortly. The barracks were 100 ft. long and 16 ft. wide supposedly in excellent condition. There were 35 barracks to hold 4,000 men which were originally made to hold 3,000 men. The tents and hospital tents could hold 1,000 more men and the bakery could hold another 5,000 men.
In June, Elmira was ready and Major H.V. Colt was put in as Governor of the camp. In July the first 399 prisoners arrived, one escaped on the way to Elmira. By the end of July, 4,724 prisoners arrived and tents were already being used. By August, all the tents had been used up and more were sent in, though not enough. Many prisoners slept outside without even a blanket. Every morning there was a roll call and the tents were struck to keep count. Due to lack of preparedness or miscommunication severe overcrowding was a problem until March when a 3,009 men prisoner exchange took place. There were still bad conditions though and winter would be worse.
Prisoners were underfed and open to disease because of this and overcrowding. To prevent scurvy from the camps meager rations, men had to buy vegetables from local townsmen. This privilege was taken away when Hoffman ordered bread and water rations for retaliation of Northern prisoners? treatment in the South. Meat and vegetables were not even in the menu therefore an epidemic of scurvy came about. Hunger was such a problem that prisoners surrounded the bone cart begging for scraps that were probably laying in the sun for several days. Men kept bones in their bunk to gnaw and suck on. Men ate trampled apple peelings. A more desperate way to find food was to make use of the large rat population at Foster?s Pond. Rats were used as food and money. The worst case of desperation in finding food at Elmira was the case when prisoners killed a small dog, hid it in their bunk, and waited until dark to eat the roasted dog. The Union officially said that these problems resulted from ?lack of appetite because of homesickness? and ?slightly inferior quality of food owing to the severe drought of the year?. The drought did explain some of it, but basically the prisoners were just not fed enough, and ate poor food. The hot temperature and the drought made many prisoners want to buy food, but vendors were not allowed to sell as order of Hoffman.
The winter soon came and the Confederates were not used to the cold weather. They had scanty clothes and further clothing sent by families was not allowed to be given to prisoners until approved by the government. When the clothes were approved, only the gray clothes could be used and the blue clothes were burned. The Southerners were able to purchase clothing whereas the Northerners in the South weren?t able to buy clothing and were being treated harshly. Therefore, only the poorest quality of clothing and blankets were given out, and only when necessary. Many attempts were made to give clothes to prisoners but they were all rejected. The barracks were now also in bad shape. Many froze to death, especially in the tents. Stoves were issued to Elmira and two rations of wood were given each day. Hoffman began to give in. The proceeds from a cotton sale went to buy clothing for prisoners, and did bring some relief. This harsh winter caused many people to die, but more problems were still to come.
In the spring, heavy rains made the Chemung River overflow. The men had to move around constantly to avoid the rising waters. A train accident also killed many prisoners on the way to Elmira. Foster?s Pond was a great source of disease, and drainage ditches were denied. When the ditches were finally built, many prisoners had already died from disease. Hoffman sent the physically unfit to Washington for a prisoner exchange. 1,200 men were sent but 105 men either died, were turned back because they were unfit for the journey, or were dying. 36% of Elmira?s prisoners would die in less than a year because of the poor conditions which caused smallpox, scurvy, diarrhea, and pneumonia. The many sicknesses led to the need for a good medical staff. However, there was none. The men?s needs were denied. Medicines were not given, they were sold. Amateur doctors used Elmira just for experience, and later moved on. Because of amateurism, incorrect treatment killed some prisoners. One case was too much arsenic, which can be poisonous. The physician and chief surgeon E.L. Sanger resigned because he knew that he would be court-marshaled if he didn?t. The sick were mostly put in tents, but a few of the worst cases were put in barracks. This made the others around them sick also.
Punishment was also a concern at Elmira. The punishment was made by the guard or officer who witnessed the crime. The most common punishment was the barrel shirt with the crime written on it. Another punishment was the sweatbox, which was very small and hot. Prisoners got no food, water, or ventilation when inside it. Bucking and gagging was another punishment. There was no deadline like Andersonville, and no deaths could be attributed to discipline. Many deaths could be attributed to Hoffman because of his feelings of the war?s psychology and retaliation for the South?s treatment of the Northern prisoners.
Out of 12,123 prisoners in Elmira, 2,963 died. The death rate was 25%, whereas other camps? death rates in the North were around 11.7%. Andersonville?s deathrate was only 2% higher at 27%. Both camps were places of very poor conditions and much suffering which could have been stopped, if not for Hoffmann and Wirz. That is why they were both truly ?Hell on Earth? and Elmira is known as ?Hellmira?.
1)?Andersonville remembers America?s POWs? Civil War Times, April 1996, p. 18, 20-21, 73-75
2)?Andersonville: the Myth Endures? Civil War Times, April 1996, p. 10, 78
3)?Northern Hell on Earth? America?s Civil War, March 1991, p. 25-29
1)?Civil War.? World Book Encyclopedia, 1994, Vol. 4, p. 631
1)Andersonville. TNT, 1996.