Camp Sumter, Andersonville, Georgia 1864-1865
Union and Confederate troops who fell prisoner to the opposing side faced grim conditions and after the suspension of prisoner exchange, lengthy stays in the camps established to house them. Neither side distinguished themselves in the treatment of its prisoners, another reflection of the deep-set antagonism each side felt for the other. Of all the prisons, in which sickness, poor food, and despair claimed the lives of thousands of captive men, one was so bad that its Commandant was tried – and hanged – for war crimes following the conflict.
Today is known generally as Andersonville, it was officially designated Camp Sumter, and was opened in February 1864. It was poorly designed and built-in regards to fresh water and sanitation facilities, and like the rest of the South by that time of the war, there was little food and what food was available was of poor quality. Scurvy, caused by the lack of vitamin C, was rife within the camp, many prisoners reported that they were able to pull their own teeth with their bare hands as a result of gums and jaws weakened by the disease.
In 1864 Dr. James Jones toured the camp, and found conditions so appalling that he wrote a letter detailing the conditions there to the Confederate Surgeon General. Some apologists have since postulated that the Commandant, Henry Wirz, was not liable for the starving conditions in the camp as there was no food to be had, but Dr. Jones noted in his letter that Wirz himself was in fine health, well-fed, with access to plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and apparently indifferent to the plight of the prisoners.
Wirz was also accused of torturing prisoners. Punishments for violations of rules such as theft of food or blankets included hanging by thumbs, whipping, and branding. It should be noted that all of these punishments were also present in the contending armies of the day, and theft was often punished in the Union army by hanging or shooting the miscreant.
Wirz was accused of war crimes including personally murdering several prisoners, physically abusing others, and depriving all prisoners of sufficient food, water, and medical supplies and attention. Despite overwhelming testimony that he had not personally committed the crimes for which he was accused and further testimony that the shortages were not of his making he was convicted by a military tribunal and sentenced to death by hanging, which was carried out on November 10, 1865.
Read More: Deadliest POW Camp of Civil War.