Horrors in Georgia
By the end of 1963, the South was in dire need of more space to âstore’ captured Union soldiers. The South was capturing soldiers in droves, and the camps that existed up until that point were overflowing to the point where they could no longer be expanded. In February 1864, to combat that problem, the Confederate States of America (CSA) commissioned the establishment of Camp Sumter, which would soon take on the name Andersonville (named after the railroad depot in the neighboring county).
By June 1864, the prison camp was the largest in the CSA, and held so many prisoners that had it been a city it would have been the fifth-largest city in the South. The problem was that the camp was only supposed to hold 10,000 soldiers at full capacity. That number was over 30,000 just six months after it opened.
Another problem was that there was no shelter. Due to inflated lumber prices, prisoners were only able to shelter in shanties called shebangs, which were constructed with scraps of wood (usually twigs most likely) and blankets.
With the number of prisoners that the camp had to support, it isn’t surprising that the death toll was astonishingly high. The camp was only open for a year, and in that time 13,000 Union soldiers died from poor conditions, mishandling by Confederate officials, and lack of supplies and shelter.
Robert H. Kellogg was a sergeant major in the Connecticut Volunteers. He was captured and sent to Andersonville on May 2, 1864. He wrote this description of what he saw as he was led into the camp:
“As we entered the place, a spectacle met our eyes that almost froze our blood with horror, and made our hearts fail within us. Before us were forms that had once been active and erect;âstalwart men, now nothing but mere walking skeletons, covered with filth and vermin. Many of our men, in the heat and intensity of their feeling, exclaimed with earnestness. “Can this be hell?” “God protect us!” and all thought that he alone could bring them out alive from so terrible a place. In the center of the whole was a swamp, occupying about three or four acres of the narrowed limits, and a part of this marshy place had been used by the prisoners as a sink, and excrement covered the ground, the scent arising from which was suffocating.”
The question that has always lingered in historian’s minds is the reason behind the deplorable conditions. There are some that argue that the camp was placed in Southern Georgia (well away from other established CSA prisoner camps) due to how hard it would be to get supplies to the area. Those who view it this way posit that there was some grand conspiracy to house as many Northern soldiers as inhumanely as possible for as long as possibly perpetrated by the leaders of the CSA. There is some evidence of this, as it has been shown that the Confederacy was able to move soldiers to and from the prison, but for some reason were unable to send supplies the same way.
Others argue that there is no evidence that this was deliberate, and it was just poor management by a new country who had larger things to worry about (namely winning the war against a better equipped and larger foe).