6. The camp’s chaotic chain of command complicated life for the prisoners
Henry Wirz did not command the Confederate complex at Andersonville. He only commanded the stockade. This limited authority handcuffed him when attempting to obtain supplies, medicines, tools, and even guards. Each guard unit had its own commanders, most of them senior to Wirz. Yet Wirz held total authority of the stockade and the men within. He exercised that authority, regarding the prisoners, with punishments and fear. Wirz often threatened to have prisoners shot. He placed them in stocks for sins such as being late for roll call or minor offenses. He withheld the meager rations of prisoners as a punishment. Once, when a guard called his attention to a prisoner in the stocks, threatened with drowning in a rainstorm, Wirz replied, “Let the damned Yankee drown”. A day in Camp Sumter was one of constant fear of Wirz for the prisoners.
Confederate apologists later claimed Wirz was a scapegoat, and that the conditions at Camp Sumter were not his fault. He could not have issued food and clothing unavailable to him. The arguments ignore the fact that Wirz, at his trial for war crimes after the war, was also charged with several counts of murder. In one such charge, Wirz ordered a sentry to shoot a prisoner. The sentry did. Later, the sentry testified to the event at Wirz’s trial. Wirz responded by saying the order was made to threaten the prisoner, and that he hadn’t expected the Confederate soldier to obey him. Wirz was not responsible for the lack of food and sanitary conditions at Camp Sumter. His superiors were. But he was responsible for issuing orders which led to the demise of prisoners, and denying them the food which was available.