7. A Catholic priest toured Camp Sumter in the spring of 1864
By May 1864, a hospital had been erected in the stockade. That month, a Catholic priest named William Hamilton stopped at Camp Sumter while on a visit to a mission in Americus, Georgia. Stunned at the deteriorating conditions at the camp, he reported to General Howell Cobb and requested the general to look into obtaining paroles for the men there. Father Hamilton described the men dying in the hospital of diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery, and scurvy, “…not only covered with the ordinary vermin but also maggots”. Prior to visiting General Cobb, Hamilton visited his bishop, Augustin Verot, and suggested a Catholic chaplain be assigned to the camp. Bishop Verot asked Father Peter Whelan to serve in that capacity. Father Whelan was experienced ministering to prisoners, having earlier been held as a prisoner of war himself.
Whelan had been captured after the surrender of Fort Pulaski by Union troops. As a non-combatant, Whelan was offered his freedom. He declined, choosing to remain with the troops. Father Whelan returned to Georgia after he was paroled and exchanged, where he learned of the conditions at Andersonville from Father Hamilton and Bishop Verot. Whelan agreed immediately, arriving at Camp Sumter in June 1864. He resided in a small wooden hut outside of the compound, about a mile distant. He walked that distance twice daily, entering the stockade around 9 AM, and returning to his hut around sundown. Other priests soon joined him, though none were assigned permanently to the camp other than Father Henry Clavreul. The latter priest arrived in August and found the conditions too appalling to bear. Continuously ill, Father Clavreul soon left. Father Whelan remained.