Andersonville Confederate Prison

     Andersonville Prison , or Camp Sumter as it was officially known, was a confederate stockade for Union enlisted men, at Andersonville, GA. It was established in November 1863, and was in use from February 1864 to April 1865, during which time it had a total of 49,485 prisoners, the largest number at one time being 33, 006. Built to accommodate 10,000 men, it had a hospital, but was without barracks, being an open enclosure of 27 acres, with 15 to 20 foot walls of pine logs. Overcrowding impure water, unsanitary conditions , and exposure, added to shortage of food and medicines resulted in an appalling death rate, totaling more than 13,700 in the 13 months the prison was in use. Conditions were investigated by a medical commission appointed by the Confederate War Department in late spring of 1864, and the removal of the greater numbers of the prisoners was recommended. By October all but about 4,000 had been transferred to prisons at Florence, SC and Millen, GA, where conditions better were maintained. The prison superintendent, a Swiss Capt Henry Wirz, was charged with cruelty and mismanagement, was tried by a United States military court and was hanged. The cemetery where the prison dead were buried comprising 27 acres and 13,700 graves, is now a national cemetery. The prison site, with adjoining land bringing it to 84 acres, has been made into a park, maintained by the federal government.

     Orders were issued accordingly to arrest a subaltern officer, Captian Wirz, a poor, friendless, and wounded prisoner of war (he being included in the surrender of General Johnston) and besides, a foreigner by birth. On the ninth of May 1865 he was placed in the Old Capital prison at Washington, and from that time the greater part of the Northern press was busily engaged in forming the unfortunate man in the eyes of the Northern people into such a monster that it became almost impossible to obtain counsel; even his countryman, the Swiss Consul-General, publicly refused to accept money to defray the expenses of the trial. He was doomed before he was heard, and even the permission to be heard according to law was denied him,

      To increase the excitement and give eclat to the proceeding and to influence still more of the public mind, the trial took place under the very dome of the Capitol of the nation. A military commission, presided over by a despotic general, was formed, and the paroled prisoner of war, his wounds still open, was so feeble that he had to recline during the trial on a sofa. Captain Henry Wirz, was found guilty and was executed in Washington on the 10th of November 1865. Protesting up to the last moment his innocence of those monstrous crimes with which he was charged, his lawyer was unable to save him from a felon's doom.

     Having thus failed, another effort was made. On the night before the execution of the prisoner (November 9, 1865) a telegram was sent to the Northern press from this city, stating that Wirz had made important disclosures to General L. C. Baker, the well-known detective, implicating Jefferson Davis, and that the confession would probably be given to the public. On the same evening some parties came to the confession of Wirz, Rev. Father Boyle, and his Lawyer, Louis Schade, one of them informing Captain Wirz that a high Cabinet official wished to assure Wirz that if he would implicate Jefferson Davis with the atrocities committed at Andersonville, his sentence would be commuted. The messenger requested his lawyer to inform Wirz of this. In the presence of Father Boyle,Wirz was informed of the information the very next morning.

     The Captain simply and quietly replied, "Mr. Schade, you know that I have always told you that I do not know anything about Jefferson Davis. He had no connection with me as to what was done at Andersonville. If I knew anything about him, I would not become a traitor against him or anybody else even to save my life." The execution was carried out that very day.


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