Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 27, 2013


February 27, 1864: The first Northern POWs arrive at the Confederate run prison camp outside Andersonville, Georgia. At the beginning of the Civil War, captured men were held until both sides could arrange an exchange. The two sides would trade prisoners and the newly freed men could then return to their respective front lines. Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s men killed a group of black Union soldiers instead of holding them for an exchange. Ulysses S. Grant unilaterally voided the exchange policy.

Confederate POWs were detained without parole until the South guaranteed that all soldiers, regardless of race, would be treated the same. This promise was not forthcoming from either CSA President Jefferson Davis or General Robert E. Lee. The South began constructing its own prisons instead. A site in central Georgia was selected because it was deemed to be far enough away from raiding Union troops.

The original prison construction began in January 1864 and contained 16.5 acres of land within a 12-foot stockade. It was to house 10,000 prisoners. The prison was of a rectangular design with a creek running through the center. Area slaves were impressed to build the original stockade. No barracks were constructed. By June, the prison population had climbed to 20,000 and more space was needed. One hundred, thirty prisoners were forced to work for 14 days to enclose an additional 10 acres. By August, more than 33,000 Union soldiers were held on the 26.5 acres.

Andersonville prison had a total of 49,485 prisoners come through the gates during the 14 months it was in operation. Of those, 13,700 men died of malnutrition, exposure, or disease. Nearly one-third of the prisoners died of dysentery. The South was chronically short of supplies by this time in the war, but the treatment of the prisoners was cruel and inhumane regardless of the issue of supply shortages. The Commanding Officer, Henry Wirz, was arrested in May 1865 and sent to Washington, DC where he stood trial for war crimes. He was found guilty and hanged, the only man to be so convicted from the War.

“A prisoner of war is a man who tries to kill you and fails, and then asks you not to kill him.” – Winston Churchill

“To my mind, to kill in war is not a whit better than to commit ordinary murder.” – Albert Einstein

“I’ll tell you what war is about: you’ve got to kill people, and when you’ve killed enough, they stop fighting.” – General Curtis LeMay

“No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” – Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.

After the war ended, many of the survivors of this death camp were returning home on the Sultana when disaster struck again. A very sad ending to a horrible story. – the editor

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: This was not the only horrible POW camp in the US during the Civil War. There was also Camp Douglas located in Chicago. It was a place of deprivation and hardship as well. Scurvy was rampant with about 13% of inmates ill during October 1864. The next month, water was shut off while repairs were being made and prisoners risked being shot to gather snow for drinking purposes. The next month, remnants of General Hood’s troops arrived and were forced to stand naked in the ice and snow while they were robbed of any and all valuable. Records show that 2,235 prisoners died while at the camp, but there are some who say this is 967 short of the actual figure. Others put the death toll at over 6,000. Most died of disease or starvation while others succumbed to the bitter cold of a Chicago winter.

Also on this day: Party in New Orleans! – In 1827, Mardi Gras was celebrated in New Orleans for the first time.
The Lord and the Luddites – In1812, George Gordon Byron spoke out in the House of Lords.
Suffrage – In 1922, Leser V. Garnett was decided by the US Supreme Court.

War Criminal

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 10, 2011

Henry Wirz

November 10, 1865: Major Henry Wirz is hanged. His full name was Heinrich Hartmann Wirz and he was the only Confederate officer tried and executed at the end of the Civil War. He was the officer in charge of Camp Sumter, better known as Andersonville Prison. Wirz was born in Zurich, Switzerland and studied medicine there. He had a practice in Switzerland prior to coming to the US in 1849. He was imprisoned prior to his emigration for reasons unknown. He settled first in Kentucky and then moved to Louisiana where he successfully practiced medicine.

Wirz joined the Fourth Battalion of the Louisiana Volunteers as a private in May 1861. He was injured in battle, losing the use of his right arm. He was detached as a prison guard first in Alabama and then in Virginia. He was assigned to General John Winder who was in charge of all Confederate prison camps. In February 1864, Camp Sumter was established in Georgia. Wirz took command of the camp in March of that year.

Wooden barracks were planned to house what should have been temporary prisoners. The sides had been exchanging prisoners, but stopped doing so as soldiers were being returned to the field of battle. The sixteen acres eventually held 32,000 Union soldiers who were suffering from lack of food, water, and shelter. This, combined with poor sanitary conditions and lack of medical treatment led to Andersonville being the worst prison in the South. It was open for fourteen months and during that time, 13,000 or 28% of the prisoners assigned there had died.

Wirz was arrested in May 1865. He was taken to Washington, D.C. for trial on the charges of conspiring to impair the lives of Union prisoners of war. A military tribunal was established with Major General Lew Wallace presiding. The trial lasted for two months with evidence presented by former prisoners. The star witness against Wirz was a perjurer, but this wasn’t discovered until eleven days after the execution. Wirz was one of two men tried, and the only one executed, for war crimes during this bleak part of American history.

“There is so much filth about the camp that it is terrible trying to live here,” Michigan cavalryman and prisoner John Ransom , wrote in his diary

“With sunken eyes, blackened countenances from pitch pine smoke, rags, and disease, the men look sickening. The air reeks with nastiness.” – an unnamed prisoner from Camp Sumter

“Since the day I was born, I never saw such misery.” – an unnamed prisoner from Camp Sumter

“A prisoner of war is a man who tries to kill you and fails, and then asks you not to kill him.” – Winston Churchill

Also on this day:
Brought to You by the Letters J and H and the Number 1 – In 1969, Sesame Street come to PBS, bringing along a whole cast of characters.
Winning – In 1928, Notre Dame played Army at Yankee Stadium.