Andersonville National Historic Site

Andersonville National Historic Site

Reconstruction of a section of the stockade wall
Location Macon / Sumter counties, Georgia, United States
Nearest city Andersonville, Georgia, Americus, Georgia
Coordinates 32°11′41″N 84°07′44″W / 32.19469°N 84.12895°W / 32.19469; -84.12895Coordinates: 32°11′41″N 84°07′44″W / 32.19469°N 84.12895°W / 32.19469; -84.12895
Area 514 acres (208 ha)[1]
Built April 1864
Visitation 1,436,759 (2011)[2]
Website Andersonville National Historic Site
NRHP Reference # 70000070[3][4]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 16, 1970
Designated NHS October 16, 1970

The Andersonville National Historic Site, located near Andersonville, Georgia, preserves the former Camp Sumter (also known as Andersonville Prison), a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp during the final twelve months of the American Civil War. Most of the site lies in southwestern Macon County, adjacent to the east side of the town of Andersonville. As well as the former prison, the site contains the Andersonville National Cemetery and the National Prisoner of War Museum.

The site is an iconic reminder of the horrors of Civil War prisons. It was commanded by Captain Henry Wirz, who was tried and executed after the war for war crimes. It was overcrowded to four times its capacity, with an inadequate water supply, inadequate food rations, and unsanitary conditions. Of the approximately 45,000 Union prisoners held at Camp Sumter during the war, nearly 13,000 died. The chief causes of death were scurvy, diarrhea, and dysentery. Friends provided care, food, and moral support for others in their social network, which helped prisoners survive.[5][6]


A depiction of Andersonville Prison by John L. Ransom

The prison, which opened in February 1864,[7] originally covered about 16.5 acres (6.7 ha) of land enclosed by a 15-foot (4.6 m) high stockade. In June 1864, it was enlarged to 26.5 acres (10.7 ha). The stockade was rectangular, of dimensions 1,620 feet (490 m) by 779 feet (237 m). There were two entrances on the west side of the stockade, known as "north entrance" and "south entrance".[8]

Descriptions of Andersonville

Robert H. Kellogg, sergeant major in the 16th Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, described his entry as a prisoner into the prison camp, May 2, 1864:

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;—stalwart 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 ground allotted to our ninety was near the edge of this plague-spot, and how we were to live through the warm summer weather in the midst of such fearful surroundings, was more than we cared to think of just then.[9]

Further descriptions of the camp can be found in the diary of Ransom Chadwick, a member of the 85th New York Infantry Regiment. Chadwick and his regimental mates were taken to the Andersonville Prison, arriving on April 30, 1864.[10]

Father Peter Whelan arrived on 16 June 1864 to muster the resources of the church and help provide relief to the prisoners.

The Dead Line

At Andersonville, a light fence known as "the dead line" was erected approximately 19 feet (5.8 m) inside the stockade wall. It demarcated a no-man's land that kept prisoners away from the stockade wall, which was made of rough-hewn logs about 16 feet (4.9 m) high and stakes driven into the ground.[11] Anyone crossing or even touching this "dead line" was shot without warning by sentries in the pigeon roosts. Dead lines were also used at other prisons during the Civil War.

Health problems

Andersonville prisoners and tents, southwest view showing the dead-line, August 17, 1864

At this time in the war, Andersonville Prison was frequently undersupplied with food. The Confederate Army and civilians also struggled to get enough food. The shortage was suffered by prisoners and the Confederate personnel alike within the fort. But the prisoners received less than the guards, as the latter did not suffer such emaciation, nor scurvy (caused by vitamin C deficiency). The latter was probably the main cause of mortality (along with diarrhea, caused by living in the filth from poor sanitation and the necessity to take drinking water from a creek filled at all times with fecal material from thousands of sick and dying men). Even when sufficient quantities of supplies were available, they were of poor quality and poorly prepared.

Although the prison was surrounded by forest, very little wood was allowed to the prisoners for warmth or cooking. This and the lack of utensils made it almost impossible for the prisoners to cook the main food they received, poorly milled corn flour. During the summer of 1864, Union prisoners suffered greatly from hunger, exposure and disease. Within seven months, about a third died from what was diagnosed as dysentery and scurvy; they were buried in mass graves, the standard practice by Confederate prison authorities at Andersonville. In 1864 the Confederate Surgeon General asked Joseph Jones, an expert on infectious disease, to investigate the high mortality rate at the camp. He concluded that it was due to "scorbutic dysentery" (bloody diarrhea caused by vitamin C deficiency). In 2010 the historian Drisdelle said that hookworm disease, a condition not recognized or known during the Civil War, was the major cause of much of the mortality.[12]

The water supply from Stockade Creek became polluted when too many Union prisoners were housed by the Confederate authorities within the prison walls. Part of the creek was used as a sink, and the men were forced to wash themselves in the creek.

The Raiders

A Union soldier who survived

The guards, disease, starvation and exposure were not all that prisoners had to deal with. A group of prisoners, calling themselves the Andersonville Raiders, attacked their fellow inmates to steal food, jewelry, money and clothing. They were armed mostly with clubs and killed to get what they wanted. Another group rose up, organized by Peter "Big Pete" Aubrey, to stop the larceny, calling themselves "Regulators". They caught nearly all of the Raiders, who were tried by the Regulators' judge, Peter McCullough, and jury, selected from a group of new prisoners. This jury, upon finding the Raiders guilty, set punishment that included running the gauntlet, being sent to the stocks, ball and chain and, in six cases, hanging.[13]

The conditions were so poor that in July 1864, Captain Wirz paroled five Union soldiers to deliver a petition signed by the majority of Andersonville's prisoners asking that the Union reinstate prisoner exchanges in order to relieve the overcrowding and allow prisoners to leave these terrible conditions. That request was denied. The Union soldiers, who had sworn to do so, returned to report this to their comrades.[14]

Confederacy's offer to release prisoners

In the latter part of the summer of 1864, the Confederacy offered to conditionally release prisoners if the Union would send ships to retrieve them (Andersonville is inland, with access possible only via rail and road). In the autumn of 1864, after the capture of Atlanta, all the prisoners who were well enough to be moved were sent to Millen, Georgia and Florence, South Carolina. At Millen, better arrangements prevailed. After General William Tecumseh Sherman began his march to the sea, the prisoners were returned to Andersonville, where conditions were somewhat improved.

During the war, 45,000 prisoners were received at Andersonville prison; of these nearly 13,000 died.[6] The nature and causes of the deaths are a continuing source of controversy among historians. Some contend that they resulted from deliberate Confederate war crimes against Union prisoners, while others state that they resulted from disease promoted by severe overcrowding, the food shortage in the Confederate States, the prison officials' incompetence, and the breakdown of the prisoner exchange system, caused by the Confederacy's refusal to include blacks in the exchanges, thus overfilling the stockade.[15] During the war, disease was the primary cause of deaths in both armies, suggesting that infectious disease was a chronic problem, due to poor sanitation in regular as well as prison camps.

Prisoner population

7,160 Apr 1, 1864 [16]
12,000 May 5, 1864 [17]
20,652 Jun 13, 1864 [18]
23,942 Jun 19, 1864 [18]
29,076 Jul 18, 1864 [19]
31,678 Jul 31, 1864 [20]
31,693 Aug 31, 1864 [21]

Dorence Atwater

A young Union prisoner, Dorence Atwater, was chosen to record the names and numbers of the dead at Andersonville, for the use by the Confederacy and the federal government after the war ended. He believed, correctly, the federal government would never see the list. Therefore, he sat next to Henry Wirz, who was in charge of the prison pen, and secretly kept his own list among other papers. When Atwater was released, he put the list in his bag and took it through the lines without being caught. It was published by the New York Tribune when Horace Greeley, the paper's owner, learned the federal government had refused the list and given Atwater much grief. It was Atwater's opinion that Andersonville's commanding officer was trying to ensure that Union prisoners would be rendered unfit to fight if they survived.[22]

Newell Burch

P.O.W. Newell Burch also recorded Andersonville's decrepit conditions (in his diary). A member of the 154th New York Volunteer Infantry, Burch was captured on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg; he was first imprisoned at Belle Isle in Richmond, Virginia, and then Andersonville. He is credited with being the longest-held Union prisoner of war during the Civil War and with surviving a total of 661 days in Confederate hands.[23] His original diary is in the collection of the Dunn County Historical Society in Menomonie, Wisconsin; a mimeographed copy is held by the Wisconsin Historical Society.[24]


Confederate records show that 351 prisoners (about 0.7% of all inmates) escaped, though many were recaptured.[25] The US Army lists 32 as returning to Union lines; of the rest, some likely simply returned to civilian life without notifying the military, while others probably died.[25]


Andersonville Prison was liberated in May 1865.[26]


After the war, Henry Wirz, commandant of the inner stockade at Camp Sumter, was tried by a military tribunal on charges of war crimes. The trial was presided over by Union General Lew Wallace and featured chief Judge Advocate General (JAG) prosecutor Norton Parker Chipman.

A number of former prisoners testified about conditions at Andersonville, many accusing Wirz of specific acts of cruelty, for some of which Wirz was not even present in the camp. The court also considered official correspondence from captured Confederate records. Perhaps the most damaging was a letter to the Confederate surgeon general by Dr. James Jones, who in 1864 was sent by Richmond to investigate conditions at Camp Sumter.[27] Jones had been appalled by what he found, and reported he vomited twice and contracted influenza from the single hour he'd toured the camp. His graphically detailed report to his superiors all but closed the case for the prosecution.

Wirz presented evidence that he had pleaded to Confederate authorities to try to get more food and that he had tried to improve the conditions for the prisoners inside. However, he was found guilty and was sentenced to death, and on November 10, 1865, he was hanged. Wirz was the only Confederate official to be tried and convicted of war crimes resulting from the Civil War (but see reference to Champ Ferguson). The revelation of the prisoners' sufferings was one of the factors that shaped public opinion in the North regarding the South after the close of the Civil War.


In 1890, the Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Georgia, bought the site of Andersonville Prison through membership and subscriptions.[28] In 1910, the site was donated to the federal government by the Woman's Relief Corps[29] (auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic).[30]

National Prisoner of War Museum

The National Prisoner of War Museum opened in 1998 as a memorial to all American prisoners of war. Exhibits use art, photographs, displays, and video presentations to depict the capture, living conditions, hardships, and experiences of American prisoners of war in all periods. The museum also serves as the park's visitor center.[31]

Andersonville National Cemetery

The cemetery is the final resting place for the Union prisoners who died while being held at Camp Sumter/Andersonville as POWs. The prisoners' burial ground at Camp Sumter has been made a national cemetery. It contains 13,714 graves, of which 921 are marked "unknown".

As a National Cemetery, it is also used as a burial place for more recent veterans and their dependents.[32]

Visitors can walk the 26.5-acre (10.7 ha) site of Camp Sumter, which has been outlined with double rows of white posts. Two sections of the stockade wall have been reconstructed, the north gate and the northeast corner.

Notable monuments and burials

Depictions in popular culture


Andersonville National Cemetery

See also


  1. "Listing of acreage as of December 31, 2011". Land Resource Division, National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-03-30.
  2. "NPS Annual Recreation Visits Report". National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-03-30.
  3. National Park Service (2008-04-15). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  4. Horrors of Andersonvile James K. Polk
  5. Dora L. CVosta and Matthew E. Kahn, "Surviving Andersonville: The Benefits of Social Networks in POW Camps," American Economic Review (2007) 97#4 pp. 1467–1487.
  6. 1 2 "Camp Sumter / Andersonville Prison". National Park Service. Retrieved 2013-02-14.
  7. "Andersonville Civil War Prison Historical Background". 2009-11-06.
  8. Pamphlet Andersonville, National Park Service
  9. Kellogg, Robert H. Life and Death in Rebel Prisons. Hartford, CT: L. Stebbins, 1865.
  10. "Ransom Chadwick: An Inventory of His Andersonville Prison Diary at the Minnesota Historical Society". Retrieved 2012-11-16.
  11. Andersonville, Giving Up the Ghost, A Collection of Prisoners' Diaries, Letters and Memoirs by William Stryple
  12. Drisdelle R. Parasites. Tales of Humanity's Most Unwelcome Guests. Univ. of California Publishers, 2010. p. 86. ISBN 978-0-520-25938-6.
  13. "Andersonville: Prisoner of War Camp-Reading 2". Retrieved 2012-11-16.
  14. Prof. Linder. "Scopes Trial Home Page – UMKC School of Law". Retrieved 2012-11-16.
  15. Marvel, William, Andersonville: The Last Depot, University of North Carolina Press, 1994.
  16. Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series II, Volume VII, 1899 p. 169
  17. Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series II, Volume VII, 1899 p. 119
  18. 1 2 Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series II, Volume VII, 1899 p. 381
  19. Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series II, Volume VII, 1899 p. 493
  20. Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series II, Volume VII, 1899 p. 517
  21. Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series II, Volume VII, 1899 p. 708
  22. Safranski, Debby Burnett, Angel of Andersonville, Prince of Tahiti: The Extraordinary Life of Dorence Atwater, Alling-Porterfield Publishing House, 2008.
  23. Andreas, A.T. (1881). History of Northern Wisconsin, An Account of Its Settlement, Growth, Development and Resources; an Extensive Sketch of its Counties, Cities, Towns and Villages. Chicago: The Western Historical Company via USGenWeb. p. 283.
  24. "Plate: front view: Object Description". Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database, Wisconsin Historical Society. Retrieved April 9, 2013.
  25. 1 2 "Successful Escapes From Andersonville". National Park Service.
  26. "Andersonville: Earlier War Crimes "Abuse" Trial | Strike-The-Root: A Journal Of Liberty". Strike-The-Root. 2004-05-11. Retrieved 2012-11-16.
  27. A Perfect Picture of Hell: Eyewitness Accounts by Civil War Prisoners from the 12th Iowa, copyright 2001, University of Iowa Press
  28. Roster and History of the Department of Georgia (States of Georgia and South Carolina) Grand Army of the Republic, Atlanta, Georgia: Syl. Lester & Co. Printers, 1894, 5.
  29. "Andersonville National Historic Site - Park Statistics (U.S. National Park Service)". Retrieved June 21, 2011.
  30. "WRC National Woman's Relief Corps, Auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic, Inc.". Archived from the original on 9 June 2011. Retrieved June 21, 2011.
  31. "Andersonville National Historic Site – National Prisoner of War Museum (U.S. National Park Service)". Archived from the original on 30 May 2011. Retrieved June 21, 2011.
  32. Andersonville National Historic Site. Burial Guidelines and Qualifications. Accessed July 21, 2013.
  33. James Wiley at Find a Grave
  34. Luther H. Story at Find a Grave
  35. "Andersonville (TV 1996) – IMDb". Retrieved June 21, 2011.
  36. "Andersonville's Whirlpool of Death". Retrieved 2012-11-16.

Further reading

Scholarly studies

Primary and other sources

External links

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