But What About Those Northern Prison Camps?

Earlier this morning I tweeted an article about soldiers from Massachusetts who died at the Andersonville prison camp in Georgia. I didn’t think much of it beyond the human interest element, but a couple of references did catch the eye of Chris Barr.

The camp has been described as “America’s Auschwitz” and “the deadliest ground of the Civil War.”

Conditions at Union prisoner-of-war camps weren’t much better. The worst was Camp Rathbun at Elmira, N.Y., where nearly 3,000 rebel soldiers died of disease and cold. Known among its 12,000 inmates as “Hellmira,” the camp posted a mortality rate of nearly 25 percent.

Here is his response:

Chris makes some good points. What do you think?

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58 comments… add one
  • Ruth Nov 17, 2020 @ 7:35

    I inherited over 50 books, most were Pulizter prize winners. I am now reading Andersomville. My People fought on both sides. At age 90 I had the opportunity to speak with my Great Grandmother , (Maternal side)she grew up at Harper’s Ferry, (Gemans- Abolinists), My Maternal side also grew up at Harpers Ferry, (Germans-Scout for the Confederacy Commissary to feed the soldiers) Paternal side, Pennsylvania Volunteers, Army of the Potomac(Bushtail outit & 208th )(German-) neither kin spoke of the War, Grandmam & Grandma only spoke of the devastation. Sadly , none of my 6 children ever hear d of Andersonville (I live in Georgia, Children born & raised in Georgia. I am appalled that this was left out of American History. 13,000 died at Andersonville. 3,000 died at Rathbone, This is not a discussion of who was the worse. This should have been part of history , Men who fought for States rights on one side & Against slavery on the other. Because of the censorship of American History, Our children do not know their history.
    …You will find it difficult the 1st President of Morehouse College (1st Black College) was built by my distant kin Dr, Robert & the land donated by John Rockefellow…So much erased that the college itself has tried to eliminate the ties of whites to the College. I can’t even imagine how Dr. Robert was able to establish a college during reconstruction ( Dr.Robert is from Robertville, S.C. , established Atlanta Baptist Seminary that later became Morehouse College. )…as a last remark. Capt.Wirtz ‘s statement before he was hung. ” I am being hanged for for following orders.” If everyone was taught American history /world history without censorship, never would the anyone call the prisons North or South “Auschwitz” .

  • Liz Regan Sep 3, 2019 @ 13:39

    I am under the impression that Irish Confederates were Scotts-Irish or at least Irish Protestants who came from Northern Ireland generations before the Civil War, while Irish Yankees were Roman Catholics from Ireland proper who had only just arrived as recent immigrants. Though all nominally Irish, these are very different demographics.

  • ronald l wiiest May 19, 2019 @ 10:59

    I had a relative from the 112th New York who died of starvation at Andersonville. What a hell hole!!!!!!!!!!

  • M. W.Minter Sep 12, 2018 @ 13:16

    At anytime,yankees could go home,to basically what they left back,home,but a Southerner,could never go back to the same,.. The reason for validation,is very simple,You people keep forgetting we will not ever forget,. We feel,blamed,we feel put down,we feel misunderstood,seems quite reasonable,to protect our integrity our interest,We never have had a trail,You people will always like to feel and express that your side of the conflict,you cut us a break or something of that sort,we who know facts find that very arrogant. We feel we lost bc we are Concord,any you’d like to compare us to Nazis,and the Japanese,but we are American and,we feel like a nation,much more than native American,incidently, iam as lots or Americans are,mixed native,but we feel that in the facts we did all the same as the contentials did in 76″,also I know my spelling sucks,you can pick on that too. We feel your crusader attitude is the excuse for the invitation,you people choose,We never really thought you cared so ab our business,so we thought you could live wo us,we really didn’t know that you wanted it all. So now you have it, Are we just to bow down to your Holiness,and kiss your soles? Are we to let you,continue,to compare us, to horrible,Unjust claims,you need us to make yourselves feel justified,for your crusade, to mock &, make merry of,you need us to be different,bc you have so little left,of your Righteousness. That why, you can’t understand.

  • Marion Thornberry Jun 3, 2018 @ 9:45

    This just shows that Americans are just as terrible as any other nation. The people that ran the prisons, Union, or Confederate, should have been charged with war crimes.

    • Allan Brown May 28, 2021 @ 15:23

      I suggest you look into how the United States treated the German Prisoner of War, Here in New Hampshire and Maine prisoners were let out of the prison camp ans permitted to go into town on on their own ans often attended Church worship and social functions. The camps were generally logging camps so deep in the wood that escape was unlikely so they were permitted a level of freedom on the weekend. Some countries were not known for treating prisoner as well and other were know to arbitrarily. You are a bitter person when you compare treatment of pioneers 150 years ago to today. Americans ‘Are” not as terrible as other nations.

      • Kevin Levin May 29, 2021 @ 1:29

        In many parts of the country German POWs were treated better than Black citizens.

  • TONY M May 4, 2018 @ 13:02

    there is an episode from GUNSMOKE which deals w/ this issue in the fine dramatic way that the show is known for by it’s fans. great acting also. the head of a prison camp in the apparently fictional Donneville prison camp thinks he can walk around free after the war in Dodge city ,but he’s wrong .he screws w/ the wrong people over his dumbass stepson’s abuse by buffalo hunters who were under his ‘leadership’back in the day,but before they were liberated, they branded him w/ the so called ‘mark of cain'(the episode’s title) if you enjoy good television drama set against a historical background see this.

  • Vera Lasley Jan 10, 2018 @ 19:39

    I once read( can’t remember where) the reason the North stopped swapping POWs was because the north had a larger population than the South and could replace the captured soldiers easier than the South. Eventually this could help end the war. Therefore their captured soldiers were “Expendable”!

  • john Jan 7, 2018 @ 14:18

    Strangely the commandant of Andersonville Prison was the only Civil War criminal sentenced to death. To add insult to injury the town of Andersonville, GA honored the commandant with a monument.

  • London John Mar 21, 2017 @ 3:13

    I have the impression that Andersonville was better known c1960 than it is today. Possibly because of the novel Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor and a play “The Andersonville Trial”.
    It’s a bit surprising that more is not made of the fact that the trial of Major Wirtz was the first-ever war-crimes trial. I don’t know of its being referred to as a precedent.
    “America’s Auschwitz” is of course ridiculous. Auschwitz was an extermination camp: if someone must have a Nazi comparison, prison camps such as Belsen and Dachau, where prisoners died of disease and starvation, are more appropriate. But even those are a stretch, to say the least.

  • hankc9174 Mar 19, 2017 @ 17:24

    Removing Andersonville from the mixes gives a hodge-podge of analysis prevailing for all camps: they were overcrowded, the climate was too harsh, the commander was too harsh, there wasn’t enough food, shelter and water, conditions were unsanitary, there was little medical care,

    Any of the other camps could be said to be the worst of one or more of these conditions: choose, Douglas, Florence, Elmira, Salisbury or Lookout.

    Add Andersonville back, and all others take second place.

  • Joshism Mar 19, 2017 @ 12:15

    Last year I read a book by Tony Judt called “Postwar” about Europe from the aftermath of WW2 through the turn of the century. Written more than a decade ago, near the end of the book there is a great line that “We are moving from victors’ history to victims’ history.” He’s a British author and in context was referring to Eastern Europeans who downplay the significance of the Holocaust because they suffered a half century or more of totalitarian communist oppression and brutality.

    Judy’s comment had nothing to do with American history yet reflects modern trends in American history (and psuedo-history). Examples:
    “Southern slavery was terrible.” “Irish were treated like slaves.”
    “Andersonville was terrible.” “Northern prisons were terrible too.”

    It’s not restricted to Civil War history. Look some of the “people’s histories” published in the last decade or two that want to present all history as white men treating everyone else like shit. Or news stories in recent years like:
    “What about the poor refugees?” “What about poor people in the US?”
    “Black Lives Matter.” “Blue Lives Matter.” “All Lives Matter.”
    “Sexism is bad.” “Racism is worse.” “Homophia worse x2.” “Transphobia is worse x3.” “Well none of you have experienced real discrimination until you’re an half-black half-Native American physically, mentally, and emotionally handicapped transgendered alcoholic crackbaby with Auspergers and PTSD who got AIDS from being sexually abused by a police officer.”

    I’m exaggerating that last one to make a point – it’s a race to the bottom that accomplishes little, if any, good. We as a society (and perhaps as modern civilization as a whole) desperately need to break out of this cycle.

    • Forester Mar 19, 2017 @ 13:32

      You lost me. How is it a “race to the bottom” to inform readers that atrocities were not limited to just one side? I don’t understand your thesis here.

      Also, how is “victim’s history” anything new? What is the Lost Cause but a very old example of victim’s history?

      • Kevin Levin Mar 19, 2017 @ 13:57

        Chris is not arguing against comparative history. What he is getting at is what he sees as an unspoken assumption that if you discuss Andersonville you are expected to mention an example from the North, not because it makes for good history, but to maintain some notion of moral equivalence.

      • Joshism Mar 20, 2017 @ 16:28

        Usually it isn’t comparative or informative; usually it’s about marginalization. “This atrocity doesn’t matter because of these other atrocities” or “Your victimhood doesn’t matter because I’m a victim too (or because I’m a bigger victim).”

        I don’t think The Lost Cause is victim’s history; it is something different, although it does have some similar elements.

        The Lost Cause is martyrdom. Victory was achieved through losing. The losers wrote the history books for a century afterwards, and still believe that despite losing they were the superior side and the ideals they (or their ancestors) stood for (or claimed they stood for) were the right ones.

        Victims history is about oppression of a minority; it’s not a struggle where the wrong guys won. It’s one side stomping on the other side from the beginning, mercilessly crushing all resistance, then strutting around the history books bragging afterward like they’re some big hero. If you were on the winning side (or a descendant of the winning side) you should feel bad for being on that side, and you owe the losers who you (or your ancestors) treated so poorly. White people abusing not-white people (or “lesser” white people, in the case of the Irish), men abusing women, rich abusing the poor, people in power abusing people without power. There’s no nobility on the losing side, just suffering and misery.

  • Forester Mar 19, 2017 @ 11:32

    I see nothing odd about making the comparison. Mentioning Andersonville without mentioning northern prisons implies that ONLY the South had such abuses. By implication, it demonizes the South and reeks of jingoism unless counter-balanced. Granted, Hellmira wasn’t nearly as bad …. but the South could barely feed their troops, let alone prisoners.

    The comparison to Gettysburg and Shiloh is nonsense, because neither battle carries dehumanizing implications about the participants. No one would look at the statistics of Gettysburg and say, “My God, the Confederates were inhuman monsters.” But that’s certainly what they would say about Andersonville, especially when it’s being called “America’s Auschwitz.”

    Words carry implications and meanings, even when the writer doesn’t directly specify them, hence the need to provide examples of cruelty on both sides. This is extremely common in historical literature, like how the book “Flyboys” includes an extensive chapter on American war crimes in the Philippines to provide balance and background for later in the book when the Japanese literally ATE the prisoners. Without holding America to accountability also, the book would have come off as a racist screed against the Japanese.

    This phenomenon is not unique to the Civil War.

  • Bob Huddleston Mar 18, 2017 @ 19:25

    First of all, the parole system and POW exchange broke down long before Grant was in a position to do anything about it: it collapsed when he was still commanding general of the Department of Tennessee. He would have no direct influence until his promotion to Commanding General, United State Army in March 1864.

    Secondly the real reason for the collapse was the refusal of the Confederate government to recognize and treat the officers and men of the United States’ Colored Troops as soldiers.

    The concept of Parole went back to the middle ages when it was all but impossible to take care of POWs and all officers were, by definition, “gentlemen.” When captured, an officer would promise not to fight again, and would agree to pay a ransom. He would then go home and raise the ransom. War was between, after all, gentlemen, and not governments or people.

    The common soldiers, by the way, were typically slaughtered: they had no value as ransom and if released would be able to go on fighting. Of course the masses, as non-gentlemen, also could not be trusted to keep their word.

    Later the ransom idea was modified to allow the swapping of prisoners, general for general, captain for captain and private for private. Officers could give their paroles not only for themselves, but also for the officers and men under them. Since the men were part of an organized outfit called a regiment, the officers were expected to maintain control over their men. The members of a regiment had enlisted in that regiment and were not in the army (or the navy) as a whole.

    The American Revolution provides some good examples of this: Gentlemanly Johnny Burgoyne was paroled after Saratoga, as was Cornwallis after Yorktown. They went home. And since warfare was not really a conflict of nations, the Dover Calais ferry continued operating until 1779, although France had declared war on England in 1777. British admiral George Rodney was living in France – he had fled England to avoid debtor’s prison – and the war made no difference to him or to his French hosts. When the English government offered Rodney command in the West Indies, he was unable to accept it because of the debt problem. But the Duc de Biron, Marechal de France, the military rank of Field Marshall is a descendent of this post) loaned Rodney £2,000 so Rodney could go home.

    Rodney then went out to the Caribbean and defeated the French at the Battle of the Saintes. And no one, least of all the French, thought there was anything out of the ordinary or ungrateful on the part of Rodney accepting the loan or anything unpatriotic in Biron giving him the money. As an aside, the English government did not forget Biron’s actions. The duke was executed during the Revolution and his family fled to England where Parliament granted Madam Biron an annual pension of £80. She returned home as the restoration of the French monarchy and lived into the 1880s near Vichy. And every year the British consul made a ceremonial trip to her house to pay her.

    Paroled prisoners gave their word of honor that they would not participate in the war until they had been properly exchanged. The problem always was what constituted proper exchange. Lt. Col. Winfield Scott was captured and paroled early in the War of 1812. He was officially declared exchanged by the US Government and ordered to duty. But the British claimed that the men “exchanged” for Scott had already been exchanged and Scott was therefore violently his parole. If recaptured Scott could have been shot by the British. Fortunately for American history, Scott was not recaptured and eventually, in part because of the kindness shown by Scott to some captured British, it was all worked out.

    Scott was also involved in another messy parole. Twenty-three privates captured along with him were claimed by the British as being Irish (most were) and therefore traitors fighting for the Americans, subject to courts martial and execution. Scott protested, the US government placed fort-six British officers and men in close confinement, threatening to shot them if the Irish-American soldiers were executed. The British retaliated by threatening to shoot double the number of Americans, etc. It was quickly paved over because the British, no doubt recognizing where that could go, never got around to trying the Americans.

    Typically at the start of a war, the two belligerent government would agree to a “cartel” on prisoners, detailing how prisoners were to be exchanged and what paroled prisoners could do and not do. For the American Civil War, the important one was that of the War of 1812 between the United States and the British. The same terms would be used in the agreements between the Yankees and Rebels.

    In 1861, following First Manassas, the Confederates had a surplus of prisoners and offered to exchange them for any of their men held by the Yankees, and parole the balance. But the US government initially refused, on the grounds that a POW agreement would entail recognition of the Rebel government, something the US was unwilling to do. At about the same time, some captured Confederate sailors were going to be tried for piracy. Jefferson Davis ordered some of the Yankee prisoners to be separated and threatened to hang them if the CS sailors were executed. The Lincoln administration did back down and stuck the Rebels in jail.

    Eventually, in July 1862, the Dix-Hill Cartel was signed. Both sides agreed to parole their respective prisoners and divvy them up. A careful list was made, comparing the relative worth of different ranks:

    “[A] major-general shall be exchanged for officers of equal rank, or for forty privates.
    “[A] brigadier-general shall be exchanged for officers of equal rank, or twenty privates.
    “[A]colonel shall be exchanged for officers of equal rank, or for fifteen privates.
    “[A] lieutenant-colonel … shall be exchanged for officers of equal rank, or for ten privates.
    “[A] major shall be exchanged for officers of equal rank, or eight privates.
    “[A] captain in the Army … shall be exchanged for officers of equal rank, or six privates. “[A] lieutenants and ensigns in the Army shall be exchanged for officers of equal rank, or four privates. …
    “[a]ll non-commissioned officers in the Army … shall be severally exchanged for persons of equal rank, or for two privates …. and private soldiers … shall be exchanged for each other, man for man.”

    This meant, for instance, that the men Grant captured at Donelson in March 1862 were not released until late summer, while the 12,000 captured by Stonewall Jackson at Harpers Ferry in October 1862 were paroled immediately.

    You can see an immediate advantage for the victors: had Jackson been forced to keep the 12,000 and transfer them to Richmond, several thousand of his men would have been tied up and unavailable for Antietam. At the same time, Bragg, during his invasion of Kentucky, captured and paroled on the field about 9,000 men.

    Additionally raiders, by definition usually Rebels, would capture and parole prisoners so as to not be encumbered.

    As a result of the Union realization of the advantage to the Confederates of paroling men captured on the battle field, the US War Department issued orders prohibiting field paroles: under the terms of the Dix-Hill Cartel, POWs were to be taken to Aiken’s on the James River near Richmond or to Vicksburg and exchanged there. Anyone not paroled at those two spots was to be considered as released and restored to duty. There was also a feeling that some Union officers were using quick surrenders and paroles as an excuse to get out of combat.

    Additional Problems arose when the two sides disagreed on who had been exchanged, something both were guilty of. In addition, the Davis government periodically “outlawed” various Union officers usually because the Yankees issued orders arming slaves. The first was probably John Pope for ordering Confederates in Virginia out of his lines; David Hunter in South Carolina and Benjamin Butler and Neal Dow in Louisiana were other prominent ones. Dow was captured at Port Royal and taken to Libby Prison but since Fitzhugh Lee was being held as a prisoner of the US, and retaliation was ordered by the US, Dow was not shot and eventually exchanged for Lee.

    In May 1863, the Confederate Congress outlawed all officers and men of the United States’ Colored Troops, ordering the execution of their officers and the turning over of the enlisted men to the states, to be tried as armed slaves (and then, of course, executed).

    Grant paroled the 30,000 Vicksburg prisoners, rather than tie up his transportation hauling them north and the Confederates declared them exchanged – many were recaptured at Chattanooga. By October 1863, Confederate cartel administrator Robert Ould claimed the Rebels were owed 7,500 men and his Yankee counterpart, Gen. Sullivan Meredith, claimed the U.S. was owed 10,024

    In the summer and fall of 1863, the US halted all exchange of prisoners, principally because of the refusal of the Confederate government to recognize USCTs as POWs. And as a final insult to the Confederates, in December, Meredith was replaced as cartel commissioner by Gen. Ben Butler!

    There were periodic individual exchanges for the duration of the war – as an example, in February 1865 Grant starts exchanging prisoners in Virginia – starting with Missourians and Kentuckians, men unlikely to be placed back into their original outfits.

    There is a good outline of the Civil War history of POW exchanges at http://www.jfepperson.org/pow.htm

  • Bob Huddleston Mar 18, 2017 @ 19:13

    We need to keep in mind that the Civil War occurred right at the end of the “Dark Ages” of medicine and, indeed, a number of the Civil War physicians led in the development of modern medicine.

    Many of the Rebels were from the warm, never-snowed South and suffered terribly, more so than acclimated Yankees, to the Northern winters: Chicago, Lake Erie, and Elmira are not places where one wants to spend the Winter!

    The reverse was true of Yanks in the South: they also were not acclimated to the heat and insects of the South.

    The prisoners *and* soldiers under arms were mostly farm boys and not used to being around large numbers of people. Many of the Civil War battles involved crowds that would fill our football stadiums twice over. Hygiene was at a minimum, measles and other “childhood” diseases killed thousands because, unlike us, who not only have inoculations, but also contract mild cases from our kindergarten and first grade school mates, these young adults had never been around large and diverse enough population pool to catch diseases. Many of these diseases are harmless to five and six year olds but can kill if an adult catches them.

    Pasted below is a message that Jim Epperson wrote a couple of years back.

    His basic point is well taken: the death rates from the camps, considered over all, where not much different than those of the average soldier carrying a rifle.

    Much of the POW literature was attempts by both sides to justify *their* side, and, especially for the Yankees, to make claims for additional pensions. The Rebels countered with all sorts of excuses and comparisons. Most of the literature is worthless!

    BTW, the biggest “overkill” on both sides seems to have been the sob stories about the alleged Confederate “Immortal 600” placed on Morris Island in retaliation for the Confederacy placing US prisoners in Charleston under fire. Of the Immortal 600, only forty-four died in prisoner of war camps.

    Seven percent.

    I think I would have preferred to take my chances with the 600 rather than be in either Elmira OR Andersonville! To say nothing of continuing to serve in the Confederate army!

    It does not appear that they were unduly starved or mistreated if their casualty rate was so significantly less than either POW rates or the normal attrition rates of soldiers in the field, blue or gray.

    When you read Jim’s calculations, keep in mind that the National Geographic calculated the death rate of mostly white emigrants crossing the plains to Oregon and California in the 1840s and 1850s was about 7%, less than that of the average Civil War soldier, but still quite high.

    Take care,


    Judy And Bob Huddleston
    10643 Sperry Street
    Northglenn, CO 80234-3612
    303-451-6376 huddleston.r@comcast.net

    Numbers like this can be disputed, of course, but these are all taken from a serious, reputable source (E.B. Long’s Civil War Day By Day).

    Federal troops held prisoner by CSA: 194,743
    Deaths from this group: 30,218

    Confederates held prisoner by USA: 214,865
    Deaths from this group: 25,976

    Estimated US army size (total): 2,000,000
    Estimated CS army size (total): 750,000

    The estimates for CS army size are very elastic. Figures run as high as 1.5 million, and as low as 600,000.

    Now, let’s look at non-battlefield deaths, those from disease, accidents, etc.

    Federal non-battlefield deaths: 219,930
    CSA non-battlefield deaths: 164,000 (estimate)

    So what’s my point? Well, let’s compute some percentages.

    Death rate for Federal prisoners in CS camps: 15.5%
    Death rate for CS prisoners in Federal camps: 12.1%
    Non-battle death rate for Federal troops: 11.0%
    Non-battle death rate for Confederates 21.9%

    Now, let me suggest that these figures put a few things in perspective. Taken as a whole – and no one is suggesting that Andersonville or Elmira was a fun place to be – it looks like being in prison was not much worse than simply being in the army. In fact, it looks as though it was better for a CS soldier to have been in prison than it was for him to simply be in the army – something which I don’t really believe, and which causes me to suspect the accuracy of the CS army estimate.

    But before anybody rants on about how terrible either side was to the prisoners it held, let’s recall that it wasn’t a lot better simply being in the army.

    Jim Epperson http://members.aol.com/jfepperson/causes.html

    • Andy Hall Mar 20, 2017 @ 7:12

      “In fact, it looks as though it was better for a CS soldier to have been in prison than it was for him to simply be in the army – something which I don’t really believe, and which causes me to suspect the accuracy of the CS army estimate.”

      I’ve seen this claimed before, that statistically a Confederate soldier had a better chance of survival inside the pen than in the field with the army. It’s a provocative claim, but I don’t know how true it is — has there been a detailed analysis that supports this?

      • James F. Epperson Mar 22, 2017 @ 13:18

        It is entirely tied up with the uncertainty about total CS enlistments. We know a reasonable count for the prison population, and for those who died. So the death rate in prisons is a solid figure. But the deaths through non-combat causes is very soft, and the total army size is also soft, so that ratio is simply full of potential error. The comparison is totally accurate IF you use certain estimates for army size and non-combat deaths. If somebody comes up with more accurate figures, we’ll have a better handle on it.

  • Matt McKeon Mar 18, 2017 @ 13:24

    It wasn’t a great article. First the mention of Auschwitz: which I have literally never heard before, and I’ve heard some nutty ones. And Wirz being convicted of “war crimes” when I think he was charged and convicted of straight up murder.

  • James F. Epperson Mar 18, 2017 @ 11:22

    Neither side covered themselves in glory with the way they handled the POW problem. Both played games with retaliation, and both tried very hard to skirt the edges of the cartel agreement (which is one reason it collapsed in 1863). Most of the officers in charge of the camps were men of marginal competence. Andersonville gets most of the bad publicity, but Cahaba (near present-day Selma, AL) may have been worse. Fort Delaware was no garden spot.

    • Tina Gardner Sep 23, 2017 @ 7:52

      As a retired US Army officer, I can’t imagine anyone wanting the job of being a POW camp commandant. No doubt that had some effect on who got these dreadful jobs.

  • Damian Shiels Mar 18, 2017 @ 11:20

    I’ve just finished working on all the German widows and parents who were receiving money in 1882 in Europe for the deaths of Civil War soldiers. I had expected Chancellorsville or Gettysburg to top the list of death places, but Andersonville was ahead by a sizable degree. The numbers of Irish I come across who died there are staggering as well. I can’t imagine how any Northern camp (or any other Southern camp) could be reasonably compared.

  • David McCallister Mar 18, 2017 @ 11:18

    One other problem about “equivalency” idea is the totally unjust scapegoating of Commandant Wirz.
    His was the only execution.

    I stand to be corrected, but I understand Northern commandants were often promoted (or transferred, or at the most demoted) after brutal treatment, not subject to ex post facto court-martial and execution.

    I’m sure some will say that that is just the price for losing, and someone had to be the public sacrifice. But does the Federal government really have to have his bones still on display?
    Wirz’s situation was complicated by the fact of the unworthy attempt to get him to rat out Jeff Davis, and his refusal to compromise his honor.

    And, let’s not let folks think that Andersonville and Elmira were the only camps – There was Libby, too, and Camp Douglas, which has been mentioned; but what of Camp Chase, Fort Warren, Camp Morton, and Point Lookout (where my own ancestor was held)? And that’s just for starters.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 18, 2017 @ 11:22

      And, let’s not let folks think that Andersonville and Elmira were the only camps – There was Libby, too, and Camp Douglas, which has been mentioned; but what of Camp Chase, Fort Warren, Camp Morton, and Point Lookout (where my own ancestor was held)? And that’s just for starters.

      Thanks for helping to make Chris’s point.

    • Heather C. Mar 21, 2017 @ 19:46

      Please see Andersonville National Historic Site’s post on the myth of Henry Wirz being the only person tried, convicted, or executed after the war. The post appears on the official National Park Service website as part of the Myths of Civil War Prisons series.

  • mike hawthorne Mar 18, 2017 @ 9:42

    Provost Marshall John H Winder, the Confederate Commissioner in charge of prisons, boasted that he was killing more Yankees than Lee’s army was in the field, according to a quote from Roy Meredith’s introduction to “This Was Andersonville” (Fairfax Press, New York, 1979.)

  • Al Mackey Mar 18, 2017 @ 8:37

    What we normally see is the tu quoque fallacy where someone talks about Andersonville and some neoconfederate says “What about Elmira! “

    • Kevin Levin Mar 18, 2017 @ 8:56

      Hi Al,

      I think that is the point that Chris is trying to make.

    • Dooley Apr 13, 2018 @ 15:17

      I am sure if they were talking about Elmira, some neoyankee would say ‘what about Andersonville?

  • Andy Hall Mar 18, 2017 @ 8:15

    “Andersonville was terrible, but it is absurd and offensive to compare it to Auschwitz.”

    It’s also lazy, as Nazi analogies often are.

  • James Harrigan Mar 18, 2017 @ 7:33

    Andersonville was terrible, but it is absurd and offensive to compare it to Auschwitz. I never saw this comparison before today.

  • Andy Hall Mar 18, 2017 @ 7:28

    Barr is correct. For a period in 1864, the monthly mortality rate at Andersonville went over 300 deaths per thousand, that is, one third of the prisoners there died every month. No other prison camp, North or South, had those kind of numbers. Elmira’s monthly mortality never went over 70 per thousand.

    Having said that, the overall record of prison camps during the Civil War is pretty awful, anywhere you look. The great injustice of the Henry Wirz hanging is not what happened to Wirz, but that more officers were not called to account for the needless abuses and cruelty directed at the prisoners in their charge.

  • Bryce Hartranft Mar 18, 2017 @ 7:14

    What’s wrong with comparisons? How can you explain how bad/good something is without comparing it to a similar thing? Everything is relative.

    And you are telling me that no one compares the 52,000+ casualties of Gettysburg with other battles (like Shiloh)?

    • Kevin Levin Mar 18, 2017 @ 7:42

      Chris is not suggesting that there is anything necessarily wrong with comparisons. His concern is with what seems to be an obligation to remind readers that there were Northern prison camps and that men suffered.

  • Chris Barr Mar 18, 2017 @ 6:53

    For a little context for everybody, I used to work at Andersonville. We used to see this all the time. Somebody would come do an article or something on Andersonville, and they usually made sure to include a reference to one of the Union camps – usually Elmira or Camp Douglas. It just always struck us as odd – if you’re doing an article on Andersonville, why the need to somehow include another camp in the article for balance?

    With that being said – northern camps absolutely should be addressed, and there is some great scholarship and preservation efforts out there to help tell that story. I’m in no way suggesting don’t talk about northern camps or suggesting that they weren’t bad.

    Regarding the Shiloh/Gettysburg comparison. I’m not trying to compare those two battles. It’s a matter of public perception. People feel the need, when talking about Andersonville, to almost always refer to a northern camp for comparison or balance. Or vice versa, when talking about a northern camp to refer back to Andersonville. Why the need to always compare? We don’t do that at other park sites. People don’t write a travel blog about their visit to Gettysburg and feel the need to refer to another park or battle. As another commentor noted, Ben Cloyd’s book does an excellent job of dealing with this question. I just always found it a little fascinating, and at times frustrating this constant need to compare.

    If you haven’t gathered, I don’t like comparing prison camps. It doesn’t really solve anything, or help us better understand the prisoner of war experience.

    Hopefully that provides a little backstory beyond a cpl of 8am tweets.

  • Ed Thompson Mar 18, 2017 @ 6:36

    I don’t know that the evil of one excuses the evil of the other.

    • David McCallister Mar 18, 2017 @ 11:00

      Yes, Ed.
      But the “evil” of the Confederates was an evil of circumstances and brutal necessity
      ( and no one has mentioned the illegal blockade of medicines, yet).
      The evil of the North was an evil of deliberate policy choice.
      The North could have easily afforded to feed, clothe, and house its prisoners, but, as we know, the South could not.
      The results were “evil” but the intent was much more culpable on the Northern side.

      • Msb Mar 18, 2017 @ 13:35

        Confederates could perhaps have treated prisoners humanely if they hadn’t refused to treat African American prisioners as POWs, which resulted in the stoppage of exchanges. Of course, they also murdered a number of surrendered African American prisoners, which reduced the prisoner population.

        • Kevin Levin Mar 18, 2017 @ 13:40

          One of the best books on the breakdown of the Confederate prison system in 1864 is Lorien Foote’s The Yankee Plague: Escaped Union Prisoners and the Collapse of the Confederacy (UNC Press, 2016)

  • Paul O'Neil Mar 18, 2017 @ 6:36

    I do not think you can complain about a writer who tries to show some balance, especially when the topic is POW camps. (From any time period.) Mr. Roy seems to be a travel writer and this was not written to be a scholarly work. I do agree with Mr. Barr’s last comment about comparing Andersonville with Auschwitz, it should not be done.

  • Boyd Harris Mar 18, 2017 @ 6:01

    Benjamin G. Cloyd does a great job of delving into the complicated legacy of our prison camps in his work, Haunted by Atrocity. Part of this balancing act of including northern prisons alongside southern prisons is due to the uncomfortable feelings it creates in a postwar America. The myth of reconciliation is smashed when discussing prisons because it is Americans doing this to other Americans. Instead we focus on the terrible experiences of both sides in the prison camps as a compromise to avoid the harder questions of responsibility and consequences. Northerners understand the horrors of Andersonville, but rarely acknowledge the Northern policy of ending prisoner exchanges as one of the causes of that horror. Likewise, southerners focus on the horrors of Elmira without acknowledging the lower percentage of death (as has already been pointed out) and the fact that these soldiers fared a lot better than most rebellion participants have in the history of combat. Throughout most of history, traitors are shot rather than imprisoned. The incarceration, and later release after the war, of southern soldiers is an aberration rather than a standard in the long history of rebellions.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 18, 2017 @ 6:42

      Great points, Boyd. I also highly recommend Cloyd’s study.

      • Norman Mar 20, 2017 @ 17:07

        When a new nation is started, and states legally leave the old one it is not treason.

        • Kevin Levin Mar 20, 2017 @ 17:10

          Yes, I am sure you believe that.

          • Michael Conner Nov 26, 2018 @ 18:42

            With all due respect, there was no Constitutional reason the Southern States could not leave until after the war. No offence, but try reading, it’s fundamental, right?

            • Kevin Levin Nov 27, 2018 @ 1:57

              Thanks for the comment. I am sure the people who wrote the Constitution would be surprised to learn that it so easy to destroy the government they worked so hard to create.

        • Roberta Feb 11, 2018 @ 13:27

          I agree with you, Norman. If only the South had been allowed to succeed. It would have probably returned to the Union, on it’s own, because it’s economy couldn’t survive. The Union could have made an end to slavery as a condition, and saved 655,000 lives.

    • Tom Ward Mar 18, 2017 @ 7:04

      The US ended prisoner exchanges because the Confederate government refused to acknowledge black troops as soldiers and declared that it would not treat black troops as POWs or exchange them. The US then declared that if the Confederacy would not exchange all prisoners equally, it would stop the exchanges. That is what caused the half in prisoner exchanges–it was not just a capricious decision by Lincoln.

      • Boyd Harris Mar 18, 2017 @ 8:20

        @Tom Ward.

        I completely agree. Another major reason was the inability of the Confederate government to abide by the parole policy. Grant paroled the entire Confederate force at Vicksburg, only to re-capture many of them that fall after the Chattanooga and N. Georgia campaigns.

        Both of these reasons led to the no prisoner exchange policy and I also agree that Lincoln did not approve of such a policy capriciously. That being said, it still led to a higher level of Union prisoners in a southern prison system that could not adequately feed itself. The policy is a necessary hard war decision made to end the war quicker, but it also leads to higher Union POW deaths. Who is responsible is the hard question being asked in the post-war period by both northerners and southerners. Acknowledging the role of the federal government in these deaths by no means wipes clean the responsibilities of Confederates, but does offer a better understanding of the cataclysmic nature of the American Civil War.

    • Donald Horton Mar 21, 2017 @ 13:29

      Southerners were fighting for a country, they were not in rebellion, they were defending their country. Northern prisons had sufficient food, supplies and medicine to take care of their prisoners. The South tried to take sick and injured prisoners to Vicksburg, not for exchange but for treatment and proper care and were refused. Calling Southerners traitors is improper, Jefferson Davis was not changed as being a traitor as he had broken no law.

  • Ryan Quint Mar 18, 2017 @ 5:24

    Extremely valid points. There’s this constant need for validation. Yesterday being St. Patrick’s Day being a perfect example: every mention of the Irish Brigade met with “the Confederates had an Irish Brigade too!” (They didn’t)

    It’s very tiring at times. And for what it’s worth, I’ve never heard Andersonville referred to as an “American Auschwitz.”

    • fundrums Mar 20, 2017 @ 8:11

      I may be wrong but I believe the 10th Tennessee Infantry “Sons of Erin” were Irish. I believe they were one of two Irish Catholic regiments in the Confederate Army.

      – Michael Aubrecht

      • Paultourguide Mar 20, 2017 @ 15:19

        Approximately 20.000 Irish served in the CSA. I heard about a book while at a talk at National Archives, it is titled THE GREEN and THE GREY. By David Gleeson, it is going to the top of my to read list.

        • Kevin Levin Mar 20, 2017 @ 15:27

          Well worth reading.

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