andersonville Prison: The Civil War's Death Camp The first time that confining large amounts of prisoners of war was dealt was during the American Civil War (Roberts, 12). Both the Union and the Confederacy had regulations that said the P. O. W.
s had to be treated humanely, one of them saying that a wounded prisoner would be taken to the back of the army and be treated with the rest of the soldiers (14). There were also prisoner exchange regulations, where a captured general would be worth sixty privates or an equivalently ranked officer, and a colonel would be worth fifteen privates or an equivalently ranked officer, and so on (13). Also there were regulations on prisoner parole. The parole system said that the prisoner that was released was not allowed to return to the battle unless a prisoner of the other army was released to the army that had paroled the prisoner (14). This was all very confusing.
As the war wore on the system of regulations began to dissolve (Roberts, 12). The mass amount of paperwork that it took to make sure that either side was not being cheated was just too great. Then the problems elevated when the two sides began to bicker about alleged violations of the parole agreements. The North claimed to have seen paroled Confederates under arms, and the Confederates accused the Union of having paroled soldiers as military labor battalions (14). The Confederacy was extremely short of the resources needed to fight a war and had much more to lose in a prisoner exchange then the Union (Roberts, 15). The South desperately needed its soldiers back, and did not have enough resources to guard large amounts of prisoners.
The issue of prisoner exchange was finally brought to an end when the Union began to use blacks as military personnel. The Confederates threatened to execute any white commander of a black regiment, and to sell any captured black troops into slavery, and under no circumstance would the south consider exchanging black soldiers. This is an extremely racist thing to do. Ulysses S. Grant argued that the P. O.
W. exchanges only prolonged the Civil War by funneling more troops back into the confederate army. He was frustrated that the troops that he had paroled were found in other battles (Roberts, 16). In July 1863, Ulysses S. Grant signed an order that ended all prisoner exchanges within the Union army (15). A few days later the Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (a Radical Republican who was furious with the south's refusal to release the Black troops) ordered a general halt of prisoner exchanges throughout the Union Army.
However, these orders had certain exceptions, which said that Union commanders could still exchange prisoners under some circumstances (16). Thousands of Union P. O. W. s were taken in the heavy combat of the summer and fall of 1863.
The south was overwhelmed with these prisoners and the burden of caring for them. The Southern officials requested that the prisoner exchanges begin again with on a one-for-one basis with no question of rank or race (Roberts, 16). However the North refused to change its policy, and the number of Union prisoners in the hands of the Confederates grew. The Southern leaders realized that there was going to be no prisoner exchanges in the near future.
They now had to begin to fit the thousands of prisoners into every square inch of the Confederate prisons, and then they had to find some place to put the tens of thousands of prisoners that were arriving each day. Before the exchanges stopped, old warehouses were often used as temporary prisons. The largest and most well known of these warehouse converts were in Richmond, Danville, and Petersburg. After the exchanges stopped however, this all changed. That many Union troops near the capitol made the Confederate officials nervous.
It was also feared that the Union could have a cavalry force sweep into the capitol and release all of the prisoners. Escapes of the prisons also made the Southern officials uneasy. In Richmond's Libby Prison in February if 1865 over one hundred Union soldiers tunneled out and fled to nearby homes of Union sympathizers (Roberts, 17). The danger of escape was aggravated by the terrible conditions of these makeshift warehouse prison converts, if the soldiers escaped, it was feared that the soldiers might begin a mass orgy of rape, looting, and murder of Confederate civilians to take revenge for how they had been mistreated (18).
Confederate Major General Howell Cobb of Georgia, was the first to suggest to the Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon that southwest Georgia would be a good place to make a military prison to relieve the extremely overcrowded situation of Richmond (Roberts, 17). In a letter dated November 24, 1863, Secretary of War James Seddon ordered General John H. Winder to find a site for a new military prison (18). The site had to be far enough away from the fighting, major cities, and out of danger of Union cavalry raids (18). The spot that he had eventually chosen was that of Andersonville (Futch, 3).
The small town of seventy people had everything that Winder was seeking, it was isolated, close to railroads (for delivery of prisoners and supplies), and had an abundance of resources to build the stockade (Roberts, 20). In late December 1863, Captain Richard B. Winder (nephew of John Winder) received orders of to go to Andersonville and begin construction of a military stockade with confinement capabilities of six thousand prisoners and to arrange facilities for the men that would guard them (Futch, 4). Winder acquired the services of an experienced labor foreman, C. C. Shepard to aid in the construction of the prison (5).
The design was simple. The walls were made of pointed timbers approximately 15 feet tall. The original stockade only enclosed about sixteen and a half acres (Futch, 5). The workmen constructed sentry boxes along the top of the walls. The floors of the boxes were on the outside of the stockade walls and were low enough for the wall to be about even with the sentry's waist when he stood up (5). These posts were placed about eighty feet apart, were covered with a wooden roof and accessible by ladders (5).
On the west side of the stockade were two wooden gates on either side of the stream that led into the prison. In front of the gates were miniature semicircular stockades that had there own outside gate so that prisoners could be brought to the outer stockade have that gate close, and then have the inner gate open and have the prisoner enter the main stockade (5). There were four forts constructed at the northeast, southeast, and southwest corners and the east side of the prison (5). The entire prison was constructed by slave gangs that worked from sunrise to past sunset (Roberts, 22).
On February 17, 1864 Captain winder received word that the first prisoners would be arriving Richmond soon. This was extremely bad news for Winder, because the stockade was only about half finished. There were no arrangements to feed the prisoners, no locks on the gates, no timber for stockade shelters, and the troops were basically unarmed. The early shipment of the prisoners was prompted by the escape of Libby Prison on February 9 of that year. There was also a major food shortage in Virginia, and the only way to relieve it was to send the prisoners to Georgia (Roberts, 23). On February 24, 1864 the first two hundred prisoners of Andersonville Prison arrived at the local train station.
The prisoners were then led like cattle to the still unfinished pine stockade. When the prisoners entered the stockade they saw a large open area surrounded on three sides by a large pine wall. There were no shelters of any kind to protect the prisoners from the elements. The underbrush had also not been properly cleared out and there was still vegetation on the ground. The food was issued in small rations, and all food was raw. The cookhouse was still unfinished and there were no pots or pans to cook the rations, so the prisoners had to scavenge some firewood and use whatever implements they could find to cook their first meal (Roberts, 26)..