Henry Wirz and Andersonville Prison

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tags: war crimes, Civil War, Confederacy, This Day in History, Andersonville Prison

In November 1863, Confederate officials selected Andersonville as the site of a new prison which was needed to contain the growing number of prisoners. Prisoners began arriving at the hastily constructed Andersonville in late February 1864. On March 27, 1864, the Swiss-born Hartmann Heinrich Wirz was assigned to command the prison at Andersonville, which was given the name Camp Sumter. Planned for 10,000 prisoners, by August 1864, Andersonville, an open stockade, held more than 33,000 Union prisoners. Adequate shelter, edible food, potable water, and medical supplies were lacking, and the population was decimated by starvation and infectious disease. Nearly 13,000 of the more than 45,000 prisoners sent to Andersonville from its opening in 1864 until its capture in April 1865, died there.

Arrested in May 1865 shortly after the war’s end, Wirz was tried by a military tribunal in August on charges of conspiring with Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and others, to “injure the health and destroy the lives of soldiers in the military service of the United States…” He also was charged with “murder, in violation of the laws and customs of war.” Wirz was caught in the unfortunate position of answering for all of the misery that was Andersonville, though he tried to impose order and security as well as to provide adequate shelter, food, and medical supplies. His defense attorneys despaired of his chances of receiving a fair trial as Northern propaganda and fallout from Lincoln’s assassination worked against him. After two months of testimony rife with inconsistencies, Wirz was found guilty on all counts, court-martialed, and sentenced to death by hanging.

On the morning of November 10, 1865, Henry Wirz…

…rose in his cell at the Old Capitol and wrote a last letter to his wife…Later that forenoon, after giving a few final strokes to a stray cat that had wandered in to share his confinement, he emerged from his cell with a black cambric robe draped over his shoulders…followed the guards into an enclosed courtyard, where chanting soldiers and other spectators hung like vultures in the treetops. There was his life offered up to appease the public hysteria…

William Marvel. Andersonville: The Last Depot. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, c1994


Read entire article at Library of Congress

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