Sunday, February 16, 2014


The most infamous Confederate prison of the Civil War was located at Andersonville, Georgia. It was known as Camp Sumter when the first Union prisoners arrived in February 1864. The original stockade was built to house 10,000 men, but as hundreds of captured prisoners arrived every day, the site quickly reached capacity and then exceeded it. Six months later, over 32,000 men lived in deplorable conditions inside the prison. In its 14 months of existence, 45,000 men came through the gates: nearly 13,000 are buried there.

There were 150 prison camps on both sides in the Civil War, and they all suffered from disease, overcrowding, exposure, and food shortages. But Andersonville was notorious for being the worst. Some men agreed to join the Union Army to escape the camp, and fought for the North as "Galvanized Yankees," after judging the perils of further imprisonment to be far greater than those of the battlefield. Eventually, General Sherman’s occupation of Atlanta forced rebel officials to move prisoners to other camps in Georgia and South Carolina.

The only official executed for war crimes after the Civil War was Captain Henry Wirz, the Confederate commandant of Andersonville Prison. He was charged with conspiring with others to “injure the health and destroy the lives” of Union soldiers. While no conspiracy was ever truly substantiated, public opinion forced a guilty verdict and his execution by hanging.

The National Park Service maintains the prison site, a museum, and the Andersonville National Cemetery.

Despite the terrible death toll, thousands of men survived Andersonville and related their stories. If you had an ancestor confined to Andersonville (or any other Civil War prison for that matter), their tales may have been passed down over the last century and a half. The military records of the men who survived Andersonville Prison can be found in the documents on Fold3.

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