Friday, June 29, 2007
Anderson Station was a small depot stop on the rail line running through south Georgia. In 1864, it was situated a few miles northeast of the village of Americus and the surrounding country side was populated primarily by once successful farmers and plantations owners. However, the Civil War had taken its toll and by 1864 most of the occupants of the land were struggling to put sufficient food on the table to provide for their immediate family and their few remaining slaves. Many of the slaves had been sold off as there was insufficient food supplies to feed them all.
It was this small rural community that the Confederate States Army selected to build a prison to house Union soldiers that had been captured in battle. Once Union General Ulysses S. Grant became commander of all Northern forces, he ceased the practice of exchanging captured soldiers, thus creating the need in the North and the South for additional prisons to house prisoners of war. Anderson Station was far enough south to avoid raids from Northern Cavalry units and was situated conveniently on a rail line and it had adequate timber and a small source of water.
The prison camp received the official name of Camp Sumter, being situated, as it were, in Sumter County, Georgia. However, both the Confederate soldiers (Alabama and Georgia Reserve units) assigned as guards and the Union soldiers that were subsequently imprisoned there, referred to it as Andersonville, thus making a clear distinction between the depot and the prison. Anderson Station had been named originally for John Anderson of Savannah, Georgia.
The prison was designed as a open stockade enclosed by a stockade fence made from pine trees that had once occupied some of the land. These upright tree trunks stood fifteen feet above the ground with an additional five feet underground. The stockade enclosed approximately 16 ½ acres and it was designed to hold about 10,000 prisoners. Although the prison was not entirely complete, on February 24, 1864, a train with cattle cars holding captured Union sldiers rolled into Anderson Station at about nine in the evening. Bonfires were lit to provide light for the movement of the captured enemy soldiers from the rail cars to the stockade.
The initial inmates of Camp Sumter, or Andersonville as it would soon be known, were transported from Belle Isle, an overcrowded prison in North Carolina, to become the first residents of Andersonville. Although 600 left Belle Isle, only 591 prisoners arrived at Andersonville. 9 other prisoners either died from some ailment or were shot by the guards while attempting to escape.
Two days later, another 600 arrived. Trains continued to arrive on a daily basis adding to the retched humanity that inhabited Andersonville. In June of 1864 the stockade was enlarged to a compound comprising 26 ½ acres and the population continued to grow. At the time that the enclosure was enlarged it held over 22,000 prisoners crowded together in an open and unprotected area. Their was no shelter other than what the prisoners could provide from items that were brought in with them.
Many would wonder why the prisoners were not provided shelter in the form of barracks. It was never the intent of the Confederates in charge of constructing the prison to build any type of shelter to protect the prisoners from the elements, be it days on end cold or rain or later, the scorching sun. The inmates built what ever shelter they could provide from their meager belongings. For the most part, all that could be provided were blankets, a few overcoats and some tarps and with these a number of men could build and occupy a shebang (a two or three sided tent like covering with a roof of clothing, blankets or pine branches). A shebang afforded some meager protection for its occupants. Some shebangs held one, two or four men. Some were larger still and could hold more. The larger tents were generally opccupied by 'raiders' who prayed on other less fortunate souls.
It is believed that the first to die inside of the stockade was one, J. H. Swarner of the Second New York Cavalry. He was sick and feverish upon arrival and soon expired, alone and longing for home. He might have been the first to die inside the prison walls, but he surely would not be the last.
At one time, Andersonville held 32,000 Union prisoners, living meager existences in deplorable circumstances. Before the prison closed in May 1865, almost 13,000 would die from exposure, malnutrition, disease, or were shot attempting to escape, or perhaps they just wandered too close to the deadline. At one time, the dead were dropping at the rate of several hundreds a day. The men that died were buried on a hill just outside the stockade. At least one woman was discovered when she expired and the men stipped her of her clothes. Taking the clothes and other personal effects of the dead was a common practice, the living stating that the dead no longer had need of such things.
This atrocious overcrowding quickly led to health and nutritional conditions that resulted in 12,912 deaths by war's end in May 1865. The prison guards, composed mostly of older men and boys, watched from sentry boxes (called "pigeon roosts" by the prisoners) perched atop the stockade and shot any prisoner who crossed a wooden railing, called the "deadline."
Handicapped by deteriorating economic conditions, the Confederates lacked the necessary materials and amounts of food for 10,000 prisoners, not to mention the 26,000 that were confined there by June 1864. Available shelter was deduced to crude shelters huts of made scrap wood, tent fragments, or simple holes dug in the ground. Many had no shelter of any kind against the elements of rain, heat, and cold. No clothing was provided, and many prisoners were left with rags or nothing at all.
The raiders of the camp had the largest and most elaborate huts, having acquired material from inmates or newly arrived prisoners, taking what they wanted by force. Generally every prison had its share of raiders who simply stole what they wanted, needed or simply things that they desired. U.S. greenbacks were the most sought after of all commodities.
In July of 1864, the raiders had become so bold as to raid, steal and plunder in broad daylight. There was little that new prisoners could do to protect themselves upon entering the stockade. The raiders would swoop down on them before they knew what was happening and stripped them of their belongings, including the very clothes off their backs. The seasoned veterans of the stockade could only stand by and watch the carnage. That is until a few hardy, intelligent men realized that a concerted effort had to be made to deal with the wicked devils.
A group of "Regulators" began to meet in secret to plan how best to deal with the threat hanging over their heads. When they had amassed a group of stout, strong men they approached Captain Wirtz, the prison commadant for assistance with obtaining clubs, which were needed to subdue the raiders. Word soon leaked out that the small group was planning an attempt to dethrown the raiders, but the raiders were unconcerned as they thought themselves invincible. The clubs were supplied by the Confederates as they understood that allowing the inmates to settle the issue among themselves would, if succesful, provide a more orderly enviornment for all.
The regulators successfully overpowered the raiders and brought them to trial. Six of the leaders would be hung from a scaffold built inside the stockade for that purpose. Other lesser criminals would be punished in the stocks or on chain gangs.
From that point forward, the inmates were no longer bothered by marauding gangs of thieve, but otherwise, their situation did not improve measurably.
Prison diets consisted of pickled beef, salt pork, corn meal, rice, or bean soup. The lack of fruits or vegetables often led to outbreaks of scurvy and other diseases. Starvation and poor sanitation inflamed outbreaks of diseases like smallpox, typhoid, dysentery, cholera, and malaria. Sores, left untreated, led to gangrene—a disease curable only by amputation. Of all these diseases, perhaps the most dangerous was depression. "A good number of the prisoners became catatonic and most realized it was all over when they reached this state. Prisoners often wasted away. Some elected for suicide, taunting guards to shoot them or intentionally crossing the dead line.
As General Sherman was making his march to the sea, an attempt was made to secure the release of the prisoners housed at Andersonville. Note the following, Taken from Gen. Grant's Memoirs:
Andersonville - Atlanta Campaign Sherman
"In the latter part of July Sherman sent Stoneman to destroy the railroads to the south, about Macon. He was then to go east and, if possible, release our prisoners about Andersonville. There were painful stories current at the time about the great hardships these prisoners had to endure in the way of general bad treatment, in the way in which they were housed, and in the way in which they were fed. Great sympathy was felt for them; and it was thought that even if they could be turned loose upon the country it would be a great relief to them. But the attempt proved a failure. McCook, who commanded a small brigade, was first reported to have been captured; but he got back, having inflicted a good deal of damage upon the enemy. He had also taken some prisoners; but encountering afterwards a largely superior force of the enemy he was obliged to drop his prisoners and get back as best he could with what men he had left. He had lost several hundred men out of his small command. On the 4th of August Colonel Adams, commanding a little brigade of about a thousand men, returned reporting Stoneman and all but himself as lost. I myself had heard around Richmond of the capture of Stoneman, and had sent Sherman word, which he received. The rumor was confirmed there, also, from other sources. A few days after Colonel Adams's return Colonel Capron also got in with a small detachment and confirmed the report of the capture of Stoneman with something less than a thousand men.
It seems that Stoneman, finding the escape of all his force was impossible, had made arrangements for the escape of two divisions. He covered the movement of these divisions to the rear with a force of about seven hundred men, and at length surrendered himself and this detachment to the commanding Confederate. In this raid, however, much damage was inflicted upon the enemy by the destruction of cars, locomotives, army wagons, manufactories of military supplies, etc."
"On the 4th and 5th Sherman endeavored to get upon the railroad to our right, where Schofield was in command, but these attempts failed utterly. General Palmer was charged with being the cause of this failure, to a great extent, by both General Sherman and General Schofield; but I am not prepared to say this, although a question seems to have arisen with Palmer as to whether Schofield had any right to command him. If he did raise this question while an action was going on, that act alone was exceedingly reprehensible."
In the spring of 1865, on orders issued by Confederate Prison Management, the remaining Officers in charge of Andersonville prison began to move prisoners that had mobility to smaller prisons scattered throughpout the Carolinas. Essentially, the only prisoners left behind at Andersonville were those that were ill, inferm and unable to support themselves. Without the assistance of more abled bodied mates to take care of them, many did not survive. There were indufficient able men left to carry the frail bodies to the gate for treatment at the infirmary. Finally, in May, 1865, the remaining men were liberated and the doors of Andersonville closed.
Subscribe to Posts [Atom]