Monday, May 28, 2007

Our Pictures, and Andersonville Prison

Last year after RWA’s national conference in Atlanta, I took a tour of Andersonville National Historic site, named for the infamous Civil War prison. I meant to blog about it earlier, along with creating a web page of pictures, but the way life gets in the way—well I didn’t figure out how to do it until now.

Anyway for those who don’t know, Andersonville (in Georgia) was a prison built at the end of the Civil War when the South was in its last throes. It was basically a stockade fence surrounding twenty-seven acres of land. There was no shelter and very little in the way of firewood. In this prison were incarcerated over a period of 6 months, 45,000 men. In June of ’64 it was so crowded that each prisoner had only 32.3 square feet of space to himself—and this included the swamp in the middle of the prison. The conditions there were so horrible that of the 45,000 men, roughly 1/3—13,000—died there. This doesn’t include the amount of men who died later due to health problems suffered at the prison.

What did they die of? Dysentery was probably the number one killer. The men’s only water source was a stream that ran through the camp and came to a swamp at the bottom of a hill. It was probably polluted even before it entered the prison by confederate soldiers using it on the outside, and was never sufficient in the first place. Worse, the men inside the prison used the swamp as an outdoor latrine. Drinking the water, therefore, was deadly and the men took to collecting water during rainstorms.

Food was a problem also. Let’s remember for a moment that it was difficult for the Confederacy to feed and clothe its own soldiers at this point. It would be small wonder that they could do nothing for the prisoners, either. The food they did get was often of poor quality—poorly ground corn that could make dysentery far worse—and few if any vegetables. Many died of scurvy. Even when they were fed, the food was raw and there was no firewood to cook it.

And this was bad enough if you were incarcerated in good condition. Consider the men who came in injured or already malnourished. It’s a wonder that any of them survived at all, which is probably what I find so fascinating about it. Not man’s inhumanity to man really, but the ability of men to survive the worst conditions, and the kindness, compassion, and consideration shown under those conditions. I am not a Civil War historian, and certainly not nearly as knowledgeable as some of my fellow bloggers (waving specifically to Susan!) so I will probably never write a story surrounding Andersonville. Still, I find it interesting enough that more than one of my heroes was incarcerated there and bear the emotional scars from it.

Anyway, I could write a complete book about this subject but why bother when there are so many good books out there? I will refer you to the best (in my humble opinion) John Ransom’s Andersonville Diary. And, for those less inclined to reading there’s the movie which is where I first heard about it. Of course, I now own the movie :).

You can check out the pictures I took here:

And of course there are other sites all over the web with pictures. For those interested, here’s the web link for the park itself.

But I didn’t find it all that informative.

And yes, the North had some fairly horrible prisons too, I just haven't visited them yet. Bear with me, I'm sure I will soon enough!


Nicole McCaffrey said...

Yes, Hellmira comes to mind, Dee, with a death toll which I believe was even higher than Andersonville. Great blog!

Susan Macatee said...

Great blog, Dee!
And, yes, it was a horrible, horrible place. But it wasn't the only one.

The sad part was, the guards weren't cruel to the prisoners, they just were unable to do any better for them.