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ANDERSONVILLE & OTHER CIVIL WAR PRISONS, NORTH & SOUTH
by C. T. CLYNE
©1997 The Cincinnati Civil War Round Table
Contrary to popular belief, hostilities of the Civil War did not start with the Firing on Fort Sumter April 15th, 1861, nor, did it end at Appomatox on April 9th' 1865.
It began in Texas, Feb. 22nd, 1861, with the surrender of General Twiggs to Col. Ben McCulloch of the Confederate cause, and ended May 26th, 1865, in Texas, with E. Kirby Smith's surrender to Maj. Gen. Canby of the Federal Army.
You will note that prisoners of war were involved in each instance. General Twiggs surrendered approximately 2650 scattered frontier guards without a shot being fired. He was a Southern sympathizer and so were some of his officers and men, among them, E. Kirby Smith who deflected to the Confederacy and became a noted Southern general. Those men who remained loyal to the North were imprisoned in two Texas prison camps, one, Camp Ford near Tyler, and the other Camp Groce near Hempstead.
The end of the war found Gen. E. Kirby Smith in command of the TransMississippi Dept., which included Texas, surrendering his scattered forces to General Canby, and Smith then decamped to Mexico and thence to Cuba, from where he wrote privately to General Grant asking what he could expect if he returned to the United States.
General Grant wrote as follows;
"E. Kirby Smith, late General Southern Army;
Your letter dated Havanna, July 31st, 1805,
reached me but a day or two since, as I have been absent from this city since
the middle of July.
The last official order of E. Kirby Smith, as Commander of the TransMississippi Dept., was to order Captain Ernest Cuculler, Chief of Secret Service, to go to New Orleans and surrender to General Canby, the $3300.00 still being held in trust by him. General Candy remarked, "It is Just like Kirby, who is the soul of honor."
On Nov. 14th, 1865, in Lynchburg, Va., E. Kirby Smith took the oath of amnesty, and, because of his previous upright conduct, the Provost Marshall said requirements of a parole were not necessary. So we leave him to readjust his life, and he is a legend unto himself.
20,000 of the 50,000 Confederate officers and soldiers surrendered by Smith were paroled in Texas, the remaining 30,000 just vanished, mostly west to the new frontier. Apparently no Long range planning for the consideration and care of prisoners of war was made by either side until both were confronted with its necessity. The first battle of Manassas started the parade of Northern prisoners south, and the capture of some Southern sailors from the Blockade runner Savannah, and their detention in the North, started a condition that had both its droll aspects and hideous tragedies.
Northern soldiers were captured in nearly every battle of the Virginia campaign and these were sent to Belle Isle, an island in the James River, to a tobacco warehouse in Richmond, previously operated by Libby & Son, and to Danville and Lynchburg where other tobacco warehouses were used for prisons. Then because they were filled, and as Northern armies pushed further south, stockades, prisoners and prison camps were established at Salisbury, Raleigh and Goldsboro, in North Carolina.
Libby became a horrible place because of lack of toilet facilities, lack of heat, beds, and medicine, and there were brutal guards, - among them, Lt. Todd, a half brother of Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd. He was an arrogant tyrant who held to the order that any prisoner who approached a window for a breath of fresh air would have his head blown off.
Other southern prisons were at Columbia, Florence, Morris Island in Charleston Harbor, and the city jail at Charleston, in South Carolina; at Atlanta, Macon, Thomasville, Savannah Jail, Millen, Pemberton, and Andersonville, in Georgia; at Shreveport, Louisiana; Tullahoma, Tenn., Cahaba and Mobile in Alabama; and, as originally mentioned, at Ford and Groce, Texas.
The first large scale surrender of Southern troops took place at Fort Donelson, Tenn. General Forrest and his cavalry and Generals Floyd and Pillow, with some five thousand infantry and cavalry fled in the dead of' night leaving General Simon Buckner to surrender between twelve to fifteen thousand to his old friend General Grant.
When the realization for the need of prisons for this number became apparent' the administration in Washington contacted Governor Yates of Ill., Morton of Indiana, Todd of Ohio, and Governors of Missouri and Wisconsin, to imprison and care for them. So, prisons were established in an old medical school in St. Louis; at Ft. Madison' Wis.; Rock Island, Springfield, Alton and Chicago, Ill.; at Terre Haute, LaFayette, Indianapolis, Ft. Wayne, and Richmond, Ind.; at Camp Dennison near Cincinnati, Camp Chase at Columbus, and Johnson Island near Sandusky, Ohio; at Elmira, Ft. LaFayette, and Governors Island, New York; at Ft. Warren in Boston Harbor, Mass.; Fort McHenry, Baltimore; Ft. Delaware on Pea Island in the Delaware River; City prison, Washington; and Ft. Pulaski at the mouth of the Savannah River off South Carolina. This last is interesting because the City of Savannah was, until captured by General Sherman, in 1064, a Southern city. The blockading Northern fleet made this possible.
At one time or another, in the four years of the war approximately 150 places of detention were used, but those mentioned were the largest and held the most prisoners.
Approximately 35,782 officers, 426,852 soldiers, and 13,535 civilians were captured by the north. However/ the system of paroling prisoners immediately after a battle' widely used in 1861 and 1862, permitted some 225>472 Southern prisoners to return to the Confederate Army, return home, or go west' resulting in the actual imprisonment of approximately 13,485 officers, 201,300 privates and 12,705 civilians.
When the strife settled down to a bitter war of attrition, the Southern prisons and stockades held approximately 188,149 Northern officers and privates, of' these 34,000 were in Andersonville during Aug. & Sept. 1864.
The Northern Army was roughly 2,250,000, the South approximately 1,441,000.
In 61 and 62 a system of exchange was set up by some Northern and Southern officers and Governmental Commissioner, to swap prisoners even-eleven and thousands were thus exchanged. However, in 1863, after Gen. Ben Butler has created a bad reputation for himself as the Commanding Officer of captured New Orleans, Jefferson Davis placed a reward on his head and arbitrarily tried to stop all exchange.
Much of an uncomplimentary nature has been recorded of General Benjamin Franklin Butler of Massachusetts, but after he was relieved Of his command at New Orleans and brought north for a command of troops southeast of Richmond' under General Grant, he was outstanding in his efforts for exchange of prisoners. Butler and a Southerner, named Oulds made deals that exchanged thousands. Apparently they did not have official sanotion and Jeff Davis' edict still hung over Butler's head, but, in late 64 and early 65 there was a stream Of exchanges.
It wee during this period of exchange of 65 that my Uncle, Asa S. Clyne, was delivered to Wilmington, N. C. More of him later. However, when Vicksburg had capitulated there were some 30,000 Confederate prisoners who were paroled with the proviso that they would not take up arms again against the Federal Government, but most Of those who did not go west to the new frontier were soon engaged in actual combat. m ese 30,000 parolees became guise a bone Or contention as the north insisted that the South owed them 30,000 Northern prisoners to balance this number.
But in spite Or good intentions by a few, some indifferent or downright inhuman guards came into being. Then indeed, existence in prisons, especially in the South, became a grim ordeal. Prior to that time treatment in some Northern prisons, especially Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio, was a vacation from duty, Southern Officers firmly requested and acquired the use of personal servants, roamed around the city Or Columbus, visited the State Legislature when in session, and one Southern Jurist was invited to sit in the body as a guest, still wearing his Southern uniform. This caused such a furor in Washington that Johnson Island, in Lake Erie, off Sandusky, was acquired and barracks built, a corp of guards enlisted and all Southern officers moved there.
Things were rather uneventful at this place, however, one inharmonious note crept in; the officers played poker morning' noon and night' and would not even stop for Sunday worship service, so an official order went into effect that poker playing must stop during church services in order that the Southern brethern might be won to salvation.
Other Northern prisons reflected the character of the officer in charge. Elmira New York was noted for lack of decent food. Camp Douglas was moved outside Chicago to what is now a public forest preserve, Palos Park, which, in those days was a damp muddy area, due to Lack of drainage and deaths from tuberculosis became prevalent, Rock Island, in the Mississippi, had frequent plagues of small pox. Camp Morton of Indianapolis was under a harsh commander and the prisoners poorly fed until the good women of the town did something about it and the conditions became better for the Southern boys. All in all Southern prisoners of the North were better fed and better housed than those Northern soldiers captured and imprisoned by the South.
The Northern Army lost prisoners in nearly every battle and Southern prisons and stockades became distressingly crowded. Belle Isle, Libby, Millen and Salesbury became very bad but Andersonville became a blot on civilization. This prison was in existence on ly 14 months, from Feb. 1864 until April 1865, and the graves of nearly 13,000 Northern men and boys in the nearby cemetery attest to the terrible conditions, The writer has tried to find the reason for this particular tragedy, and his own personal opinion is set down subject to any correction that needs be made.
First, the war became very bitter. The Northern armies were choking the Confederacy to death, the Confederate areas were split apart, millions of slaves were idle around the plantations, undisciplined and unproductive, and food was scarce.
Second, most of the prisoners of Andersonville were moved from other prisons farther north and were already weakened from Lack of food and sick from contamination.
Third, as the men became emaciated and useless for further combat service, an interest in exchange for better fed prisoners in the North became a contention that will remain in history, as a heartless action by responsible leaders of both North and South.
Grant and Lee were both aware of the condition, so were Lincoln and Davis, but the prime villian was General John Winder of Maryland, a West Point graduate, descendant from an old Maryland military family, whose father commanded the troops who made no resistance at all in 1814 when the British sailed up the Potomac and burned and sacked Washington. By Winders example of duplicity and downright cussedness, his subordinates took on the same hue and in Capt, Henry Wirtz, a foreigner with a thick accent' he had a willing pupil. Wirtz first comes to attention as in charge of a small prison at Tullahoma, Tenn., where he was not regarded as a tyrant, rather as one willing to curry the prisoner's favor. Next he is mentioned as being in Virginia at Libby, then he was transferred to Winder as a special assistant. Apparently his education in ruthlessness began there, and when he was put in commend of Andersonville it became his obsession.
He was at all times in deadly fear of the prisoners, his headquarters were smack in the center of a battery of cannon overlooking the compound, and all his recorded action and speech denote that he tried to hide this fear by bravado. Winder died before the end of the war and Wirtz was left on his own.
There is evidence that he tried to establish some system but he had little to work with. Lumber, food, medicine, doctors and clothing were nonexistent in the Andersonville area. However, at Savannah there were piles of supplies sent from the North that were not delivered, as was discovered by Northern prisoners being exchanged or being sent to Millen.
John F. Lyons, one of the more solid and factual writers, tells of his existence in Andersonville, tells of being marched thru Savannah to board a lighter that eventually met a Northern exchange ship, and of seeing baskets of rolls and sandwiches that the towns people had prepared for them, but the guards refused to let them take any. And indeed, the rank and file of Southern people were not aware of the awful prison conditions Many tried to send food and clothing to prisoners but were prevented from doing so.
Well supported facts seem to warrant the conclusion that Davis' proclamations were for the purpose of rendering Union prisoners unfit for further duty by physical and mental uselessness. The V. S. Sanitary Commission appointed a committee with Dr. Valentine Mott of New York as Chairman, to ascertain by inquiry and observation into the alleged cruelty to Union Prisoners, especially at Andersonville.
They reported in Sept. 1864, saying;
One of the chief instrument employed in the infliction of cruelties upon Union prisoners was the preciously mentioned Brigadier-General John H. Winder, an inciter of the mob which attacked the Massachusetts troops in Baltimore. So notorious for his cruel acts had he become that when (at the age of seventy years) he was sent to Georgia to carry on his horrid work at Andersonville, the Richmond Examiner exclaimed: "Thank God Richmond has, at last, got rid of Winder' God have mercy upon those to whom he has been sent"'
Testimony given by Confederates themselves confirm the statements made by the prisoners. As early as Sept. 1862, Augustus R. Wright, chairman of a committee of the Confederate Rouse of Representatives, made a report on the prisons at Richmond about Union captives, to George W. Randolph, then the Confederate Secretary of War, in which report it was said that the state of things was "terrible beyond description", that "the committee could not stay in the area over a few seconds"; that a change "MUST be made", and that "the committee makes the report to the Secretary of War, and not to the House, because in the latter case, it would be printed, and, for the honor of the Confederacy, such things must be kept secret."
In Dec. 1863, Henry S. Foote, a member of the Confederate House of Representatives, offered a resolution for the appointment of a committee of inquiry concerning the alleged ill treatment of Union prisoners. His resolution was voted down. In the course of his remarks in its favor Mr. Foote read testimony which, he said, was on record in the Confederate War Dept., to prove that the charges of cruelty were true. Referring to Northrup, the Commissary-General, he said: "This man has placed our government in the attitude charged by the enemy, and has attempted to starve the prisoners in our hands." He cited an elaborate report made by the Commissary-General to the Secretary of the War (Seddon), in which he used this significant language: "For the subsistence of a human Yankee carcass' a vegetable diet is most proper," the meaning of which is obvious - starvation. Foote, also in a letter written at Montreal, in the spring of 1865, concerning the escape of Streight and his men from Libby prison, by tunneling, declared "that a government officer of respectability'' told him "that a Systematic scheme was on foot for subjecting these unfortunate men to starvation." He further declared that Northrup's proposition was "endorsed by Seddon, the Secretary of War," who said substantially in that endorsement, that "the time had arrived for retaliation upon the prisoners of war of the enemy." In that letter Foote proved (1) that the starving of Union prisoners was known to the Confederate authorities; (2) that the Confederate Commissary-General proposed it; (3) that the Confederate Secretary of War approved and officially endorsed it; (4) that the Confederate Commission of exchange knew it; and (5) that the Confederate House of Representatives knew of it, and endeavored to prevent an investigation.
Foote said positive proof was in the War Department. A great portion of these documents were burned when the Confederate Government fled from Richmond. But such is the testimony of one of the legislators of the Confederacy, who, it may be presumed, knew, personally, the facts of the case, and it is a matter of record, that a committee of the "United States Christian Commission" appeared before the lines of Lee's army and sought access to the Union prisoners in Richmond and on Belle Isle, in the James River there, to afford them relief, with the understanding that similar commissions would be allowed to visit Confederate captives in the North. But they were not allowed to pass, because, as Confederate witnesses testify, the authorities at Richmond dared not let the outside world know, from competent witnesses, the horrible truths which such a visit would have revealed.
When the starvation plan had succeeded in reducing 40,000 Union prisoners to skeletons, generally no better for service than dead men, a proposition was made by Confederate authorities for resumption of exchanges.
Again the North assented because of the pity felt for those imprisoned, and they were exchanged for prisoners who had been relatively well fed and otherwise provided for.
This was attested to by the Confederate Commissioners of exchange, who, in a letter to Gen. Winder, from City Point, where exchanges were resumed, said;- "The arrangement works largely in our favor. We get rid of a set of miserable wretches and receive some of the best material I have seen."
But, the great body of Southern people were entirely guiltless of the proven cruelties toward the Union prisoners, and they were kept in profound ignorance of the existing conditions.
Exchange and parole of Prisoners of War
When prisoners were exchanged, there was no agreement that they could not again be inducted into actual service.
However, when prisoners signed parole agreements it was supposed to bind them not to take active part in military action again.
There seems to have been considerable exchange of officers) who, when released from custody again assumed command. Buckner is an example, also Gen. Stoneman. However, the parole system was not strictly a& adhered to.
As an illustration, the 30,000 prisoners whom Pemberton surrendered to Grant at Vicksburg, soon were fighting in various Confederate units after they had been paroled. The exceptions North and South, were the bounty jumpers and downright cowards who surrendered to avoid fighting, and Labored under the impression that they would immediately be paroled and sent home. Some were - and these men became a problem in the North. They Literally mutinied against any form of exercise, and the fact that each Northern Governor wanted the Washington Administration to send paroled prisoners to the respective states did not help matters.
There was an attempt to have these men police the prison camps, join up to fight Indians, and do various military chores as laborers, but because of an indefinite over-all policy, there was confusion and political bitterness between state and national bodies. The men were a sorry lot, unpaid for past services and no better fed or clothed than the prisoners of the rebel army.
In the South those ax-soldiers who did not disappear to Mexico or the new west, were literally impressed into active service again.
me problem, both North and South) toward the end of hostilities was of gigantic proportions. So that desertions, surrenders, and the fact that over three million colored slaves were on the loose without discipline helped hasten the end of the Confederacy.
During all this time, 1864 and early 1865, Ben Butler did heroic service in exchanges with Oulds of the South.
In April, 1864, General Sherman sent General Geo. Stoneman, with his cavalry Corps, to break the railroad at Jonesboro, Ga. The orders were broadened to a raid on Andersonville Prison with part of his force.
Early in August he was cut off at Clinton, Gal, and was forced to surrender with part of his command. The rest cut their way out and back to Sherman's army with heavy losses.
General Stoneman remained a prisoner until he was exchanged in Oct. 1864. This is the only action we were able to find for relief of the prisoners in Andersonville.
Let us hear a little of Cahaba, Ala., eight miles south of Selma, at the conflux of the Cahaba and Alabama Rivers.
First capital of Alabama, it was founded in 1820, and at its peak was a city of 5000 with stately mansions and hotels and an aristocracy the equal of any in the South, but in 1861 it was a dying community. Here, in 1863, an abandoned cotton shed 193 ft. long and 116 ft. wide became the prison of 3000 Northern captives.
The officer in charge, a Lt. Jones, was worse than Wirtz and stole everything of value from each prisoner as he was taken in, Only half a roof remained and that full of holes, and for a horrible abode, it was as bad as Andersonville. An artesion well 12 inches in diameter and of considerable depth, which supplied water to the town, had been sunk by a planter named Perinne.
me prison stockade was supplied by this well by a run off of an open gutter through the town, and subject to the washing of hands and feet and the bathing of soldiers and negroes, the rinsing of tubs and cuspidors, and the filth from hogs, dogs and horses, before it reached the stockade. When the river flooded, the compound was under water from 6 to 8 inches, and the prisoners could not cook their rations or lie down to sleep until the water receded.
A Southern surgeon sent in a scathing report about the condition at Cahaba to Southern Administrators. A copy of this report was published in the Federal Congressional Report of the 40th Congress, page 737, so it had authenticity. The place was called (Castle Morgan) in honor of Gen. John Hunt Morgan.
Referring again to Asa S. Clyne, an Uncle of the writer; he served through the Virginia Campaign' survived 15 major battles and was captured near Petersburg, on June 16th, 1864, wounded and unable to get away.
He was sent to Andersonville and remained imprisoned there until Mar. 4th, 1865. He was then delivered to the Union lines at Wilmington, N. C., more dead than alive, and given honorable discharge in June of the same year, and sent back North to his home in Ulster Co., N. Y. None of his brothers or sisters recognized him because of his extreme emaciation. The writer has many vivid memories of listening to him and several other veterans, (who were then younger men than the present veterans of World War I) as they spun their tales and experiences while sitting around the pot bellied stove which heated his store. On a cold winter afternoon after school it was a spine tingling experience.
Time has wrought a miracle of mellowing both the prison sites and cemetery areas.
Andersonville, and indeed all other prison sites, after 95 years of mellowing, are places of tranquility, and it is difficult to envision the hideous episodes that once took place.
The cemetery at Andersonville is exceptionally lovely. There is a canopied stone speaker's rostrum where for years after the war, relatives of victims gathered on the 30th of May, and filled the air with recriminations and Northern war songs, especially, "Marching Through Georgia."
But those days are gone, other wars have been fought and won, and time has healed the deep wounds given to man by man.
"Years of Madness" Wm. E. Woodward
"Cahaba" Jesse Hawes
"The Army in Civil War" Scribner & Sons, N.Y.
"Regimental Losses in the Civil War" Fox
"The Annals of the Army of Tennessee" Dr Edwin L. Drake
"Capture, The Prison Pen, and the escape" Glazier
"Civil War Prisons" W. B. Hesseltine
"Prisoners and Prisons of the Civil War" Hammerlein
"Numbers and Losses in the Civil War" Thos. L. Livermore
"In and Out of Andersonville" W. F. Lyons
"This was Andersonville" John McElroy
"Short Biography of Northern Generals" C.J. Wood, Army Surgeon
"Andersonville, The Raiders and Regulators" The Atlanta Journal & Constitution
"Privation of a Private in Prisons of the North" Marcus B. Tony
"General Edmund Kirby Smith" Jos. Howard Parks
"Gray Ghosts and Rebel Raiders" Virgil Carrington Jones
"Lee's Lieutenants" (Three Volumes) Douglas Southall Freeman
"America's Tragedy" James Truslow Adams
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