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In October 2011, Chief Investigator KyL Cobb conducted a limited investigation at Andersonville Civil War prison. It is one of the most tragic stains on the history of Georgia.
Written by Kyle T. Cobb, Jr.
Nos tibi credere.
Andersonville becomes an object lesson in patriotism. To this retired and beautiful spot will thousands resort in the long years to come, to learn again and again lessons of heroic sacrifice made by those who so quietly sleep in these long rows of graves.
~ Robert H. Kellogg, Andersonville Survivor
Andersonville is one of the greatest disasters and horrors that has occurred on United States soil since the trail of Tears. Rarely has a government act with such disregard to human life. Pictures of the survivors of the prison bring thoughts of the Nazi concentration camp survivors. There is no doubt that this atrocity is one of the worst chapters in the history of the Confederacy.
Here is a brief description of the collapse of civilization that created the Andersonville nightmare.
On 18 July 1862, the Dix-Hill Cartel was signed formally authorizing the ready exchanges of prisoners held by the North and the South. This practice had been in place since the beginning of the war as a gentlemen's agreement. This agreement stood until 27 October 1863 when United States Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton halted the exchange of prisoners of war claiming the Confederacy was mistreating the prisoners. As a result, both sides immediately saw an increase in the prison populations.
As a direct result of the breakdown on 28 October 1863, General and Commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia Robert E. Lee requests that prisoners held in Virginia be transferred south where food and supplies were more readily available. By 24 November Captain W. Sidney Winder has been ordered to meet with Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown to choose a south Georgia location for a military prison. Purchasing land from Benjamin B. Dykes and Wesley W. Turner in Sumter county, Georgia, on 21 December 1863 Captain W. Sidney Winder orders construction of Camp Sumter to begin.
Even before the Camp receives its first prisoners, there are signs of trouble when on 3 February 1864 the camp Quartermaster writes the Columbus, GA quartermaster asking for additional provisions as the camp can only supply half of the needs to run the post. With 500 prisoners in route and accompanied by 61 guards, the quartermaster is facing civilian employees that have not been paid, 100 guards without rifles, and no meat to feed the arriving prisoners.
When the first prisoners arrive on 25 February 1864, the stockade is only half built and there are no shelters for the prisoners. No sanitary facilities have been built and the only source of water is a single 3-foot wide stream running through the middle of the stockade. To worsen the situation, by the time the prisoners arrive at many of them are already infected with smallpox.
On 29 February 1864, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander W. Persons is placed in command of the Camp Sumter but there is concern from Brigadier General John H. Winder that the entire story of the unfinished stockade is not being communicated. By 4 March Person has ordered the prisoners to be used finish the construction of the stockade and to perform burial details.
By 20 March 1864 the first phase of the stockade is completed with 16.5 acres enclosed in a 15 foot rectangular wooden wall. At regular intervals, pigeon roost guard posts have been constructed. 15 feet within the walls, a tiny fence has been built as a deadline and the guards have orders to shoot anyone touching or crossing it.
By 31 March, almost 8000 inmates and soldiers now reside at the stockade.
As April 1864 neared its end, it was clear that the stockade was not large enough and that the hospital needed to be expanded. 718 of the 2,697 patients in the prison hospital were already dead due to conditions. Major General and Georgia Reserves Commander Howell Cobb inspects Camp Sumter and warns that the prison is at capacity. Prison Commandant Henry Wirz reports to Confederate authorities that the cramped and filthy stockade now holds 12,213 inmates. The prisoners continue to flood in as the as the Union campaign moves further south . By 13 May, there are 18,000 prisoners and 1200 troops guarding them guarding them. Seven days later the number of prisoners has swelled to 20,000.
As conditions deteriorate, the prison population keeps growing. 24,000 prisoners are starving at the camp by 6 June 1864. The corn meal the Camp was provided has been ground with husks and is unfit for consumption. The creek running through the camp no longer has enough force to move the feces. The death toll is over 100 per day. SO many fatalities are occurring that Union prisoner of war Private Dorance Atwater is appointed to keep track of the names of the dead.
On June 17, 1864, Brigadier General and Confederate Commander of Military Prisons John H. Winder relieves Lieutenant Colonel Alexander W. Persons of command and faces the challenge that the number of guards has dropped from 2,867 to 1,462. Winder also requests that no further prisoners should be sent to the overcrowded stockade.
The issue with the cornmeal also begins to impact the soldiers in the Camp, causing dysentery. As a result, Chief Surgeon Isaiah H. White establishes Camp Sumter Confederate Hospital to treat the Confederates.
An expansion of the stockade by another 10 acres was completed on 1 July and 13,000 of the 26,000 prisoners are moved to the new section.
By 25 July there are almost 29,000 inmates in the expanded stockade. Illness or reassignment has left only 1551 troops available to guard them. The troops that are there haven't been paid and are on the verge of desertion.
With the fall of Marietta in early July and the continued fighting over Atlanta, the Star Fort and various other earthworks are constructed around the stockade to repel the anticipated Union attack.
Even after the Secretary of War James A. Seddon orders that no more prisoners are to be sent to Camp Sumter, they continue to flood in from Atlanta since there were no other functioning prisons in Georgia. Early August has 30,000 prisoners in the stockade with 5010 sick in the hospital and another 1305 in the hospital. Scurvy caused by the unhealthy is taking its toll. Requests for additional doctors and suppliers are refused. Camp Sumter offers to unilaterally release its prisoners if the Union will send transportation.
In an act seen by many as divine intervention, on 11 August a storm washes away the west wall near the prison creek and reveals a previously buried spring. The new fresh water source is most likely responsible for saving hundreds of lives.
In spite of pleas for the North to take back the prisoners held at Camp Sumter, Ulysses S. Grant refuses. He claims a prisoner exchange would only strengthen the defense of Georgia. Union Brigadier General T. Seymour, charged with investigating military prison conditions in the South, decides that United States will allow Union prisoners of war to remain confined at Andersonville, and not to initiate a prisoner exchange.
On 5 September 1864 relief finally comes to Camp Sumter as Adjutant General Samuel Cooperorders the transfer of most of the prisoners to Charleston and Florence, South Carolina, and Savannah and Millen, Georgia. By October only 5,000 remain. According to Confederate pathologist Dr. Joseph Jones on 19 October 1864, the mortality rate at Camp Sumter is 23% due to dysentery, scurvy, and gangrene. The leading cause of these illnesses is poor rations, little medicine, and the accumulation of feces within the stockade.
By 22 November only 1,500 prisoners remain at Camp Sumter until 3,500 previously transferred prisoners are returned on 24 December when their internment camps become unsecured.
15 March 1865, under an agreement between Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate Judge Robert Ould, prisoner exchanges resume with the immediate paroling of Camp Sumter prisoners for exchange at the Big Black Bridge in Mississippi. By 5 April 1865 all but 20 ill prisoners have been paroled. $ May sees the last prisoner returned to Union control.
In total, 12,912 were buried in the Camp Sumter cemetery while prisoners.
For war crimes, Interior Prison Commandant Henry Wirz is arrested at Andersonville. By 1 September 1865 almost all major Confederate figures from Camp Sumter and Camp Lawton Military Prisons are jailed on charges of conspiring with Henry Wirz to murder prisoners of war. On 31 October,Wirz is found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. On 10 November 1865, Heinrich Hartman Wirz is hanged near the U. S. Capitol at 10:32 a.m
By 1868, the cemetery held the remains of more than 13,800 Union soldiers whose bodies had been retrieved after their deaths in hospitals, battles, or prison camps throughout the region. Andersonville National Cemetery has been used continuously since its founding and currently averages over 150 burials a year. Today the cemetery contains nearly 20,000 interments. The cemetery and associated prison site became a unit of the National Park System in 1970.
Today, Andersonville National Historic Site comprises three distinct components: the former site of Camp Sumter military prison, the Andersonville National Cemetery, and the National Prisoner of War Museum, which opened in 1998 to honor all U.S. prisoners of war in all wars.
Model of Andersonville prison
Reconstructed prison wall
Photos of tents in Andersonville
Photo of prisoners in Andersonville
Photos of prisoners in Andersonville
Drawing of the 2nd Andersonville Hospital
Hanging the Confederate War Criminal Henry Wirz for war crimes
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