Confederate Officer's Outlook on Andersonville
In lieu of special instructions by the Assistant Adjutant and Inspector General, Colonel Robert H. Chilton, on July 25, 1864, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel T. Chandler had been assigned to perform an inspection of the stockade at Camp Sumter, Andersonville, Georgia. Twelve days later on August 5th, he submitted his report to Richmond, Virginia providing his observations regarding conditions at that place.
The stockade confining the federal prisoners was constructed of hewn pine logs some eight inches in diameter, driven five feet into the ground. The area within, including the recent extension to accommodate the continual flow of incoming prisoners, covered an area of 540 by 260 yards or four hundred twenty one thousand two hundred square feet. The first twenty feet between the wall and the pen made up the dead line of which no prisoners were entitled to cross without being shot.
The center of the yard stood about three and a quarter acres of ground so terribly marshy to be rendered unfit for occupation. Perhaps twenty three and a half acres were available for living space. The present numbers already incarcerated, reduced the living space of each prisoner to six square feet, no more, no less; but the termination of prisoner exchange in the spring of 1864 had caused this space to be further reduced as time went on.
One hundred fifty yards inside the southern boundary a stream passed from west to east, and furnished the only water for washing accessible to the prisoners; it had been rendered completely unfit for usage with the prison guard regiments, the bakery, and cook house placed on high ground outside the prison. Changes were in progress during the month of August to remove the cook house from its present location; this measure would help make the water a little bit cleaner; yet out of necessity the prisoners had dug wells from which they could draw an ample supply of good water; collected mostly from the heavy rains.
Thirty to fifty yards on either side of the stream was marshy ground used as sinks since the prison had been established. The ground became so filthy it was good for nothing more than breeding pestilence. Captain Henry Wirz, commandant of the camp, had been constructing a sluice, the upper end of the marsh to be used for bathing and the lower as a sink; but for want of lumber and tools this work would cease entirely.
Each man was permitted to protect himself as best he could. There were no shelters. Stretching a blanket above a couple of sticks or however ingenuity of the prisoner allowed to make do, would solely be the fruits of their labor.
Medically, the doctors would only treat the patients as they were brought outside the gate by their sergeants. The crowds were so heavy that only the strong were able to push their way through to be seen. The hospital beds, if that is what they were called, are so over crowded there would be generally two men to a bed. Others who would generally have been received for such medical attention were sent back to the stockade due to lack of room.
In the effort of survival, many had been murdered by their comrades. Through application of their own, however; General John Henry Winder approved for the prisoners to hold their own court martial. Tried by their peers for crimes against their own fellow prisoners, six were found guilty and sentenced to be hanged by authority of Captain Wirz; sentence carried out convicted of the evidence brought against them.
The dead, many of them carted out by the wagon load, their hands first mutilated, cutting the fingers off for wedding rings and jewelry, and buried without a coffin. The sanitary condition of the prisoners was most wretched, most dying from cholera or chronic diarrhea.
The prisoners ration was but one third pound of bacon, one and a quarter pound of unbolted corn meal so unrefined the prisoner's feeble condition had been entirely unable to digest it, fresh beef at rare intervals, and occasionally there would be some rice. No soap or clothing had ever been issued to these men at all.
The medical staff was a travesty. Only eleven doctors held commissions in the Confederate States Army, the remainder were all taken out of the Georgia militia serving at Andersonville rather than in the field. One such officer Doctor E. Sheppard of the Provisional Army of the Confederate States, in charge of the smallpox hospital had more than half his cases terminated fatally. The care provided for those in need of medical assistance, simply wasn't there.
The guard forces, under Colonel Henry Forno, Provisional C. S. Army, consisted of Captain Dyke's company of Florida Light Artillery, the 55th Georgia Infantry, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th regiments Georgia Reserve along with Lieutenant Colonel Furlow's battalion of Georgia militia, 3,600 in all had for themselves, 647 on the sick list.
The 55th Georgia Infantry, Colonel C. B. Harkie, commanding, had his regiment made up of men who were absent at the time the remainder were captured at Cumberland Gap. The colonel, having had no interest in command, permitted his men to drag him from a railroad car and parade him around the depot, having forced him to practice the manual of arms with a tent pole, although he had been initially armed from the start. This regiment, completely demoralized; insisted he sign and forward his resignation to the Confederate War Department.
It became Colonel Chandler's recommendation that clothing be provided to the prisoners, Colonel Harkie and his 55th Georgia would provide the labor in draining the camp and that half the number of prisoners ought to be moved off elsewhere cutting the number inside the stockade to no more than 15,000. It was furthermore recommended that no more prisoners be sent to the already overcrowded prison. There had been two additional pre-selected grounds by General Winder, under the instructions of General Braxton Bragg; the first near Millen, Georgia, the other some point in Alabama, south of Cahaba, half the number should have been sent there immediately. Yet, just in the time that Lieutenant Colonel Daniel T. Chandler had begun his inspection, 1,300 more prisoners had been railroaded into the Camp Sumter prison, leaving the inspector appalled at the government's lack of attention.
In conclusion, it became the inspection officer's opinion that the horrors of the prison were too unimaginable to even describe. His recommendation was to have Brigadier General Winder removed from his post and a more responsible and more humane officer replace him taking the serious nature of these conditions into account when taking corrective action. Under the personal observation of Lieutenant Colonel Daniel T. Chandler these conditions were simply an outrage to all humanity, in that some sort of action would have promoted great improvement to the suffering of the prisoners restrained to survive among the filth.
The observation lead to the belief that Captain Henry Wirz had worked hard to improve the conditions of his post; however could not change enough with Richmond turning a blind eye to him. In the official report back to the Inspector General's Office, his promotion to the rank of major was highly supported.
Brigadier General John Henry Winder, had died on February 7, 1865 freeing him from the primary target of the federal government in retribution against 14,000 dead federal prisoners of war at Andersonville. In attaching someone responsible for the indecent lack of humanity on those twenty three and a half acres of death, Captain Henry Wirz would solely be sacrificed for it. The military court convened in August of 1865 would give the public a name and a man for the wretched horrors known as Andersonville. A soldier to the end, who followed orders, dropped to his death through a scaffold.
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