Federal Retribution
The Trial of Henry Wirz


     The war, it seemed, would not rest until the government succeeded in trying and convicting Andersonville's commandant, Captain Henry Wirz. On the 6th day of November 1865, the Adjutant General's Office posted in General Court Martial Orders No. 607, the findings of his trial which had been convened since the summer.

     Major General Lewis Wallace, United States Volunteers, presided over the trial, listening to the testimony that would send the former Confederate Captain to his demise. Between March of 1864 and mid April 1865, he had been charged in conspiracy with Brigadier General John Henry Winder, the Confederate Commissary of Prisoners, and others to bring harm and torture to more than 30,000 prisoners of war in his care.

     The specification to the first charge included horrid details of allowing the bodies of the dead to remain unburied and lying about among the emaciated sick prisoners, creating a poisonous atmosphere to breathe among them. One thousand deaths were said to have occurred. Prisoners would be punished by locking a ball and chain about their neck and feet, and in the already miserable condition of most, died as a result. Blood hounds hunting down and maiming escaping prisoners, experimental injections of foreign substances that paralyzed or killed prisoners of war, all painted an evil picture of the man commanding the camp.

     The second charge against the defendant brought about thirteen specifications of personal and brutal murders at the hands of this officer. No less than three had been given for brandishing a loaded pistol and killing the prisoners personally. Two counts for personally attacking soldiers belonging to the United States and causing death, one of which had been kicked and then stomped upon with his feet. Two more counts for ordering his sentries to fire into soldiers under his custody.

     Three months of testimony led General Wallace to return with finding Wirz guilty on the first charge, and guilty to the second charge, with the exception of the fourth and thirteenth specifications, both of these having apparently caused death to soldiers with his own sidearm.

     The findings were presented to the President of the United States, Andrew Johnson, who approved them. The chief executive then ordered Major General Christopher C. C. Auger, commanding the Department of Washington to carry out the execution of Captain Wirz between the hours of 6:00 am and 12:00 Noon on the 10th of November 1865.

     Captain Wirz would be considered the final casualty of a war that cost 620,000 American lives. As his body fell from the gallows, federal retribution claimed the last life of a four year bloody conflict. As it appears through the historical record, the treatment of prisoners of war by the dictates of humanity, were permissibly followed, however, no government on earth would have consented to the personal cruelties the United States Soldiers suffered at the hands of the Andersonville Commandant. The war was now, finally at rest.


Dan (Aldie) Daniel Moran
© 2002

Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at dmoran@us-civilwar.net