From February 1864 until the end of the American Civil War in April 1865, Andersonville, Georgia, served as the site of a notorious Confederate military prison. The prison at Andersonville, officially called Camp Sumter, was the South’s largest prison for captured Union soldiers and known for its unhealthy conditions and high death rate. Around 13,000 Union prisoners died at Andersonville.
During our quick visit, there was a living history event going on. They had firing demonstrations, camps set up and had recreated in small scale what it looked like to be a prisoner at Andersonville.
On April 9, 1865, General Lee surrendered his Confederate forces to Ulysses Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, in Virgina, ending the Civil War. The following month, Henry Wirz, the commander of Andersonville was arrested for the murder of soldiers incarcerated at the prison during the war.
Wirz oversaw an operation in which thousands of inmates died. Partly a victim of circumstance, he was given few resources with which to work. As the Confederacy began to dissolve, food and medicine for prisoners were difficult to obtain. When word about Andersonville leaked out, Northerners were horrified. During the trial, more than 100 witnesses were called to testify. Though Wirz did demonstrate indifference toward Andersonville’s prisoners, he was, in part, a scapegoat and some evidence against him was fabricated. Nonetheless, he was found guilty and sentenced to death.
Just before he was executed by hanging in D.C., on November 10, 1865, Wirz reportedly said to the officer in charge, “I know what orders are, Major. I am being hanged for obeying them.” Wirz was one of the few people convicted and executed for crimes committed during the Civil War.
This was an unplanned detour on our photographic adventure day. I wish we would have had more time to explore the cemetery. We were racing against the clock to get to a few more places, none of them close by.