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1864 December 10: Conditions in Southern Prisons and Wisconsin Deaths in Andersonville

December 15, 2014

The following two articles on prisoners of war are from The Prescott Journal of December 10, 2014.

Contrasting Pictures—The Exchanged Prisoners

There is no better illustration of the spirit in which the present war is waged by the respective parties to it than is afforded by the treatment of prisoners on either side.

The rebel prisoners, men taken with arms in their hands, while engaged in a wicked and treasonable attePmpt to destroy a Government guilty of no act of oppression towards them, but on the contrary distinguished for its kindness and beneficence, are humanely cared for, protected from the inclemency of the weather and bountifully fed.  The Union prisoners, captured while defending their country and its flag, are on the other hand exposed to ever contumely, and treated with a severity such as in no civilized country is visited upon the vilest malefactors.  They are robbed of their money ;  stripped of their clothing ;  exposed, unsheltered in all seasons ;  kept upon the scantiest possibly pittance of food and that rendered as unpalatable as it is capable of being made ;  huddled together in the narrowest limits, as it for the express purpose of rendering their condition as horrible as possible ;  and, as if with a premeditated purpose, the combined agencies of famine, filth, and burning or freezing skies left to engender disease and death among them, while, if they attempt to escape from the cruelties of their loathsome and deadly confinement, they are hunted with blood-hounds like wild beasts.

The comparative condition of the two classes of prisoners as they were brought forward for exchange in Savannah recently, shows the results of the different methods of treatment.  The Savannah Republican of the 14th says that up to the previous evening about 2,000 rebel prisoners had been brought to that city, and adds :

“The prisoners, for the most part, look far better than we expected, after the hardships of their long confinement, and in many instances brutish treatment.  Many say they wish no furlough, but desire to be sent immediately to the front, where they will have an opportunity of getting even with their captors.”

The charges of “brutish treatment” and “hardships of confinement” are best answered by the condition of the prisoners, who are reported ready to proceed at once to the front and resume their places in the army of traitors.  No doubt their quarters and their food while prisoners were luxurious compared with the rebel army fare.

Now mark the contrast presented by the condition of the Union prisoners exchanged for these sturdy, well-fed, able-bodied rebels.  The correspondent of the New York Times who accompanied our fleet with the rebel prisoners, writing from Savannah describes the Union men received as follows :  “Men looking like living skeletons, almost naked, shoeless, hatless, and spiritless ;  men with no other garment than overcoats ;  men whose skins are blackened by dirt, and hang on protruding bones as loosely as bark on a tree ;  men whose very presence is simply disgusting, exhaling odor so fetid that it almost stops the breath of those unaccustomed to it.  Reports of rebel surgeons show that for the period of a month through which the reports extend, there is constant, monotonous complaint against the treatment to which the sick are subjected.  Men in the last stages of emaciation from chronic diarrhea received no nourishment and starved to death on coarse rations which the stomach of a strong man would reject.  Others, suffering gangrene and ulcers, were compelled to fester in putridity without even sufficient water to cleans[e] their loathsome sores.  Week after week the diseased and dying were kept without shelter, and many without clothing, on the bare ground, exposed to the torrid sun and rains at all times.”

The same correspondent speaking of the treatment of Union prisoners in Georgia says :  “For months they have been deprived of sufficient palatable food.  The little they received had been rarely cooked, because in a country abounding with field, their jailers forbade them adequate fires.  At the prison pen near Millen, Ga., for same weeks, there has been no meal or flour given to the prisoners, and sweet potatoes in lien thereof have been eaten raw.”

There doubtless sympathizers with the rebellion in the North who will attempt to extenuate the monstrous guilt of these barbarous acts of cruelty.  They will plead in behalf of the rebels their straitened condition and the lack of clothing and of food in the rebel army, and they will urge it is not to be expected, under such circumstances, that they can or will treat their prisoners as we treat ours.  To this plea there is one all-sufficient answer.  When people are destitute of the means of carrying on a war, it is time for them to cease fighting.  If the South cannot treat prisoners in accordance with the usages of civilized nations, they have no business with prisoners ;  they are no longer entitled to be regarded by any nation as belligerents ;  they forego their claim to be recognized as a civilized society ;  they can only be considered in the light of lawless and irresponsible savages, of banded pirates and murderers.  If they attempt to excuse their treatment of Union prisoners upon their inability to feed and shelter them in accordance with the rules of warfare between civilized nations, they confess that they have pushed their resistance to the just authority of the United States beyond the limits of the broadest construction of the right of revolution.—They acknowledge that they are brought to the point of exhaustion by the war, and if they persist in continuing it, under such circumstances, the United States will be justified in adopting any rules of retaliation, in the future conduct of the war, which would be proper in a contest with savages, with Sioux or Camanches [sic], to whose level the Southern leaders descend in their treatment of Union prisoners.

It may be true that the rebels are unable to provide proper food for their prisoners.—But it is not a deficiency of food alone that is complained of.  There are other circumstances of mere, cold-blooded, inexcusable, brutal savageness in their treatment of prisoners.  It is evident that a diabolical malignity, an inordinate and barbaric malevolence, a spirit of wanton cruelty such as fiends should blush to acknowledge, animates them.  If they lack food they do not lack room.—Their prisoners need not be crowded into a narrow camp like that at Andersonville.  They might be permitted to keep their quarters cleanly ;  they might be permitted to bury their dead decently ;  they might be permitted to erect for themselves a shelter against the weather ;  they might be permitted to cook their scanty rations in such a way as to render them as wholesome and palatable as possible ;  all these things might be permitted without incurring any additional or considerable hazard of their escape, but have been steadily refused, with no other apparent reason than the deliberate purpose to render their condition unendurable, to destroy their lives, and to break down those that survived so as to uufit [sic: unfit] them for further service as soldiers.

Deaths of Wisconsin Prisoners at Andersonville. 

The New York Times, whose correspondent accompanied the flag of truce for the exchange of prisoners at Savannah, prints a list of three thousand prisoners who have died in the charnel pen at Andersonville, Ga., between the 7th of June and the 18th of July.  Eleven thousand in all fell victims there to the horrible cruelty of the rebels.  From the list in the Times we select the following names of heroes from Wisconsin who suffered the most cruel martyrdom there, with the date of their death :

S. P. Waller, C, 21st, June 7th.
M. S. Hilton, L, 1st cav. June 12th.
Mulligan, B, 1st, June 13th.
Jacobson, D, 15th, June 15th.
B. Bimgardner, K, 26th, June 15th.
A. Rosch, F, 21st, June 16th.
H. Ball, A, 7th, June 16th.
J. K. Alwise, E, 24th, June 17th.
H. A. Bowman, F, 10th, June, 18th.
S. W. Turney, D, 21st, June 18th.
W. H. Fountain, A, 10th, June 21st.
J. S. Updell, B, 15th, June 22d.
E. Brooks, H, 1st cav. June 22d.
Serg’t. A. Church, 7th, June 23d.
James Hanson, K, 15th, June 23d.
F. Grash, I, 10th, June 24th.
L. Enger, K, 15th, June 24th.
B. F. Boomer, I 10th, June 25th.
C. Knudson, E, 15th, June 26th.
E. Damkoehler, I, 26th, June 26th.
A. Plum, K, 4th cav. June 26th.
J. Chapman, G, 2d, June 29th.
O. Broms, G, 15th, June 30th.
R. Steffens, F, 15th, July 3d.
E. McCormack, L, 1st cav. July 6th.
O. H. Vohast, L, 1st cav July 6th.
D. McKenzie, F, 1st, July 7th.¹
Peter Lack, A, 7th, July 7th.
J. Vetter, F, 6th, July 9th.
F. Serbet, C, 24th, July 9th.
D. D. Thompson, B, 36th, July 10th.
O. Oleson, B, 15th, July 11th.
John Dago, L, 1st cav. July 18th.
J. Brown, H, 4th cav. July 18th.
I. Jackson, B, 24th, July 14th.
S. Cummings, A, 21st, July 14th.
J. Tyler, A, 10th, July 16th.
Charles Went, B, 7th, July 16th.
J. Sherman, A, 24th, July 16th.
W. Shoop, G, 1st, July 18th.
B. Pickett, F, 1st, July 18th.²

1.  Duncan McKinzie, from Taylor’s Falls, had enlisted October 23, 1861.
2.  Thomas B. Pickett, from Saint Croix Falls, who had enlisted August 26, 1861.

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