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Andersonville Prison facts for kids

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Andersonville National Historic Site
Reconstruction of a section of the stockade wall
Andersonville Prison is located in Georgia (U.S. state)
Andersonville Prison
Location in Georgia (U.S. state)
Andersonville Prison is located in the United States
Andersonville Prison
Location in the United States
Location Macon / Sumter counties, Georgia, United States
Nearest city Andersonville, Georgia, Americus, Georgia
Area 514 acres (208 ha)
Visitation 1,436,759 (2011)
Website Andersonville National Historic Site
NRHP reference No. 70000070
Quick facts for kids
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 16, 1970
Designated NHS October 16, 1970

The Andersonville National Historic Site, located near Andersonville, Georgia, preserves the former Andersonville Prison (also known as Camp Sumter), a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp during the final fourteen months of the American Civil War. Most of the site lies in southwestern Macon County, adjacent to the east side of the town of Andersonville. As well as the former prison, the site contains the Andersonville National Cemetery and the National Prisoner of War Museum. The prison was created in February 1864 and served until April 1865.

The site was commanded by Captain Henry Wirz, who was tried and executed after the war for war crimes. It was overcrowded to four times its capacity, with an inadequate water supply, inadequate food and unsanitary conditions. Of the approximately 45,000 Union prisoners held at Camp Sumter during the war, nearly 13,000 died. The chief causes of death were scurvy, diarrhea and dysentery.


The prison, which opened in February 1864, originally covered about 16.5 acres (6.7 ha) of land enclosed by a 15-foot (4.6 m) high stockade. In June 1864, it was enlarged to 26.5 acres (10.7 ha). The stockade was rectangular, of dimensions 1,620 feet (490 m) by 779 feet (237 m). There were two entrances on the west side of the stockade, known as "north entrance" and "south entrance". This allows for a space of about 5 feet by 6 feet (1.5 x 2 m) for each prisoner.

Descriptions of Andersonville

Andersonville Prison
A depiction of Andersonville Prison by John L. Ransom, former prisoner
Thomas O'Dea drawing of Andersonville Prison
A drawing of Andersonville Prison by Thomas O'Dea, former prisoner

Robert H. Kellogg, sergeant major in the 16th Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, described his entry as a prisoner into the prison camp, May 2, 1864,

As we entered the place, a spectacle met our eyes that almost froze our blood with horror, and made our hearts fail within us. Before us were forms that had once been active and erect;—stalwart men, now nothing but mere walking skeletons, covered with filth and vermin. Many of our men, in the heat and intensity of their feeling, exclaimed with earnestness. "Can this be hell?" "God protect us!" and all thought that he alone could bring them out alive from so terrible a place. In the center of the whole was a swamp, occupying about three or four acres of the narrowed limits, and a part of this marshy place had been used by the prisoners as a sink. The ground allotted to our ninety was near the edge of this plague-spot, and how we were to live through the warm summer weather in the midst of such fearful surroundings, was more than we cared to think of just then.

Further descriptions of the camp can be found in the diary of Ransom Chadwick, a member of the 85th New York Infantry Regiment. Chadwick and his regimental mates were taken to the Andersonville Prison, arriving on April 30, 1864. An extensive and detailed diary was kept by John L. Ransom of his time as a prisoner at Andersonville.

Father Peter Whelan arrived on 16 June 1864 to muster the resources of the Catholic church and help provide relief to the prisoners.

The dead line

At Andersonville, a light fence known as "the dead line" was erected approximately 19 ft (5.8 m) inside the stockade wall. It demarcated a no-man's land that kept prisoners away from the wall, which was made of rough-hewn logs about 16 ft (4.9 m) high and stakes driven into the ground. Anyone crossing or even touching this "dead line" was shot without warning by sentries in the guard platforms (called "pigeon roosts") on the stockade. (It is considered possible although not established that the modern term deadline in the sense of a time limit derives from this.)

Survival and social networks

At the time of the Civil War, the concept of a prisoner of war camp was still new. It was as late as 1863 when President Lincoln demanded a code of conduct be instituted to guarantee prisoners of war the entitlement to food and medical treatment and to protect them from enslavement, torture and murder. Andersonville did not provide its occupants with these guarantees; the prisoners at Andersonville, without any sort of law enforcement or protections, functioned more closely to a primitive society than a civil one. As such, survival often depended on the strength of a prisoner's social network within the prison. A prisoner with friends inside Andersonville was more likely to survive than a lone prisoner. Social networks provided prisoners with food, clothes, shelter, moral support, trading opportunities and protection against other prisoners. One study found that a prisoner having a strong social network within Andersonville "had a statistically significant positive effect on survival probabilities, and that the closer the ties between friends as measured by such identifiers as ethnicity, kinship and the same home town, the bigger the effect."

The Raiders

A group of prisoners, calling themselves the Andersonville Raiders, attacked their fellow inmates to steal food, jewellery, money and clothing. They were armed mostly with clubs and killed to get what they wanted. Another group started up, organized by Peter "Big Pete" Aubrey, to stop the larceny, calling themselves "Regulators". They caught nearly all of the Raiders, who were tried by the Regulators' judge, Peter McCullough, and jury, selected from a group of new prisoners. This jury, upon finding the Raiders guilty, set punishment that included running the gauntlet, being sent to the stocks, ball and chain and in six cases, hanging.

The conditions were so poor that in July 1864, Captain Henry Wirz paroled five Union soldiers to deliver a petition signed by the majority of Andersonville's prisoners asking that the Union reinstate prisoner exchanges to relieve the overcrowding and allow prisoners to leave these terrible conditions. That request was denied and the petitioners, who had sworn to return, reported this to their comrades.


During the war, 45,000 prisoners were received at Andersonville prison; of these nearly 13,000 died. The nature and causes of the deaths are a source of controversy among historians. Some contend that the deaths resulted from Confederate policy and were war crimes against Union prisoners, while others state that they resulted from disease promoted by severe overcrowding; the food shortage in the Confederate States; the prison officials' incompetence; and the breakdown of the prisoner exchange system, caused by the Confederacy's refusal to include black troops in the exchanges, thus overfilling the stockade. During the war, disease was the primary cause of death in both armies, suggesting that infectious disease was a chronic problem, due to poor sanitation in regular as well as prison camps.

Dorence Atwater

A young Union prisoner, Dorence Atwater, was chosen to record the names and numbers of the dead at Andersonville, for use by the Confederacy and the federal government after the war ended. He believed, correctly, the federal government would never see the list. Therefore, he sat next to Henry Wirz, who was in charge of the prison pen, and secretly kept his own list among other papers. When Atwater was released, he put the list in his bag and took it through the lines without being caught. It was published by the New York Tribune when Horace Greeley, the paper's owner, learned the federal government had refused the list and given Atwater much grief. It was Atwater's opinion that Andersonville's commanding officer was trying to ensure that Union prisoners would be rendered unfit to fight if they survived.

Newell Burch

Prisoner of war (POW) Newell Burch also recorded Andersonville's poor conditions in his diary. A member of the 154th New York Volunteer Infantry, Burch was captured on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg; he was first imprisoned at Belle Isle in Richmond, Virginia and then Andersonville. He is credited with having been the longest-held Union prisoner of war during the Civil War, having survived a total of 661 days in Confederate hands. His diary is in the collection of the Dunn County Historical Society in Menomonie, Wisconsin; a mimeographed copy is held by the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Prisoner population

Date Population
April 1, 1864, 7,163
May 5, 1864, 12,002
June 13, 1864 20,654
June 19, 1864 23,944
July 18, 1864, 29,078
July 31, 1864, 31,680
August 31, 1864, 31,695


Planning an escape from this camp was routine among the thousands of prisoners. Most men formed units to burrow out of the camp using tunnels. The locations of the tunnels would aim towards nearby forests fifty feet from the wall. Once out, escape was nearly impossible due to the poor health of prisoners. Prisoners caught trying to escape were denied rations, chain ganged, or killed. Playing dead was another method of escape. The death rate of the camp being around a hundred per day made disposing of bodies a relaxed procedure by the guards. Prisoners would pretend to be dead and carried out to the row of dead bodies outside of the walls. As soon as night fell the men would get up and run. Once Wirz learned of this practice he ordered an examination by surgeons on all bodies taken out of the camp.

Confederate records show that 351 prisoners (about 0.7% of all inmates) escaped, though many were recaptured. The US Army lists 32 as returning to Union lines; of the rest, some likely simply returned to civilian life without notifying the military, while others probably died.

Confederacy's offer to release prisoners

In the latter part of the summer of 1864, the Confederacy offered to conditionally release prisoners if the Union would send ships to retrieve them (Andersonville is inland, with access possible only via rail and road). In the autumn of 1864, after the Battle of Atlanta, all the prisoners who were well enough to be moved were sent to Florence Stockade (near Florence, South Carolina) and Camp Lawton (near Millen, Georgia). At Millen, better arrangements prevailed, and prisoners were transported by rail to the port of Savannah. After General William Tecumseh Sherman began his march to the sea and destroyed Millen, the remaining prisoners were returned to Andersonville.


Andersonville Prison was liberated in May 1865.


Trial of Henry Wirz (page 2 crop)
Capt. Henry Wirz

After the war, Henry Wirz, commandant of the inner stockade at Camp Sumter, was tried by a military tribunal on charges of war crimes. The trial was presided over by Union General Lew Wallace and featured chief Judge Advocate General (JAG) prosecutor Norton Parker Chipman.

A number of former prisoners testified about conditions at Andersonville, many accusing Wirz of specific acts of cruelty, for some of which Wirz was not even present in the camp. The court also considered official correspondence from captured Confederate records. Perhaps the most damaging was a letter to the Confederate surgeon general by Dr. James Jones, who in 1864 was sent by Richmond to investigate conditions at Camp Sumter. Jones had been appalled by what he found, and reported he vomited twice and contracted influenza from the single hour he'd toured the camp. His graphically detailed report to his superiors all but closed the case for the prosecution.

Wirz presented evidence that he had pleaded to Confederate authorities to try to get more food and that he had tried to improve the conditions for the prisoners inside. He was found guilty, and sentenced to death. On November 10, 1865, he was executed. Wirz was one of two men executed after the war for war crimes and the only Confederate official; the other was the guerrilla Champ Ferguson. The revelation of the prisoners' sufferings was one of the factors that affected public opinion in the North regarding the South after the close of the Civil War.


In 1890, the Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Georgia, bought the site of Andersonville Prison through membership and subscriptions. In 1910, the site was donated to the federal government by the Woman's Relief Corps (auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic).

National Prisoner of War Museum

The National Prisoner of War Museum opened in 1998 as a memorial to all American prisoners of war. Exhibits use art, photographs, displays, and video presentations to depict the capture, living conditions, hardships, and experiences of American prisoners of war in all periods. The museum also serves as the park's visitor center.

Andersonville National Cemetery

Andersonville National Cemetery 2
Andersonville National Cemetery, June 2011

The cemetery is the final resting place for the Union prisoners who died while being held at Camp Sumter/Andersonville as POWs. The prisoners' burial ground at Camp Sumter has been made a national cemetery. It contains 13,714 graves, of which 921 are marked "unknown".

As a National Cemetery, it is also used as a burial place for more recent veterans and their dependents.

Visitors can walk the 26.5-acre (10.7 ha) site of Camp Sumter, which has been outlined with double rows of white posts. Two sections of the stockade wall have been reconstructed: the north gate and the northeast corner.

Depictions in popular culture

  • Andersonville (1955) is a novel by MacKinlay Kantor concerning the Andersonville prison. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1956.
  • The Andersonville Trial (1970), a PBS television adaptation of a 1959 Broadway play. It depicts the 1865 trial of Andersonville commandant Henry Wirz.
  • The TV movie Andersonville (1996), directed by John Frankenheimer, tells the story of the notorious Confederate prison camp.
  • Max R. Terman's Hiram's Honor: Reliving Private Terman's Civil War (2009, Hillsboro, KS: TESA Books, ISBN: 0-615-27812-4), is an historical novel.
  • In the TV series Hell on Wheels, the villainous character Thor Gundersen is a survivor of Andersonville; his experiences there have left deep mental scars and fuel his hatred of the protagonist, Confederate veteran Cullen Bohannon, the railway foreman. In the depths of his madness, Gundersen begins calling himself "Mr. Anderson".
  • This camp is briefly mentioned in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, as Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) uses it as an excuse to rule his camp with an iron fist. This is one of the most visible historical errors (anachronisms) in the film, since it is set during the New Mexico Campaign, two years before the opening of the prison.
  • The novel Inferno, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, contains a brief reference to the camp; in the novel, set in Hell, Billy the Kid remarks that "the guy who ran the Andersonville prison camp" is being eternally tortured on an island in Phlegethon.
  • A novel written in 2014 by Tracy Groot entitled The Sentinels of Andersonville depicts some of the Historical players such as Capt. Henry Wirz and General John Winder and fictional prisoners in Andersonville Prison as rebel neighbors, attempting to help the prisoners, were vilified by the town of Americus, GA.
  • Stephen Vincent Benet's epic John Brown's Body refers to Andersonville and Wirz's trial as one of two incidents emblematic of the Civil War POW camps.
  • In the seventh episode of Ken Burns's 1990 PBS TV miniseries The Civil War, "1864, Most Hallowed Ground", a segment entitled "Can Those Be Men?" is devoted to Andersonville; its title derives from a quote by Walt Whitman (voiced in the film by Garrison Keillor) which runs in part: "Can those be men? Are they not really corpses?...The dead there are not to be pitied as much as some of the living that come from there – if they can be called living."
  • Sebastian Barry's 2016 novel, Days Without End, includes a section in which the protagonists are captured as Union soldiers and held at the Andersonville camp. Prisoners are described as being "Harrowed by hunger and ploughed through by sickness."
  • In the 1959 war film The Horse Soldiers, the camp is often mentioned by Colonel John Marlowe (John Wayne), as his Union cavalry brigade is behind Confederate lines and in constant danger of being captured.
  • Episode 1321 of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater aired April 28, 1982, "The Ghost of Andersonville," details the tragic events of the relationship between Cal Russell (played by Tony Roberts), a former prisoner of the notorious camp, and Union General Lysander Cutler. Russell refuses to support Cutler's bid for the presidency due to a deep-seated grudge over the general's ineptitude as an army leader.



See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Sitio Histórico Nacional de Andersonville para niños

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