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Andersonville Prison - 1864-1865

ANDERSON, July [August] 5, 1864.
Assistant Adjutant and Inspector General, Richmond:

COLONEL: Having, in obedience to instructions of 25th of July ultimo, carefully inspected the prison for Federal prisoners of war and post at this place, I respectfully submit the following report:

The Federal prisoners of war are confined within a stockade 15 feet high, of roughly hewn pine logs, about 8 inches in diameter, inserted 5 feet in the ground, inclosing, including the recent extension, an area of 540 by 260 yards. A railing around the inside of the stockade and about 20 feet from it constitutes the "dead-line," beyond which the prisoners are not allowed to pass, and about 3 acres near the center of the inclosure are so marshy as to be at present unfit for occupation, reducing the available present area to about 23 acres, which gives somewhat less than 6 square feet to each prisoner. Even this is being constantly reduced by the additions to their number. A small stream passes from west to east through the inclosure at about 150 yards from its southern limit and furnishes the only water for washing accessible to the prisoners. Some regiments of the guard, the bakery, and cook-house, being placed on the rising ground bordering the stream before it enters the prison, render the water nearly unfit for use before it reaches the prisoners. This is now being remedied in part by the removal of the cook-house.

Under the pressure of their necessities the prisoners have dug numerous wells within the inclosure, from which they obtain an ample supply of water to drink of good quality. Excepting the edges of this stream, the soil is sandy and easily drained, but from 30 to 50 yards  on each side of it the ground is a muddy marsh, totally unfit for occupation, and having been constantly used as a sink since the prison was first established, it is now in a shocking condition and cannot fail to breed pestilence. An effort is being made by Captain Wirz, commanding the prison, to fill up the marsh and construct a sluice--the upper end to be used for bathing, &c., the lower as a sink--but the difficulty of procuring lumber and tools very much retards the work and threatens soon to stop it. No shelter whatever, nor materials for constructing any, has been provided by the prison authorities, and the ground being entirely bare of trees, none is within reach of the prisoners, nor has it been possible, from the overcrowded state of the inclosure, to arrange the camp with any system. Each man has been permitted to protect himself as best he can, stretching his blanket, or whatever he may have, above him on such sticks as he can procure, thatches of pine or whatever his ingenuity may suggest and his cleverness supply. Of other shelter there is and has been none.

The whole number of prisoners is divided into messes of 270, and subdivisions of 90 men, each under a sergeant of their own number and selection, and but one C. S. officer, Captain Wirz, is assigned to the supervision and control of the whole. In consequence of this fact and the absence of all regularity in the prison grounds, and there being no barracks or tents, there are and can be no regulations established for the "police consideration for the health, comfort, and sanitary condition of those within the inclosure," and none are practicable under existing circumstances. In evidence of their condition I would cite the facts that numbers have been found murdered by their comrades, and that recently, in their desperate efforts to provide for their own safety; a court organized among themselves, by authority of General Winder, commanding the post, granted on their own application, has tried a large number of their fellow-prisoners and sentenced six to be hung, which sentence was duly executed by themselves within the stockade, with the sanction of the post commander. His order in the case has been forwarded by him to the War Department. There is no medical attendance furnished within the stockade. Small quantities of medicines are placed in the hands of certain prisoners of each squad or division, and the sick are directed to be brought out by the sergeants of squads daily at "sick call" to the medical officers who attend at the gate. The crowd at these times is so great that only the strongest can get access to the doctors, the weaker ones being unable to force their way through the press; and the hospital accommodations are so limited that, though the beds (so called) have all or nearly all two occupants each, large numbers who would otherwise be received are necessarily sent back to the stockade.

Many--twenty yesterday--are carted out daily, who have died from unknown causes and whom the medical officers have never seen. The dead are hauled out daily by the wagonload and buried without coffins, their hands in many instances being first mutilated with an ax in the removal of any finger rings they may have. The sanitary condition of the prisoners is as wretched as can be, the principal causes of mortality being scurvy and chronic diarrhea, the percentage of the former being disproportionately large among those brought from Belle Isle. Nothing seems to have been done, and but little, if any effort, made to arrest it by procuring proper food. The ration is one-third pound of bacon and one pound and a quarter unbolted corn-meal, with fresh beef at rare intervals, and occasionally rice. When to be obtained--very seldom--a small quantity of molasses is substituted for the meat ration. A little weak vinegar, unfit for use, has sometimes been issued. The arrangements for cooking and baking have been wholly inadequate, and though additions are now being completed it will still be impossible to cook for the whole number of prisoners. Raw rations have to be issued to a very large proportion who are entirely unprovided with proper utensils and furnished so limited a supply of fuel they are compelled to dig with their hands in the filthy marsh before mentioned for roots, &c. No soap or clothing has ever been issued.

After inquiry I am confident that by slight exertions green corn and other antiscorbutics could readily be obtained. Herewith I hand two reports of Chief Surgeon White, to which I would respectfully call your attention.  The present hospital arrangements were only intended for the accommodation of the sick of 10,000 men, and are totally insufficient, both in character and extent, for the present needs; the number of prisoners being now more than three times as great, the number of cases requiring medical treatment is in an increased ratio. It is impossible to state the number of sick, many dying within the stockade whom the medical officers never see or hear of till their remains are brought out for interment. The rate of deaths has steadily increased from 37.4 per 1,000 during the month of March last to 62.7 per 1,000 in July. Of the medical officers but eleven hold commissions; nearly all of the others are detailed front the militia, and have accepted the position to avoid serving in the ranks, and will relinquish their contracts as soon as the present emergency has passed and the militia is disbanded. But little injury would result from this, however, as they are generally very inefficient; and not residing at the post, only visiting it once a day at "sick-call," they bestow but little attention to those under their care. The smallpox hospital is under the charge of Dr. E. Sheppard, Provisional Army, C. S. More than half the cases in it have terminated fatally. The management and police of the general hospital grounds seem to be as good as the limited means will allow, but there is pressing necessity for at least three times the number of tents and amount of bedding now on hand. The supply of medicines is wholly inadequate, and frequently there is none, owing to the great delays experienced in filling the requisitions.

The guard forces, under the immediate command of Col. Henry Forno, Provisional Army, C. S., are composed of Captain Dyke's company Florida light artillery, Fifty-fifth Regiment Georgia Infantry, First, Second, Third, and Fourth Regiments Georgia Reserves, and Lieutenant-Colonel Furlow's battalion Georgia militia, an aggregate of 3,600 men, of whom 647 are now on the sick report. Captain Dyke's company of artillery is an efficient body of men, well drilled, disciplined, and officered. The Fifty-fifth Georgia is composed of men who were absent from their command at the time their regiment proper was captured at Cumberland Gap. They are thoroughly demoralized, mutinous, and entirely without discipline, and should be at once removed from this point and their places supplied with better troops. The colonel of this regiment, C. B. Harkie, though armed at the time, permitted his men to drag him from a railroad car and march him up and down the platform of the depot, and to take him from his tent, place him on a stump, and compel him to go through the manual of arms with a tent-pole, and to sign and forward his resignation to the War Department. This last he recalled by a telegram from Fort Valley. He has recently rejoined the command, but dares not assume command of the regiment. 

The four regiments Georgia reserves have been newly organized, and without any effort being made to assign the old and young men to separate regiments, as should have been done. A large number are evidently within the ages of eighteen and forty-five, and I respectfully recommend that a reliable conscript officer be sent among them. These troops are entirely without discipline, and their officers are incapable of instructing them, being ignorant of their own duties. I recommend that one competent officer from the Invalid Corps be assigned to each regiment as drill officer and instructor. I found their arms in serviceable order, but many are lacking bayonets, cartridge-boxes and accouterments. Furlow's battalion of Georgia militia, temporarily serving here, is armed with muskets without bayonets and accouterments. Of the whole force there are 452 men entirely without arms. As will be seen by the accompanying report of the commandant of the post, there are required daily for duty an aggregate of 784 men, and frequent details are required in addition. At least 1,000 men more are essentially necessary in order to give the troops their proper rest.

The magazine has not yet been completed and the ammunition is kept partly in the commissary store and partly in a tent. I also hand with this a sketch and report of Captain Moreno, of the Engineer Corps, showing the nature of the defenses and the stockades being erected. Sixteen pieces of field artillery are now here, some of which are now in position; the others will be placed in position as soon as the necessary works can be completed; six pieces more are en route. It is believed no other point in the State offers the same advantages of healthy location and facilities for safe-keeping of the prisoners that is not more accessible to raids. Nor can I learn that any advantage on the score of cheaper subsistence or greater comfort to the prisoners can be gained by removal to any other part of this State. I am decidedly of opinion that not over 15,000 prisoners should be kept at this point, the running water not being sufficient for more than that number, and because it is impossible for one man to exercise a proper supervision over them, and that all over that number should be sent elsewhere. At my request a survey of the grounds has been made by Colonel Harkie, Fifty-fifth Georgia Regiment, and civil engineer, with a view to drainage. His report is herewith submitted, with a recommendation that his plan be carried out by the Engineer Department, that being the only one authorized to impress the necessary labor. The necessity for it is urgent.

I also recommend that a supply of clothing be furnished for issue to the prisoners and that soap and antiscorbutics be regularly issued to them. Attention is also specially invited to the report of Chief Surgeon White relative to the construction of barracks and the supply of additional tents for hospital use, and I would respectfully suggest that commissioned officers of the medical staff be sent to replace the contract physicians and doctors detailed from the militia and that they be required to reside at the post. The transportation of the post is entirely insufficient, and authority is needed by the quartermaster to impress wagons and teams and saw-mills, when not employed by the Government or railroads, and kept diligently occupied, and instructions given to the quartermaster in charge of transportation to afford every facility practicable for transporting lumber and supplies necessary for prisons. Bake-pans, or sheet-iron for making them, should at once be furnished. The telegraph line should be continued from Fort Valley to Andersonville, thirty-one miles.

Attention  is respectfully called to the accompanying copy of an order issued by Brigadier-General Gardner to convert all moneys belonging to prisoners in the hands of the quartermaster at Richmond into Confederate currency, and at the prices established by Government, without con-suiting the wishes of the prisoners on the subject.  It will be seen by the account book forwarded with this that some of these claim considerable amounts. The injustice of compelling them to receive our currency against their consent is apparent.

In conclusion, I beg leave to recommend that no more prisoners be sent to this already overcrowded prison, and that at the two additional localities selected by General Winder, under instructions from General Bragg--the one near Millen, Ga., the other some point in Alabama south of Cahaba--arrangements be at once made for the excess over 15,000 at this post, and such others as may be captured. Since my inspection was made over 1,300 prisoners have been added to the number specified in the reports herewith. With a view of relieving to some extent this point as soon as possible I respectfully suggest that 2,000 of those who most need the change, especially the Belle Isle prisoners, be at once sent to Macon to occupy the quarters vacated by the Federal officers, that being the greatest number who can be properly accommodated with shelter at that prison.

It is absolutely necessary that the regulations for the government of the prisoners be legibly painted on boards and exposed in conspicuous places, say by nailing on the sutler's shop and on the inner face of the stockade at various points. Those established by Captain Wirz, herewith submitted, are approved, with the exception of paragraph 4, which it is recommended shall be stricken out.

I am, colonel, your obedient servant,
Assistant Adjutant and Inspector General.
[First indorsement.]

August 18, 1864.
Respectfully submitted to the Secretary of War.
The condition of the prison at Andersonville is a reproach to us as a nation. The Engineer and Ordnance Departments were applied to for implements, authorized their issue, and I so telegraphed General Winder. Colonel Chandler's recommendations are concurred in.
By order of General S. Cooper:
Assistant Adjutant and Inspector General


COLONEL: I have the honor to submit the following report of the sanitary condition of the C. S. military prison:
The number of sick on morning report is 1,305 in hospital and 5,010 in quarters.
The total number of deaths from the organization of the prison (February 24, 1864) up to date is 4,585.
The following table exhibits the ratio per 1,000 of mean strength during the different months:

Month. Mean strength. Deaths. Ratio per 1,000 of mean strength.
March  7,         500          283                     37.4
April 10,           000          576                    57.6
May 15,           000          708                     47.2
June  22,          291       1,201                    53.87
July  29,          030        1,817                    62.7

Owing to insufficient hospital accommodation many are treated in quarters who should be in hospital. The present capacity of the hospital is for 1,400 sick. The hospital is situated in an oak grove, affording good shade. Through the hospital passes a stream, furnishing an ample supply of water for cleanliness; drinking water is obtained of good quality from wells and springs on the banks of the stream.

The tents are insufficient in number and not of proper size for the treatment of sick; most of them are the small fly tent and tent flies. There should be at least 200 hospital or 500 wall tents to properly accommodate the sick. It has been impossible up to this time to obtain straw for bedding, this not being a grain-growing district; small crops of wheat have been raised this year, and efforts are being made to collect a sufficient quantity as soon as the present crop is thrashed; but there is lack of transportation at the post, and farmers are unwilling to hire their own teams for the purpose. The attendants are paroled prisoners, who, as a rule, are faithful in the performance of their duty, being actuated by the improvement of their own condition on removal from the stockade, and a fear of a return if negligent in the performance of duty, apart from a desire to serve their own sick comrades.

The number of medical officers, until the recent call of militia by the Governor of Georgia, was utterly inadequate; since that time a number of physicians have been employed by contract, and others have been detailed by the Governor to serve in the medical department. These  have been but recently assigned and it is impossible to decide on their proficiency. The other medical officers, with a few exceptions, are capable and attentive. The physicians who have been recently employed will no doubt cancel their contracts as soon as the militia is disbanded, and the services of the detailed physicians will also be lost. With this view I would suggest that a sufficient number of competent medical officers be assigned.

There is a deficiency of medical supplies issued by the medical purveyor. Supplies of medicines have occasionally been entirely exhausted, and we have been left several days at a time without any whatever. This has arisen from the delay experienced in sending requisitions to medical director at Atlanta for approval.
The hospital ration is commuted as for other general hospitals, and supplies for the subsistence and comfort of sick are purchased with hospital fund. Heretofore we have been able to supply the sick with vegetables; but during the entire month of July the commissary has been without funds, and difficulty has been experienced in purchasing on time.

The ration issued to the prisoners is the same as that issued to Confederate soldiers in the field, viz, one-third pound pork, one and a quarter pounds meal, with an occasional issue of beans, rice, and molasses. The meal is issued unbolted, and when baked is coarse and unwholesome.

Amongst the old prisoners scurvy prevails to a great extent, which is usually accompanied by diseases of the digestive organs. This, in connection with the mental depression produced by long imprisonment, is the chief cause of mortality. There is nothing in the topography of the country that can be said to influence the health of the prison. The land is high and well drained, the soil light and sandy, with no marshes nor other source of malaria in the vicinity, except the small stream within the stockade. The densely crowded condition of the prisoners, with the innumerable little shelters irregularly arranged, precludes the enforcement of proper police and prevents free circulation of air.

The lack of barrack accommodation exposes the men to the heat of the sun during the day and to the dews at night, and is a prolific source of disease.

The margins of the stream passing through the stockade are low and boggy, and having been recently drained, have exposed a large surface covered with vegetable mold to the rays of the sun, a condition favorable to the development of malarious diseases. It is the design of the commandant of the prison to cover the surface with dry sand, but the work has been unavoidably retarded.

The absence of proper sinks (and the filthy habits of the men) have caused a deposit of fetal matter over almost the entire surface of this bottom land.

The point of exit of the stream through the walls of the stockade is not sufficiently bold to permit a free passage of ordure.

When the stream is swollen by rains the lower portion of this bottom land is overflowed by a solution of excrement, which, subsiding and the surface exposed to the sun, produces a horrible stench.
Captain Wirz, the commandant of the prison, has doubtless explained to you the difficulties which have prevented these with other projected improvements in the way of bathing and other arrangements for cleanliness.

Respectfully submitted.
Chief Surgeon of Post.
Webmaster's  Intro:  Though not a battleground in the typical way we might think of it, for the unfortunate prisoners subjected to the unbelievably miserable and harsh conditions at Andersonville and other prisons, it likely felt daily like a major battle, a battle to survive.  This page will provide various glimpses of the conditions and events that the twenty-three 26th OVI soldiers imprisoned  there most likely experienced.  As with most matters related to the Civil War, there are controversial perspectives, so in an attempt to provide objectivity, the page starts off with  the detailed observations, not of a Union prisoner, but of  Colonel D T Shandler, a Confederate Officer  (who was the Inspector General and Assistant Adjutant ) sent to review and report the situation at Andersonville to the highest command of the  Confederate government.  Also, is included Chief Surgeon Isaiah White's report on the unsanitiary conditions.
Source:  Official Records:  Vol VIII, Series 2, Part 1  ( Prisoners of War)
Colonel D T Chandler's Official Report to the Confederate Government on the conditions at Camp Sumter Prison, Andersonville, Georgia.
Chief Surgeon Isaiah White's Report to Colonel Chandler
Photos as well as comments on the conditions of  Union Prisoners held at Andersonville
Andersonville and other Prisons
Danville, VA Prison
Richmond VA Prisons
Florence SC Prison