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A Movie Review
by Brian Lande

The Andersonville Prison has been a subject of several books, plays and movies. Recently I watched the 1995 movie Andersonville, directed by John Frankeheimer. Andersonville was presented on television in 1957. Then in 1959 Saul Levitts created the Broadway play The Andersonville Trial. It was made into a television movie in 1970 called The Andersonville Trial. What is it about Andersonville Prison that has created such interest over the years? Does it tell us something about the Civil War or about the South? Is it an exaggerated myth that Andersonville was uniquely grotesque? Andersonville Prison, located in Georgia and operated by the Confederate army, is known for being the worst prisoner-of-war camp during the Civil War. From 1864-65 some 14,000 Union prisoners died from disease, hunger and abuse at Andersonville Prison, making Andersonville one of the tragedies of the Civil War.
While Grant and Sherman marched through the Confederate states, men from their armies were being killed, maimed or captured by the rebel armies as the Union army moved south. In 1864 Grant started his Wilderness Campaign around Richmond, Virginia. Grant brought huge numbers of soldiers into the thicket around Richmond, which turned into a liability because of the inability to move his men along the small roads and through the thick underbrush. This lack of mobility caused 17,666 of Grant's men to die or be captured by the Confederate army. Instead of retreating after the huge loss of men, Grant continued to move forward. In 1864, Sherman started his famous "March to the Sea" in which he waged "Total War" by burning cities and towns and killing innocent people. Sherman met stiff resistance during his March but did not lose as many soldiers to captivity or death as Grant did. Grant lost most of his soldiers by doing everything possible to win battles, even if it cost a huge amount of casualties and a large number of captured soldiers. The Confederate army, not knowing what to do with mounting Union prisoners, built Andersonville Prison.
Headed by the commandant Captain Wirz of Switzerland, a prison for 8,000 troops was set up. The actual number of prisoners eventually swelled to 33,000 troops by 1864-65. Andersonville Prison was built to encase a small swamp that had a small creek running under the northern wall of the stockade, then flowed through the prison camp and again under the southern wall of the stockade of Andersonville. This creek provided the prison only water except for the frequent bone-chilling rains. Andersonville was just a wall of large pine trees in a rectangular stockade about 15-20 feet high that covered 16 acres. It was also unsheltered and the ground was just bare dirt. This left the Union soldiers exposed to the 100+ degree heat of summer, along with sun stroke, heat exhaustion and dehydration. In the winter, the soldiers faced below-freezing temperatures from snow and cold rain. Upstream (outside the prison, at the camps where the guards and animals stayed) the small creek was used for dumping trash, for bathing, for disposing of human and animal waste and for other unclean uses. This creek then went a few hundred meters downstream into Andersonville Prison where the prisoners were forced to drink this dirty water and catch countless diseases that caused the prisoners to suffer. The few clean wells there were took so much time to fill that only a few of the 33,000 prisoners could drink from them. The wells were also guarded by gangs of Union soldiers.
The Confederate states as a whole suffered from a lack of resources. There was not enough food for all the prisoners at Andersonville Prison or for the Confederate army. There was also a lack of supplies and soldiers which meant that Andersonville Prison could not be adapted for the large amount of captured Union soldiers coming to the prison. The southern states had fewer soldiers then the North's unlimited amount of soldiers. There was a lack of food because the South mainly had cotton plantations and tobacco farms. Though there were food-producing farms there were not enough to support a war. While at war, the South stopped trading with the North, where much of the food and manufactured supplies for the South came from. The reason for the lack of supplies was because the South did not have many factories or industries. The North produced manufactured goods such as canvas, guns and tools. New England, not having much farm land that could be used for crop production, turned to the factories, industries and other non-farming business and sent its manufactured goods to the South. The South sent up its cotton products and tobacco to the North. The South did not have many industries or factories of its own because the South could rely on the North for its supplies and manufactured goods. The Confederate's lack of manpower came from the fact that the South had a relatively small white population. There were few whites because slaves did much of the work, so there was no need for white workers on plantations. The Confederate army also did not trust the blacks with weapons, for the fear that the blacks could then rebel. This meant that the whites were the only people allowed to fight. The lack of resources was the main reason the Confederate armies were being pushed back South. Lack of food caused the Union soldiers within Andersonville to slowly starve to death. The Confederate soldiers guarding the prison received the same rations as the Union prisoners did but did not get sick because they received better water and living conditions. The little food there was, was sometimes withheld from the Union prisoners by Captain Wirz as a form of punishment .
A factor that can be contributed to the misery of Andersonville Prison was the fact that General Grant would not agree to a prisoner exchange. This made the Union soldiers morale at Andersonville low. The soldiers felt betrayed and forgotten. There was no prisoner exchange because the Confederates would not exchange the black soldiers for whites and Grant wanted all or none. The Civil War was being fought to free black slaves. To exchange only white soldiers would have gone against one reason the war was being fought.
Gangs of Union soldiers and mercenaries within Andersonville were another problem. These gangs stole all kinds of equipment from new arrivals such as food, blankets, tools, tents, etc. The gangs also made raids on Union soldiers who were not new to the prison. They would sneak up during the dark of the night and beat them, take clothes, blankets and other belongings. All the items that were stolen were either kept for themselves or used to trade with the guards for whiskey and other unessential goods. In the 1995 movie, the gang that caused the most trouble was called the Raiders. They were eventually put on trial by prisoners who became fed up with the death and misery caused by Raiders. In the climatic movie battle within Andersonville, the prisoners decide to stop the Raiders just before they were about to jump a new group of soldiers that just entered the camp. When the battle is over, the six ring leaders have been captured along with all the henchmen. Several Union soldiers go to ask Captain Wirz to allow them to conduct a trial. The Union prisoner longing for a return to civility, a lawful trial is conducted and a verdict is decided, despite the misery of the prisoner's situation.
Blame for the conditions that could have been corrected at Andersonville should not go completely to Wirz. Blame should be shared by General Winder. General Winder would not allow any extra food that was available, even from donations of the townspeople to the Union soldiers. He was heard to say with glee that he was "killing more enemies here [at Andersonville] than being shot in the battle-lines". It was his belief that all Union soldiers should die.
Towards the end of the war, the Confederate government finally saw the horrible conditions at Andersonville and transferred the Union soldiers into other prisons. At the end of the war, because Wirz was hated by so many Union soldiers, he became the only Civil War soldier tried for crimes against humanity. Wirz was not the only man though who committed horrible crimes against humanity. Sherman killed many innocent civilians but was not tried for his crimes. General Winder was not tried because he died in 1864. I cannot see why Wirz would have a grudge against the Union when he came from Switzerland. Wirz dreamed of becoming a general but he became frustrated when he was put in charge of running a Confederate prison instead of being given his own command in the army. This may be what caused him to treat the prisoners under his charge so cruelly.
Most likely, the lack of resources and the amount of men coming from the North overwhelmed the Confederate army's capacity to feed and properly care for their prisoners of war. Both the Union and the Confederates had horrible prison camps equal to Andersonville, just smaller. The Civil war had caused much hatred between North and South. Sherman's "Total War" had ruined whole cites and he mercilessly killed hundreds of innocent people. Terror and hatred came from this and induced some of the Confederate soldiers to seek revenge on captured Union soldiers. At Andersonville Prison this was taken to an extreme. General Winder's anger along with Wirz's morbid craziness and the already grim situations, made Andersonville Prison one of the most revolting and horrible places in the U.S.A.
Americans are fascinated by Andersonville because it shows that inhumane treatment is not just something done in other countries. The Civil War's gruesome battles and prisons show a darker side of American culture. One cannot study Andersonville and still believe that the horrors of civil war in places like Bosnia and Rawanda have never touched America.

Andersonville National
Historic Site

Andersonville National Historic Site is unique in the National Park

Service as the only park to serve as a memorial to all Americans ever held

as prisoners of war. The 475 acre park, consisting of the national

cemetery and prison site, exemplifies the grim life suffered by prisoners

of war, North and South, during the Civil War. The historic site was

established in 1970.


Highest in May and June; lowest in December and January.


Andersonville, Georgia


Andersonville National Historic Site

Route 1, Box 800

Andersonville, GA 31711


(912) 924-0343


Daily park grounds: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Visitor Center: 8:30

a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Closed: December 25 and January 1.


Summers are generally hot and humid. The winters are very mild

and rainy. Wear appropriate and comfortable seasonal clothing.

Wear comfortable walking shoes.


Visitors traveling north-south on I-75: Exit at Byron Exit,

highway 49 South and travel approximately 40 miles on Georgia

highway 49 South. Park entrance will be on your left. Visitors

traveling south-north on I-75: Exit at Cordele Exit, Georgia

highway 280 West and travel to Americus, pick up highway 49

north. Andersonville is ten miles north of Americus on highway

49, park entrance will be on your right.


To Park: access by Interstate I-75 and various state highways.

The park is located in a rural area. Nearest airports are in

Columbus (east), Macon and Atlanta (north). Bus depot is in

Americus, Georgia.

In Park: personal vehicle, bicycle, and buses.


No admission fees. Donations accepted. Donation boxes

available at the visitor center and the prisoner of war museum. A

driving tour cassette tape is available for a $1.00 rental fee.


Visitor Center/Exhibits:

An orientation film is offered along with various exhibits. A

small Prisoner of War Museum houses POW artifacts and

exhibits depicting conflicts from the Civil War to the Gulf

Conflict. Often, former American prisoners of war, who

volunteer with the park's volunteer program serve as hosts at the

Prisoner of War Museum. A new and expanded POW

Museum/Visitor Center is soon to be constructed on the site with

the opening projected for 1996.

Trails, Roads:

Good roads run throughout the national cemetery and historic

stockade area. There is a hiking trail which is used primarily by

visiting Boy Scout groups.


The visiting public can rent a cassette taped driving tour for

$1.00. On weekends there are guided cemetery walks and prison

site talks given by park rangers.

Lodging and camping facilities:

None in park.


Local restaurants and grocery stores.

Other Concessions/NPS-Managed Visitor Facilities and


A bookstore is located in visitor center. It is managed by Eastern

National Park and Monument Association.


The visitor center and prisoner of war museum is wheelchair

accessible with a wheelchair available in the visitor center.

Handicapped parking is available. The historic prison site area

would not be easily maneuvered by someone with physical


Special Needs:

Visitor parking is available at various points in the site. Bus

parking is limited.


Walking, driving or ranger-led scheduled tours through the

national cemetery and prison site. Research facilities are available

to those studying the history of American prisoners of war.

Historic monuments are located throughout the site. Picnic area is

available. The site provides excellent subject matter for


For information on archeology, visit SEAC


Reservations for school groups, other educational groups, tour

buses, and special interest groups should be made at least two

weeks prior to their visit. Applications for special use permits

should be submitted at least one month prior to the planned

activity. Commercial filming applications are handled on an

individual basis by the park superintendent.


Stay can be as short as a leisurely two hours or lengthened,

depending on your interest in the historic subject matter.


The first weekend in October there will be an Andersonville

Union Encampment Living History program. Activities include a

living history portrayal of Union soldiers on occupation duty at

Andersonville prison in 1865. Additional activities include a

candlelight cemetery living history program, and the

dramatization of the Wirz Trial on alternating years. On the last

weekend in February there will be an Andersonville revisited

Activities include Confederate guards and Union prisoners as

portrayed by living historians. Various scenarios and drills depict

the life of the guards and prisoners when Andersonville was a

prison camp. On the last Sunday in May, Memorial Day, the are

ceremonies honoring American veterans from all wars.

Ceremony includes music, guest speaker, and the Laying of

Wreaths by civic and patriotic organizations. An American flag is

placed on each of the 18,000 graves in the national cemetery. The

traditional Avenue of Flags displays the burial flags of American



The Civil War Village of Andersonville is an added attraction for

the visitor. Plains, Georgia, home of our 39 president, is located

22 miles from Andersonville and is the location of the Jimmy

Carter National Historic Site. Many interesting scenic and historic

areas are located along the Andersonville Trail, a 75 mile loop off

of I-75.


Write Park Headquarters, R. 1, Box 800, Andersonville, GA

31711, or call (912) 924-4034.

John Ransom's
Andersonville Diary

Life inside the Civil War's most infamous prison...

by John Ransom

With an introduction by Bruce Catton

A Berkley Trade Book

ISBN: 0-425-14146-2

$10.00 ($13.00 Can)

Cover art by Louis Jurado

Cover design by Tony Greco & Associates

John Ransom was a twenty-year-old Union soldier when he was captured

in 1863 and became a prisoner of war. Held in the infamous Andersonville

prison until he was near death, Ransom never gave up his love of life. He

hated the conditions of his captivity, but not his captors--men like himself

who were caught in the whirlwind of forces beyond their control. With a

rate honesty simplicity, and insight, Ransom unfolds a tale of struggle and

survival in the worst of the confederate prison camps. His diary, enhanced

by his own drawings, is a testament to the indomitable human spirit and

provides a unique viewpoint of the most wrenching of America's wars.

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