|Civil War Prison Camps|
One of the worst aspects of the Civil War was the treatment of prisoners. For those familiar with its history, the name "Andersonville" creates images of horror almost as bad as those of Nazi concentration camps. The North had its share of equally horrible camps. |
Neither side intentionally mistreated prisoners. Neither side expected the war to last long, so they quickly made arrangements to deal with large numbers of men using minimal amounts of money. Prisoners held by the Union were slightly better off as the Southern states were poorer and had less to work with.
In the first two years of the war, there were relatively small numbers of prisoners taken by both sides and they were well treated.
Both sides agreed to a prisoner exchange which operated during the second half of 1862. This stopped when the South refused to return black soldiers and the North refused to consider Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederacy. From 1863 on, both sides were holding large numbers of prisoners that they didn't have the ability to care for.
The most well known of all the Civil War camps is Andersonville. Officially designated Camp Sumter, the prison was located in southern Georgia. More than 45,000 Northern soldiers were confined there between 1864 and 1865. Almost 13,000 men died there and were buried on the prison grounds, which is now a National Cemetery.
The Confederates lacked necessary means for adequate housing. Many men sought protection in crude tents, while others dug holes in the ground for shelter, but most had no shelter of any kind.
No clothing was provided, and many prisoners were dressed only in rags. The prisoners received one pound of corn meal and either one pound of beef or one-third pound of bacon as their daily rations. This was only occasionally supplemented with beans, rice, peas or molasses.
Most prisoners fell victim to dysentery, gangrene, diarrhea and scurvy. The Confederates lacked adequate medical supplies to stop the diseases. More than 900 prisoners died each month for 14 months.
There were about 150 prison camps on both sides during the war.
Conditions in the North weren't much better. The worst Northern camp was Elmira, located in New York a few miles from the Pennsylvania line. Some 12,000 prisoners were confined to a camp meant to hold only 5,000. Two observation towers were built outside the prison walls. For fifteen cents, spectators could watch the prisoners suffering within the compound.
Requests for badly needed medicines were ignored by officials in Washington. The prison earned the nickname "Helmira" as nearly 3,000 of the 12,000 prisoners (25%) died of starvation, mistreatment or disease. All that remains today of Elmira Prison is Woodlawn National Cemetery. Our team visited the site, and included pictures in the GETTING INVOLVED section of this site.