Herman A Braun.

Andersonville, an object lesson on protection. A critical sketch online

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A Critical Sketch















A rUITK'AI, SivETril




C. 1). Fahsel Puulishinc; (.'o., Milwackkk, Wi.s<^:onsin.


The conviction — based upon personal obscrvatiorup
within the Confederate Mihtary prisons during a per-
iod of eighteen months, and subsequent study — that
the pohtical situation in this country cannot be fully
understood without a just appreciation of the prisoD
horror and its causes, has prompted me to prepare
this sketch, which I have reason to hope will be re-
ceived with that consideration, to which an honee
effort to serve the truth ought to be entitled.

Herman A. Bbaun.
Milwaukee, August, 1892.


On the tenth of November, ISO."), a traced}' 'vvas en-
[icti'd in Washington uhich at the tinic ^vas looked
upon by tlio people as a self evident demonstration of
retributive justice. The victim \v:is Captain Jlenry
Wirz, the keeper of the Confed(^rate military prison
at Andersonvillc, ^vllo suffered the death penalty
aiilid the execrations of the peo]>Ie of the Northern
states, while upon no man, since, have ])een hurled
anathemas with more bitterness than upon him. One
of tlie narrators of tlie Andersonvillc liorror, in sum-
iiiing up his malediction upon this unfortunate man,

"Over his ij:,mominious grave will ever float the re-
membrance of his thousand crimes, to mark tbo rest-
ing place of a willing tool and murderer, \\ bile liis
memory will be handed down i)re-emincnt among the
bad men of the world, but especially notorious as the
.Jailor of Andersonvillc."

In Mr. Elroy's book on ''Southern ]\I:ntary Pnsons"
Wirz is described as follows:

"One morning a new officer came to superintend roll-
call ; he was an under-sized, fidgety man with an in-
significant face and a mouth that ])rotrudcd like a
rabbit's ; his little bright eyes, like those of a squirrel,
or a rat, assisted in giving his countenance a look of
kinship to the family of rodent animals, a (;enus
which live by stealth and cunning, subsisting on what


tlioy can stcnl nway from stron;;or and ])ravcr crea-
tures. Jlo ^vas dressed in a pair of gray trousers
witli tiie otlicr i>art of his Ixnly covered ^vith a calico
^^arnieiit like that worn by sniall boys, and buttoned
to tlie pants at tlic waist. Upon his head was perched
a little gray c:i]), and sticking in his belt and fast-
ened to his wrist by a sti-ap two or threo feet hiug
was one of those forinidablo looking but hannless
I'higlisli revolvers that have ten barrel;^ around the
outside and lire a musket , ball from ■ the center ; he
was stcpjting nervously about, and sputtering in brok-
en ]Mi!;hsh to one of his 8u)»ordinates : *'Vy (hjtt vy
you dcn't voti h trm tarn Yaida-es f^lose enough?
Dt'V are Rclili])ping rount mid p(^atnig you every
dimes,*' Jlo was gnnt-brained, cowardly and feeble,
:i:id was seh'cted by theleatU^rs of the confederacy be-
cause he woidd execute their hellish designs and* was
capable ofaiUlinga cohnnn of two ligures, one of the
(jualilicatious reipiired to take charge of ])risoners,
and one of the things they were very deficient in.
A man who could adil a colunni of figures! Now
iuKiginc if you ])]ea>e, such a man put in charge of
.';."),(MM> men! ]]enig a fool, Ik^ could not help being
an alliiction to them, even with the best intentions;
l)ut he knew nothing. About the lirst thing 1 heard
him say in a l)raggadocio way was, that he *'was doing
more for the! confedera.'V than a cor})s of men at the
front." i was convinced of the truth of the statement
as soon as 1 took a look inside the stockaile."

Even on such a late date as Nov. 8, ISOO, a contrib-
utor to The i)ri)oklyn Times writes of Wirz :

"Here T made iny llrst ac<piaintancc with Captain
\Vn/, and a more brutal coward 1 never saw. Kick-
ing and cursing the sick who from inability to walk
lay down on the ground outside tlie gateof tlie])rison,
wltli a r(!Volver in his hands, he ran from one ])laco to
another, as wo were being driven, like a Hock of sheep.


\vitl)iu tlio fjatt', tlircatcniiiK, striking and cursin;^
with the ferocity of a l)ull(lo;^^"

A contributor to Tha Milwaukee Sunday 'IVlegrapli,
,] uly :\, 18.S7, denies the possibility of an excuse, much
less a justitlcatiois for Wirz in these words :

"Tliero is too much evidence in tlie Jiands of tlic au-
tliorities at Washin.t^^ton, sliowin^ tliat a re^^nilar sys-
tem of cruelty was ordered by tlie liiclmiond autliori-
ties for a Nortliern man to excuse AVirz or those who
placed him at Andersonville."

Oppc^sed to these opinions, is that expressed by a
nun.iber of prisoners, my^df amonji;tlhin, when placed
in cars for their transfer from Andersonville to
Charleston about S"pt. 10, ISOl. The division of
prisoners desiirnated for transfer while haltinj^ along-
side of the train, was su])divided into squads of equal
numbers, each squad being assigned to one car to af-
ford the prisoners as much comfort during the trip as
circumstances would })ermit. Never before had such
attention been i)aid to them. Immediately after en-
tering the cars, they were handed tlieir rations con-
sisting of corn bread and pork and as the food was in
liljeral quantity, the conversation soon had reference
to the conduct of Wirz. In marching from the prison
to the cars the men had seen him sitting in front of
his tent in a position which indicated him to be in a
rellecting mood. lie had his right ann resting on tlie
side of his chair, his head leaning on his hand, and
was seemingly viewing tlie prisoners with sympathetic
interest. The attention paid them on this occa-
sion by providing room for everyone and the large al- ' \
lowance of rations was considered an indisputable evi-


tU'iirc of his i^'oo.l will toward tlic ])risoiK'rs. Their
cxpei-iciic'c in AiulcrsDiivilk! cnnijtan'd with that in
Danville and liichniond — for every man had heen a
pi-isoner sineo the <]:iys of Chii-kamanLja — i>roiiii»ted
theni to reco.L,M]ize the fact of Wir//s nniirinj^ efforts
in ]»ch ,]f of the ])i-isoTiers and to acknowledge his elli-
ciency and eonsidcratinii.

The conversation ended witli the inianimons resolve,
to pr(^ciaiin tlnse facts after their retuiii homo and to
nnite in an efVurl to seenro <,a'nerons rccognilion for
AVir/. 'J'lie ni«n comnosing the sqnad were from the
statfs of Oliio, fndiana, Illinois and Xentneky. Tliat
th< ir views W( re; shai'ed l)y niany other pris(»nors is
shi)\vn hy tlie fact that snhseqnently, at Charleslon
and in the ])riso)i at I'^lorence, S. C, not a wor<I con-
demnatory of that nid'ortnnatc nian \vas sai«l hy any-
one, fn l-'lorence, ^vhero the snfT«;ring was mneh
greater than at Andersonville, owing to conditions
which, in adjudging tiic causes of snlTering at Ander-
sonville will ai)pearof great weight, it Avas freely ad-
mitted that the treatment at the hands of AVirz had'
])een ]n-( ferahle to any other during their captivity.
Like the Israelites, wlio sighe(l for the tleslipots of
Egypt, many a j.risonerwho had given up the hope of
ever ndurning to the North, comforted liimsclf with
the neai-er memories of Andersonville, where his hun-
ger had heen appeased al least once a day.

The resolve to rc'commend Wirz to generous consid-
eration, horn of gratitu.lo and entertained with that
sincerity that comes from honest convictions, was for


nouglit. The passions of the time forbade even the

The civil war had been brought to a close; tlie joy
uf victory had been chanj^^ed to nioiirnin^^ by the news
of the assassination of Abraham Lincohi. Sectional
prt'jiidico and hatred, ii ion in full sway, were further
intlanied l)y the tales of horror, which the returned
prisoners told in every home of the land. In describ-
ing the horrors experienced during their cai)tivity
tliere could liave been no exaggeration. People can
never realize the suPreriug endured by the prisoners
during their confinement within tlic stockades; lialf
clad, without shelter and deprive<l of everything
which malvcs life worth living, they experienced the
tortures of both heat and cold.

The magnitude of the horror is demonstrated by
figures obtained from the re])ort.s at hand. The total
nund)er of prisoners, who died in the Confederate mil-
itary prisons, is st;ited in one of tlie alleged ollieial re*
porlstobo.'JivlOl. Of this number, about one sixth died
from wounds, leaving ;>(),();)() who becnmc victims of
disease. This mortality is conllned to a period of one
year. The first death among the captives of the battle
of Chickamauga (Sept. 11) and LM), ISi;:!,) occurred at
Danville, Va., in the middle of February, bS(]t. Hos-
tilities continued during a period of four years and
during that time 8.'),()00 men were killed in l)attle or
died from wounds, the average nuniber of casualities,
therefore, being about 0,000 less i)er annum than the
mortality among prisoners resulting from diseases.


J>ut to approciiito tlio fullnoss of the liorror, ono
iiHist ;iK.» ],rAY ill iniml tlio iiinrtality uiuoii^r the Con-
Ic-.UraUs conlincd in iho Federal prisons. Srcre-
taryj-:. .A[. 8l:int<)i,, in a ivport dnivd July 10, isod,
^'ivcs tlio total miiiilxT of victims in those prisons .'i[
2i\,\:U\. The total loss of Jifo among the prisoners
hold l.y Ix.tli sides, is lixcd (.ilici;dly at (;l»,.S:{7.
^ With re;^ard to tlie mortality amonj; tlie Union cap-
tives, confined in Confederate inilitary i)risons, J)r.
Win. Caldwell, i)resident of the Northwestern Oliio
Medical association, in a paper on the disabilities of
soldiers, sa3-s.

''It is deemed pertinent to tliis en-piirv to examine
somewhat succiiu-tly the r.nditions which c<mtribnt.-d
to the enormoMS tahles of disease and iaortalitvam.)no-
the Inion i>risoneis of war, uhich may lea. f n^ to a
more just coneeption of the prohahlo C(mdition and
iieahliof the survivors; this is neither a partisan nor

s.-ntimeniai(pirstion, but <me of pure science— of cause
andeiieet; it was a question of food, shelter and en-
vironmeiit. The ordinary amount of solid food per
day iv.piired to sustain human life is about forty.tw.»
ounces: tlio average ration, liowever, of tlie armies of
various countries, as well as civil and military prisons

n southern prisons it a])pears that tiieaverafTeraiK-'eii
fn.m SIX to sixteen minces of solid f.M.d, and this un-
der unnatural conditions, relative to shelter, clotliin-
.Mini .samcary surroundin-s Tlie average niortalitv in
the hospitals ol j)uhliiiisless tlian live i>er cent' in
the civil liosjutals otTranco from five to nine Vor
cent; the ayeraredeatlis in prisons of .Afassachusetts
Michigan, i\ew ^ork and Maryland was about two
percent.; the Union hosj»il:ils at Nashville received


(luriii;j; the yt^-ar isoi, (;s,()()() sick and wounded, of
^vll()lll only ibur percent, died.

The ori'ei.'il records of Andersonvillo ])rison sliow
tliat li,<;7.S nicn died in September, ISOl, or more than
lifteen per cent.; in Octol)er, more than twenty-seven
per cent, died ; in Au^'ust ;i,0()0 m(>n died, and on tlio
twenty-third of that niontli one died on an average
every eleven minutes. Of the inmates of Anderson-
villo prison hospital seventy-live ner cent. died. The
entire number of ofiicers, and soldiers, white and col-
ored, killed in action durin<,^ the War of the Rebellion
was I'Jj'J.'JS, and the total number of ollicers and sol-
diers who died of wounds received in action during
the same time was ;3:5,1)!)"». This, as against the (;o,00()
who died in prison orinnnediately after being release<l,
shows a diiference of but l.S,'J-!l more men killed in
action and dying of woiuids than died from coniine-
]nent in soutliern prisons- Careful estimation shows
that the average duration of life of the prisoners at
Anderson ville was ninety-live days. The men who
Were thus imprisoned and died so rapidly were in no
way the feebler class of tlie army ; they had ^c-^ ^aUy
served from one to two years and were gener;. .y in-
ured to all the hardships of the Held. Only those hav-
ing" the strongest constitutions lived to return. It has
l)een said that the soldier who died suifered less than
he who survived — ''That the red dew of one baptism
is upon them all." Who among' you are intimately'
ac(juaint( d with any of the survivors of these prisons
will say that they are sound men — that they have not
.sustained permanent disability? ''

Statistics compiled by a committee of the Union

Prisoners of War National Memorial association show

that 71,000 Union soldiers died in these prisons or

soon after their release, while but 01,000 were killed

in the battles fought during the four years of the war.

X ani)i:r.>onvii,i !•:.

Tlioso li^Ljurc's, if coiTcct, wouM sliow an excess of .■>.">,-
7.")(> over til'- avcr;t;^H! miinher of those killed in encli of
tlio fuur yc'tirs of the civil war. History does not re-
coid nnolhcr instance of sucli an awfnlloss of life
oui.side of actual conliict and under like couditions.
:\tajnr (uuc:-;il il. \V. Uallcck, in his l)ook ''Elements
of International Law and Laws of War" mentions
the prison liorror in the following words.

"AItlioup:li the rnles of international law, as well as
tlif ol>li;_:;ations of humanity, reijuire the captor to
either i;i.li:asi - his ])risoners or to I'JiovinE for their de-
cent and pioper su])[»ort, there have been recent in-
stances of ireatiiieiit of sucli i)risoners which would
have disgraced the most l»arl;arous a^'es. The cruelty
of t\h) Spaniards to the French i)risoners confined at
Cahrera, and of the rebel autliorities to the United
States soldiers conlincd at liichniond, Andcrsonville
and other southern ])rison pens, furnish some of the
d.-irkest ])a,j::es in modern history and arc disgraceful
to the per].etratoi's.''

Ilie words *' release" and "provide'' should be cs-
l)ecial]y noted as well as the admission of the fact
that the prison horror of the civil war is without an
example in liistory. Tlie suilering among the prison-
ers on the island of Cabrera extended over a period of
three years and of (;,IM)() prisoners * half of that nuni-
lur survived. Tlie avera.iie duration of life among
thiin w;is six years; in Andersonville the average dur-
ation of life was lunety-fivc days. In the flice of.the
magnitude of the liorror, is it i)Ossible for one to con-
ceive of su(di ntter depravity of human nature that a
l^erson could be found willing to further hasten- the

*KolK;rt Southey, Ilislory of IV-iiiiisiilar War,

iNTK<)i)r( riox. XI

work of death in the nianiier attributed to Captain
Wirz ?

And will the so])er-niin(l<,'d at this day a(hnit, iliat
ho woidd hdw hvcn allowed to do such Ucndish work
even by the people with wlioui we were at war, after
their soldi(>rs in the 'iifld had spared tlie liv(\s of tlie
captives amid the carna^'e of thcj iMltlc-lield ?• Cer-
tainly not. The i)eople of tlie C4)nfederacy were alive
to their responsibility in this case and the acts of
Wirz, even if they resulted in the destruction of life,
will appear entirely eoinpatible with the highest aims
of humanity— that of saving life.

And it is the denial of such aims and elTorts and,
the condemnation of his acts as deeds ofji fiend in-
carnate, behind which the secret of Anderson ville and
of the i)rison horror is hidden, tliat here is ])ointed
out the problem which history must solve for the sake
of humanity and above all for the sake of the cause of
popular government.



Object Lesson on Pkotection



Captain Henry Wirz assumed the control of the in-
terior managenicnt of the Andersonville prison about
the end of March, l.S(U. He was a native of Switzer-
land, the scion of a patrician family of Zurich, where
his relatives held prominent positions. He came, it
is reported, to the United States in 1849 and after a
short stay in Louisville, Ky., settled in Louisiana, to
practice medicine. When the war of secession began,
he joined his neighbors in the defense of a cause which
they believed to be just. For the fact of his active
participation in the civil war he certainly deserves n(
special censure. He was a man of family and as ht
had probably lenmed to appreciate his neighbors ht
chose rather to follow their fortunes instead of desert-
ing them at tliat time. In this respect ho stands far
above many of those who, while over ready to de-

11 .\M)i:iis. iw 11 i.i:.

Tiounce liim, failotl to t;ilu' part in active defense of
ilie cansc Wwy ]n\'iv]\i\vd to lioliove to be just.

(';i|.iaiii Wiiv, li:hi been wmuikIimI in the battle of Bull
iJiin in IS(il Mini was aftiTwards eiiiploycd in Kicli-
iiK'iid as a <h rk. Ambrose S[)enceT, the author of an
ailc",«d aiilhtiiiic; "Narrative of Andcrsonvillc" docs
iK.t iiuotiMii the !act ..[ Wirz luiving been wounded,
ail o'iii:-i.»ii not without iiuportjince sinceit is clairiicd
that. !iis M'h'ction for tlie position was on account
ol' his "kunwH cruelty." The same author states, tliat
later Mil, W'lr/ was sent on a tour, to inspect the mili-
t:iry ]iiisous throu;^liout the South. In tlie summer
of I.s(;.': hr \v;is >ent to I'luri.j.e to carry dis])atclies to
the <h|.l.Miiatie and linaneial a.irents of the confederacy
an«i ittuiiit'd in .January, bsdl.

1 li ins r;.pa(ity a.^ superijit.-ndent of the prison, Cap-
ta'.i W ir/ was respoiisilde to the c*)mman(k'r ol the
uiihtaiy po^t, Jh-i,^adicr General .lolm 11. Winder, a
\V< .-t I'liint graduate. Prescott Tracy, wlio was cx-
chan-. ,r f(.r tiie i)iirpose of su])mitting to President
I .inc. .hi a memorial, setting' forth the suffering's of
ihr ].iisonris t.f Andcrsoiiville, speaks of the two
ni< n a>r..lluws; *'A> far as we saw General Winder
and C'a]>tain Wirz, thi' f.»rmer was ki'nd and consiih-r-
atc in his jiianiicr, the latter liarsli, though not with-
Mut kind feelinj^'s.'' Tliis statement was made in
\\aslnngti»n Au-;. Kl, bsdl, and it certainly coincides
witli tile gi.od (Opinion of Wirz expressed by prisoners
..n tii.ir leaving AiuU-rsonville. Fair minded men
w;ll admit that the direct contr<d over MO, 000 men re-
.[iiired lirmiiess w hieh, in a case like tiiis, might, of ne-


cessity, become sternness or even severity, according
to the obstacles ho had to overcome for the purpose
of accompHshing the object at which he aimed.
But firmness and even severity was essential for the
proper majiagciiiont of the i)rison, i)rovided he, from
the standpoint of tlie humanitarian, took sucli interest
in the welfare of the piisonera as the emergencies of
the situation demanded.

The prisoners liad to look ui)on him as an authority
comjietent to enforce obedience to his orders as well
as to atl'ord i)r<>tection against wrongs from any side.
The exercise of that power brought upon him tlio
odium of a brute and a fiend. An evident disadvantage
to him was his faulty pronunciation, due to physi-
cal ol»stacles. ]Iis speech was intermixed with the
Alemanic gutturals, a peculiarity he had in common
with Dr. Stampdi, tlie president of the Alalxama Claims
Commission, and almost every other one of the illus-
trious men of Switzeila^iid. But this had not been
considered a demerit antil the ethnographic discovery
was made in the case of Wirz.

The straightforwardedness of the Swiss and a reso-
hitc impulsiveness, characteristic to them, appear to
have had some weight in the estimation of tlie char-
acter of Wirz, on the ])art of the prisoners and it is
in this light that the term "harshness," as used by
Tracy, should be interpreted. This trait, however,
aroused much of the animosity shown against him
and this is reasonaldy explained by the character of
the men in his charge, for they belonged mostly to


tlmt class of people, ^vllicll is very apt to allow judg-
ment to l»e c'loutlcd l>y prejudices.

Wirz hud evidently had some military experience
before lie entered the Confederate army. The "Son-
derbujids war'' in Switzerland had been fought but a
few years before ho left his old homo in Europe and it
is more than probable that his knowledge of interna-
tional law may have prompted the Confederate author-
ities to selcet him for the responsible positions ho held.
That he ehose the internationid code as his guide for
the management of the prison there can be no doubt ;
and as an ollicer, acting under the authority of a belli-
gerent power, he had t<) pursue a course in conform-
ity with that law. This position is indirectly conceded
as correct by the United States S\ipreni0 court, ^vhich
has held: **The war i)i tlie Unitetl States was accoin-
panied by the general incidents of an internatioiial

The condilions arising from an outbreak of a civil
war are further stated by \ -ittel, an authority on in-
ternational Ljw, as follows :

*' Civil war breaks the bonds of society and of the
government; it gives rise in a nation to two indijpend-
ent parties, who acknowledge no common judge.
They are in the position of two nations who engage in
disputes, and, not being nble to reconcile tlieni, hav(.'
recourse to arms. The com n) on laws of war are in
civil v.ars to be observed on both sides.''

That Wirz assumed liis duties in a manner which
attracted some attention is confirmed by Spencer,
who says :

**llis, Wirz's, assumiuion of duty was marked by a


rjidicp.l .'liiinj^^o in the f:j\iar(liTi}^% feeding and treatment
uf the [»risoners under his cliarge.''

He adds that the chiuige was for the worse, but tliis
observation, if correct, marks the diilerence in tlio
standpoints of the two men. Spencer, the civilian,
was unable to appreciate the position of Wirz, the
military officer, acting under the authority of interna-
tional law, which, to Spencer, seems to have been a
dark book.



Tlic tract ■>f liuid which oiico constituted the Con-
federate mihtary prison of Andersonyiile is located in
Sinnter county, (rcorj^ia, and is sixty-two miles south
of Macon and nine miles nortli of Americus. Tlie
conditions of climate are dcscrihed by Spencer as fol-

"Tlie climate is mild, althou^jh subject to extremes
of heat and (•••Id, tlie temperature ran^^in^^ durin;^' the
months of M;iv, June, July, Au^^ust and Sei)tember to
S.S de;;rees i^'alirenlieit in the shade, while with an ex-
termil exposure, the thermopieter in the same months,
110 degrees. The coldest weather of that rej^ion is
durin<; l)ecend'er ;ind January, when the ordinary
ran^'C^is about V2 de-;rees, although the mercury has
exhibited a minimum of bS degrei's, wlu>n ice of two
inches in thickness has been made, llain is not ex-
ceptional, for during the year of ISdt there were one
hundred and eighty rainy days, during which there
fell :»l.-JUo inches, while there were ninety-four humid
or moist d;iys. 13y barometrical observations Ander-
son ville is three hundred and twenty ieet above tide

The area laid out for the i)rison comprised twenty-
two acres, to which some more ground was added
during the summer, the entire prison measuring 1,540


TllK CAMP. li>

by 750 feet. A small stream of water divided tlie
camp in two parts, inclining toward each other with a
gradual slope ending in a swamp on each side, thus
olTei-ing tJic best conditions for j)ropor drainage. The
ground was covered with heav}- timbei whicli was cut
down, the trees being used as pickets, planted close
together in a trencli live feet deep, with the earth af-
terwards thrown around their bases. Two smaller
surrounding stockades, one sixteen, the other twelve
eet high were built later and were intended for offense
and defense. The four angles were strengthened by
earth works armed with cannon, which could sweep
the entire inclosure.

The first attachment of prisoners arrive<l on Feb. 15,
ISOl. They came from lUcbmond. The first com-

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Online LibraryHerman A BraunAndersonville, an object lesson on protection. A critical sketch → online text (page 1 of 11)