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Prisoners of war North and South. From the Journal, Atlanta, Ga., June 3, 1906.

[A remarkable essay by Miss Ruth Rodgers, the fourteen year old daughter of JudgeRodgers and Mrs. Robert L. Rodgers, a brilliant and talented girl, who has won a succession of badges, medals and blue ribbons since she first started to school.

On May 23, 1906, she won the McDowell Wolff medal for the best essay on ‘Prisoners of the Civil War,’ and was, also, awarded the prize offered by the State School Commissioner of Georgia, for the best essay on ‘Events of 1861—Their Importance and Influence,’ her essay being adjudged the best sent from Fulton county. She was valedictorian of the West End School, when it closed, and was at the same time announced the leader of her class for the year.

Judge Rodgers, her father, is the historian of the Atlanta Camp of Confederate Veterans.

It is gratifying to be informed that the cruel stigma may be removed from the memory of Captain Wirz.

At a meeting of the Louisiana Historical Association held in New Orleans, January 2d, 1907, ‘the Secretary laid before the Board correspondence regarding a history of “Andersonville” that is in preparation by an influential citizen of Montana, a Republican who has held important offices in his State, a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, who was for seven months confined at Andersonville, who proposes to publish his version of that prison. In it justice will be done to Wirz's memory. It will be shown that Wirz did his best with the scant means at his command to alleviate the condition of the prisoners. He was also a member of a prison committee that waited upon Wirz several times, and he says that Wirz always granted reasonable requests if in his power.’—Ed.]

In the consideration of the Civil war, one of the special, and most interesting in all of its various phases is the capture and treatment of prisoners of war.

In all nations or countries called civilized, when they may be engaged in war, it is customary for the contending parties to accept the surrender of men from the opposite army, when they may be [70] overtaken, and to hold in custody such as surrender. Such as are thus taken are put hors-de-combat by being put in prisons, and held as prisoners of war under such rules as are commonly regarded by what is termed civilized warfare, if, indeed, any people who engage in a war may be properly called civilized. Instead of being killed after their surrender, prisoners are taken and held in prisons so that they may not further fight until properly returned or exchanged.

The civil war in the United States was one of the fiercest struggles in history. The subject of prisoners in the civil war, and their treatment furnishes to the student of military history some of the most horrible and pathetic incidents of human suffering ever known in the world. Both sides of the contest, the United States and the Confederate States of America, have much to answer for in the matter of severe and cruel treatment of prisoners. The advocates and partisans of either side have often made charges of inhumanity against the other side.

The responsibility for the harsh and cruel treatment of prisoners is not easy to fix in any specific or definite degree, and must always be considered as general, except in some special and individual cases.

As to which side was more to blame than the other can only be fairly considered and estimated by taking a comparative view of the means, powers and resources of both sides for the proper treatment of prisoners.

In view of the superior advantages of the United States government, it seems that the fair and just judgment of true and impartial history must be rendered in favor of the Confederate States government. The Confederate government, at best, was the provisional, and was not well established as a permanent and reliable government. Its credit was not well established and and could not be counted on for any more than its immediately tangible and visible resources in hand at that time. Its only available asset for credit was the production of cotton, and at this period of war the raising of cotton was curtailed and limited so as to make an increase in substantial supplies for our armies. The property in negroes at this time was uncertain as to its permanent character or of duration, and was not available as security for credit.

Prisoners were simply so many parasites of the enemy on the Confederacy. They were a lot of idle, non-paying, burdensome [71] boarders, who had to be constantly fed and guarded and who did nothing to contribute to their own support. They were an incubus upon a government already too weak to carry its own burden, having a population of slaves who did not go into the armies to help fight the battles for constitutional principles of government wherein they were interested as to the whole number of slaves and counted for three-fifths of their number for representation.

Our women and children had to be supported while our men were engaged in the war. Then to take on an increase of hearty, hungry men of more than a quarter of a million was a great tax and undertaking for a people of limited means and resources.

Such was the condition of the Southern Confederacy when taking so many prisoners.

With the United States government matters were different, a government which the South helped organize and establish, a government of means, a government of prestige and power, and with unlimited credit and immense resources. The United States could afford to maintain as many prisoners as it could capture of the Confederate armies.

They could draw from the whole world for both men and money to meet their demands in emergency.

They could and did hire foreigners as soldiers for bounty, while native Southerners went to war without hire.

The total number of Federal prisoners captured by the Confederates was 270,000 by the report of Surgeon General Barnes, as quoted by Congressman Hill in his famous reply to Blaine, as shown by the official records in the War Department at Washington.

The whole number of Confederare prisoners captured by the Federals was 220,000. At once it is seen that the Federals were 50,000 more than the Confederates.

The number of Federals who died in Confederate prisons was 32,576, and the number of Confederates who died in Federal prisons was 26,436. So it appears, by official records, that more than 12 per cent. of the Confederate prisoners in Federal prisons died, and less than 9 per cent, of the Federal prisoners in Confederate prisons died, notwithstanding the difference and disparity in means and resources between the North and South, considering the superior advantages of the North over the South for the proper care of prisoners.


Prison points.

In the North were numerous places for prisoners. They were located at points as follows:

Alleghany, Pa., Alton, Ill., Camp Butler, Ill., Camp Chase, O., Camp Douglas, Ill., Camp Morton, Ind., Elmira, N. Y., Fort Columbus, N. Y., Fort Lafayette, N. Y., Fort Warren, Md., Fort Wood, N. Y., Fort Pickens, Fla., Point Lookout, Md., Rock Island, Ill., Johnston's Island, O., Louisville, Ky., Memphis, Tenn., Nashville, Tenn.

In this essay it is unnecessary to specify the number of prisoners in each station, as they were distributed to suit the wishes and conveniences of the government, presumably for their own convenience for supplies, guards and facility for keeping.

In the South prisons were located at Americus, Ga., Camp Sumter, Andersonville, Ga.; Atlanta, Ga.; Augusta, Ga.; Blackshear, Ga.; Cahaba, Ala.; Camp Lawton, Millen, Ga.; Camp Oglethorpe, Macon, Ga.; Charleston, S. C.; Florence, S. C.; Columbia, S. C.; Charlotte, N. C.; Salisbury, N. C.; Raieigh, N. C.; Danville, Va.; Richmond, Va.; Belle Isle, Castle Thunder, Crews, Libby, Pemberton's, Scott's, Smith's Factory.

The supposition is likewise that these places were selected for the convenience of the Confederate government for purposes of safety from raids for the release of prisoners and for proper care of prisoners.

The prison at Andersonville, called Camp Sumpter, was the most noted of all the Confederate prisons. In this prison there were more Union prisoners and more suffering than in any other prison in the Confederate States. There Captain Henry Wirz was in command, and to him has been charged the alleged cruelties and crimes at the prison.

It is undoubtedly true that there was much suffering in this prison, but it is hardly true that Captain Wirz was responsible for all of it, if for any.

He was Swiss by birth, a physician by profession, and he came to America long before the war and located in New Orleans, La. He entered the Confederate army and was severely wounded in a battle, so as to bar him from active field service. He was assigned and detailed for duty as commanding officer at Andersonville prison. [73]

After the war he was charged by the Federal authorities with various crimes at the prison. He was taken to Washington city, and there held to trial by a military court, which condemned him to be hung, and he was executed on the 10th of November, 1865.

The military court which tried and condemned Confederate Captain Henry Wirz was presided over by General Lewis Wallace, who subsequently became the famous author of the book known as ‘Ben Hur,’ which has been published in numerous editions and read by thousands of our people.

The work was also dramatized and presented on theatrical stages to the interest of many thousands of people and vast assemblies of spectators. I wonder if any of them ever thought of the author of ‘ Ben Hur’ as the same man and officer who ruled in the military court that tried and condemned Confederate Captain Henry Wirz?

The circumstances of the Confederate government rendered it practically impossible to give the prisoners all of their necessities.

Captain Wirz was condemned and hung as a cruel felon.

His cruel judge lived on and became famous. Does it not really seem like the irony of fate?

The United States was in better condition and with more favorable circumstances for the proper care of prisoners, yet they allowed our Confederate soldiers to suffer severely, many of them being put to death without cause of reason.

Many of them died from starvation and freezing, as occurred at Elmira, N. Y., Fort Delaware, Del., and at Sandusky (Johnson's Island), Ohio.

At Sandusky and Chicago are large cemeteries of our men who died in these prisons. Brave patriots of the Southland, they were true to the last, and they now rest in those cemeteries in view of those who opposed their cause, as though they are to be silent sentinels on guard forever for Southern manhood and courage, fidelity and fortitude, honor and heroism.

Indeed, it seems appropriate and timely that the United States should adopt the suggestion of the lamented President McKinley, that the Federal government ‘should share with us in the care of Confederate soldiers' graves.’ He said: ‘Every soldier's grave made during our unfortunate Civil War, is a tribute to American valor.’

It is simply a tale of horrors to read now the official reports of the lives of Confederate soldiers in prison. A significant fact with [74] regard to the records, that in the reports of the superintendents of prisons, under the headings of ‘conduct’ almost invariably show ‘good’ and ‘very good.’ Let us contrast these reports of uniform good conduct of Confederates in prison with the severity of the manner in which they were treated by their cruel guards. For men whose behavior was ‘good’ to be treated as they were was simply wanton cruelty without cause.

The south had a double duty imposed upon it, in the case of prisoners in their prisons and it also contributed to the comfort of Confederate soldiers in Northern prisons.

The Confederate government sent large quantities of cotton to the north to be sold and the proceeds to be applied for the purchase of supplies for the Confederates in prison.

Confederate General William N. R. Beall was in a Yankee prison. He was released on parole of honor and was designated for the purpose of receiving and selling the cotton and buying supplies, and distributing them amongst the prisoners at various prisons.

Eight hundred and thirty bales of cotton sent to New York, after being properly prepared for market, sold at public auction February 8th, 1865, at an average price of 82 cents per pound, netted $331,789.66, which sum was used for the purpose of buying supplies for our prisoners in Northern prisons.

On August 8, 1865, General U. S. Grant sent a telegram to General Butler as follows:

On the subject of exchange, however, I differ with General Hitchcock. It is hard on our men held in Southern prisons not to release them, but it is humanity to those left in the ranks to fight our battles.

To commence a system of exchange now which liberates all prisoners taken, we will have to fight on until the whole South is exterminated. If we hold those already caught they amount to no more than so many dead men. At this particular time, to release all rebel prisoners would insure Sherman's defeat and compromise our safety here.

After abundant and indubitable proofs, the responsibility for the suffering of prisoners North and South has been laid upon the authorities of the United States Government, and there let it abide in history.

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