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Confederate prisons.

Libby, Belle Isle, Castle Thunder, and Danville prisons, in Virginia; Salisbury prison, in North Carolina; Andersonville and Millen prisons, in Georgia; and Charleston, in South

The prison-pen at Millen.

Carolina, were the principal places of confinement of Union prisoners during the Civil War. In these prisons the captives sometimes endured terrible suffering from cold, hunger, filth, and cruel personal treatment. Libby prison had six rooms, each 100 feet in length and 40 in breadth. At one time these held 1,200 Union officers of every grade, from a lieutenant to a brigadier-general. They were allowed no other place in which to cook, eat, wash and dry their clothes and their persons, sleep, and take exercise. Ten feet by two feet was all the space each man might claim. Their money, watches, and sometimes part of their clothing were taken from them when they went in. For a long time they were not allowed a seat of any kind to sit upon. The board floors, on which they slept, were washed every afternoon, and were damp at night, causing many to become consumptive and die. The glasses in the numerous windows were mostly broken, and they suffered intensely from cold in winter, for they were allowed only one blanket each, and these in time became ragged, filthy, and filled with vermin. Turner, a lieutenant of General Winder, the commissary of prisoners, seemed to make cruelty his study. He ordered that no one should go within 3 feet of a window. A violation of the rule gave license to the guard to shoot the offender. The prisoners were also deliberately starved. The process of slow starvation began in the fall of 1863, and was so general and uniform in all the prisons that, according to a report of a committee of the United States Sanitary Commission, there can be no doubt of its having been done by direct orders. This starvation was done when, as has been proved, there was abundance of food at the command of their jailers. Boxes of food and clothing, sent to the prisoners from their friends at the North, were denied them after the beginning of January, 1864. “Three hundred boxes,” said the report, “arrived every week, and were received by Ould, the commissioner of exchange, but instead of being distributed, were retained, and piled up in a warehouse near by. . . . The officers were permitted to send out and buy articles at [299] extravagant prices, and would find the clothes, stationery, hams, and butter, which they had purchased, bearing the marks of the Sanitary Commission.” Over 3,000 boxes were sent to the captives in Libby Prison, and on Belle Isle, in the James River near by, which were withheld from the sufferers. The treatment of the prisoners in the Libby was no worse than in other prisons, nor nearly so bad as on Belle Isle and at Andersonville. That island is in the James River, in front of Richmond, containing a few acres. A part of it was a grassy bluff, with a few trees, and a part was a low, sandy barren, a few feet above the surface of the river, which there flows swiftly. In the scorching summer sun the prisoners were kept on the open sand-barren, and never allowed to touch the cool grass or feel the grateful shade of the trees—a spot a few yards off—which appeared to them like

Scene in Libby prison.

heaven, in comparison with the spot on which they were suffering.

The barren spot, about 5 acres, was surrounded by earthworks, and guarded by Confederate soldiers. There, without shelter, though lumber was plentiful, nearly 11,000 captives were, at one time, crowded into that bleak space of 5 acres. The winter of 1863-64 was one of the severest ever experienced in the South, but no shelter was provided for the captives. The mercury sank to zero, and snow lay deep on the ground around Richmond. Ice formed in the river, and water left in buckets on the island froze 2 or 3 inches in thickness in a single night. To keep from perishing, the captives lay in the ditches on top of each other, taking turns as to who should have the outside. The report of the committee informs us that “in the morning the row of the previous night could be marked by [300]

Andersonville prison.

the motionless forms of those who were sleeping on in their last sleep—frozen to death!” “The cold froze them,” said the report, “because they were hungry; the hunger consumed them, because they were cold.”

At Andersonville, Ga., the sufferings of the captives were still more acute and dreadful, and the cruelties practised upon them were more fearful. The prison was one open pen, in an unhealthy locality, near Anderson Station, about 60 miles from Macon, and surrounded by the most

Castle thunder.

fertile region of the State. The site was selected, it is said, at the suggestion of Howell Cobb, the commander of the district. It comprised 27 acres of land, with a swamp in the centre. A sluggish and choked stream crawled through it, while within rifle-shot distance flowed a brook of pure, delicious water, 15 feet wide and 3 feet deep. Had that stream been included in the pen, the prisoners might have drunk and bathed. The spot selected for the pen was covered with pine-trees. These were cut down. When some one suggested that the shade would alleviate the sufferings of the prisoners, Capt. M. S. Winder, son of the commissary of prisoners at Richmond, declared that they were to be intentionally deprived of that comfort. The pen was a quadrangle, with two rows of stockades from 12 to 18 feet in height; and 17 feet from the inner stockade was the “dead line,” over which no captive could pass and live. It is unnecessary to detail the cruelties suffered here by Union prisoners. Suffice it to say that unimpeachable testimony proves that they were far [301] more malignant and intense than at Libby or Belle Isle. They were worse after the elder Winder arrived. At one time more than 30,000 human beings were crowded into that awful prison-pen, sometimes smitten by the hot sun, at other times flooded with filthy water; exposed to frost and heat; to the bullets of guards in wanton sport; beaten, bruised, and cursed; driven to madness and idiocy; starved into skeletons; and worse than all, tortured by the false declaration of their jailers that their government had forsaken them, leaving them no other relief from misery but in death. To almost 13,000 of these sufferers that everlasting relief came. The graves of 12,462 of the victims tell the dreadful tale. Of these, only about 450 are unknown. (See Report of a committee of the United States Sanitary commission.)

The prison records show that the

Total number of prisoners received at Andersonville was49,485
Largest number in prison at one time, Aug. 9, 186433,006
Total number of deaths as shown by hospital register12,462
Total number of deaths in hospital8,735
Total number of deaths in a stockade near3,727
Percentage of deaths to whole number received26
Percentage of deaths to whole number admitted to hospital69 12-17
Average number of deaths for each of the thirteen months958
Largest number of deaths in one day, Aug. 23, 186497
Cases returned from hospital to stockade3,469
Total number of escapes328

The method of burial in the graveyard, a short distance from the stockade and prison-pen, was by digging trenches varying in length from 50 to 100 yards, in which the bodies were laid in rows of 100 to 300, without coffins or the ordinary clothing, with an allowance of space for each body of not more than 12 inches in width, and then covered with earth. Henry Wirz, a Swiss by birth, was appointed by General Winder as superintendent of the prison and prisoners. In the summer of 1865 he was tried on numerous charges of the most horrid cruelties towards the prisoners at Andersonville. He was found guilty of all the charges and hanged in November. It was proved that in a small hut between the stockade and the graveyard he kept nine bloodhounds to hunt down prisoners who should attempt to escape.

Castle Thunder, in Richmond, was a Confederate prison in which civilians who were suspected or known to be in opposition to the Confederates were confined. It was to the offenders against Confederate authority what Forts Lafayette and Warren were to like offenders against the national government. Castle Thunder was a tobacco warehouse on the corner of Carey and Nineteenth streets. It was burned early in September, 1879.

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