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The monument to Captain Henry Wirz.

Mortality in Confederate and Federal prisoners Contrasted and causes Explained.

Earnest effort has been made towards the erection of a monument to Captain Henry Wirz in Richmond, but as yet there has been no definite action.—Ed.

Over a month ago there appeared in the Atlanta (Ga.) Constitution a bitter attack upon the Daughters of the Confederacy, of Georgia, by Corporal James Tanner. We old Johnnies regretted very much to see this coming from Corporal Tanner, as, when he was in Georgia two or three years ago attending the reunion of the Blue and the Gray, he expressed such love for us that we thought he had buried the hatchet so deep that certainly the edge would be molted off, and it would be harmless forever and ever. But it seems from the first sentence we read in his onslaught, that he has resurrected the old glory implement, and put a fiercer edge on it than it ever had before. We cannot understand how Corporal Tanner expects us old fellows in Gray to love and hobnob with him when he attacks our women in this way. We will stand many things that he might say about us, but when he says anything about our women, he gets all of the fuz turned the wrong way.

The first sentence in his attack is so bitter that I did not believe that it could emanate from the corporal. He says:

‘When the accursed soul of Captain Wirz floated into the corridors of hell, the devil recognized that his only possible competitor was there.’

The writer of this article served in the First Virginia Cavalry during the war; was born and reared in Virginia and remained there until September after the surrender of the Confederate armies. He was never at Andersonville, and can say nothing personally as to the treatment of the Federal prisoners at that point. He, however, is somewhat familiar with the conduct of the Confederate States government towards it prisoners. [227]

When Captain Wirz was being tried, I was at that time not far from Washington. Everybody in that part of Virginia regarded the trial of Captain Wirz as a political crime. We were satisfied that the United States government was using suborned witnesses, and we knew positively that they refused to allow persons, some having been guards at Andersonville, to testify in the Wirz case. The whole aim of the trial seemed to be to connect President Davis with the ill-treatment of the Federal prisoners.

Corporal Tanner denies that his government offered immunity to Wirz if he would implicate President Davis in the ill-treatment of prisoners at Andersonville. He simply makes a statement, and produces no evidence to the contrary. I wish instead of this bitter diatribe Corporal Tanner had undertaken to give a fair, square and honest history of the question of treatment of prisoners by the two governments during the war.

We are one people and one country, all desiring the upbuilding of our country. Then why is it that the people of the North are not willing for the truth to become history where the South is concerned, but, on the contrary, will continually try to poison the minds of people at home and abroad against us? I can see but one reason for it, and that is that the conduct of the Northern people and the Abolition party and administration was so heinous that they do not want the truth known, and they will not have it if they can prevent it. All the Southern people ask is that the whole truth be made history, for our children and their children's children, to know. We did nothing during that period that we are ashamed of.

But, as to Captain Wirz; Henry Wirz, an educated gentleman and physician, came to this country from Switzerland. While serving in the Confederate Army he was so badly wounded in the right shoulder as to permanently disable him for field service; that—and likely due to his being a physician—he was detailed for service at Andersonville.

There is much testimony extant of his very kind and humane treatment of the prisoners under his charge. As to the accusation of Wirz ‘beating prisoners,’ the fact of his having a broken right shoulder brands that as false. [228]

Judge Robert Ould, Confederate Exchange agent, and who knew more about the treatment of our prisoners than any other man, was subpoenaed, but not allowed to testify in Wirz's behalf.

In the trial of Wirz, certain Federal prisoners swore that he killed certain prisoners, August, 1864, when he was actually absent on sick leave in Augusta, Ga., at the time.

When Captain Wirz was offered pardon if he would implicate President Davis ‘with the atrocities at Andersonville,’ he replied: ‘I know nothing about Jefferson Davis. He had no connection with me as to what was done at Andersonville.’

In his confession to Father Schadewell the night before he was hung, he said: ‘I have spurned an offer of full pardon if I would say President Jefferson Davis instigated the cruelties claimed to have been perpetrated at Andersonville.’

My dear Corporal can you give us from your ranks a nobler and more heroic spirit than this? Only a little aid to the willing and waiting perjurers to libel Jefferson Davis and you can go free. Why, my dear sir, were your people so anxious to convict Mr. Davis of cruelty to prisoners? First, it was to draw the attention of the country from your own outrageous treatment of Confederate prisoners, and other crimes, and, secondly, to show that Mr. Davis had committed heinous and inhuman crimes, would blacken the cause and degrade the people he represented.

If Wirz had shot down 7,000 Federal prisoners, still the records of treatment of prisoners would have been favorable to the South.

Surgeon-General Barnes, of the United States, reported that there were in Northern prisons during the war 220,000 Confederates, and of this number 26,246 died, or 12 per cent. and that there were 270,000 Federals in Southern prisons, and 22,576 died, or 9 per cent. Now, my comrade, where does the cruelty come in? You admit in your statement the above facts, but say ‘the explanation of this is extremely simple. The Southern prisoners came North worn and emaciated—half starved. They had reached this condition because of their scant rations. They came from a mild climate to the rigorous Northern climate, and although we gave them shelter and plenty to eat, they could not stand the change.’ [229]

I do think that the most bald-faced statement to make to an intelligent people that I have ever read. That ‘half-starved’ Confederates died because they were well fed and well sheltered. That argument is about as good as the corporal could produce, that to feed and shelter men well will cause death.

It has been the custom of Southern people to go North and enjoy that delightful climate since the first settlement of the country. The people of the North have always contended that they could not come South in the summer or hot season because of the unhealthiness of the climate. This idea obtained all over the North and South as well.

After the surrender of Lee at Appomattox, I wanted to go to Georgia where my parents were then living, but my relatives in Virginia insisted that I should not do so, because I would certainly die from fevers.

Now, as a matter of fact, nearly all of the great battles were fought in the summer time, and, of course, at that time the most of the prisoners were captured. The prisoners of the North had come from a healthy, salubrious climate and were carried South into a malarial climate where every member of a household was expected to take their dose of quinine every morning before breakfast. At the same time, of course, the majority of the Southerners were captured and carried into the cool, pleasant and exhilarating climate of the North, the very place that they naturally would have gone if there had been no war and they could have done so. But instead of building up from being taken to this Northern climate, 3 per cent. more Southerners died than Federal prisoners that were carried to this unhealthy climate in the South. I beg Corporal Tanner to explain to us why this was. He says that is was because they got ‘good shelter and plenty to eat.’ God help the mark. But as a matter of fact they were given neither shelter nor much to eat, and we have stacks of testimony of thousands of them starving to death and many freezing to death from lack of shelter and clothing to protect them.

Let us take Elmira, N. Y., prison and see how well fed and sheltered the Confederate prisoners were. The official report of that pen shows that during the month of September, 1864, which was the first month that the quota of that prison was [230] made up—out of less than 9,500 prisoners, the deaths were 386. The records at Andersonville show that between the 1st of February and 1st of August, 1864, out of 36,000 prisoners, 6,000, or one-sixth died.

In other words, the average mortality at Andersonville, during that period, was one thirty-sixth of the whole per month, while at Elmira, N. Y., it was one-twenty-fifth of the whole. At Elmira it was 4 per cent.; at Andersonville, less than 3 per cent.

The record also shows that scurvy appeared in this prison in a very malignant form. ‘Men became covered with fearful sores, many lost their teeth, and many others became cripples, and will die cripples from that cause.’ On the 1st of September the report showed out of 9,300 prisoners, examined, 1,870 were tainted with scurvy. As scrobatic remedies were plentiful, there was no excuse for this being so prevalent.

Now these reports were made during the healthy season at the North, and when there was no epidemic in the country and of Andersonville in the hot summer months. The Federal government had all the world to draw from for remedies for these suffering men, but they let them die. The North had blockaded our ports and made medicines contraband of war, and Corporal Tanner himself says that our soldiers when captured were half starved.

When an army goes into battle all surplus baggage, etc., is piled up and left under a guard so that they may be better able to handle themselves. Of course, when taken prisoners in battle they have no overcoats or blankets; they were hurried North with the light dress that they had been wearing in the South, and no man has ever yet heard of the United States government furnishing the Southern prisoners with an overcoat.

At the beginning of the war the Confederates made a practice of paroling prisoners. The Federal government would not recognize these paroles, so we then kept our prisoners confined.

President Davis offered to ship to New York cotton with which to buy overcoats and blankets for our prisoners North, but the United States government refused it. He finally succeeded through England in making a trade by which a few were supplied with blankets. [231]

The Confederate government was the first to ask for an exchange of prisoners, giving as a reason that they could not give them the attention that they ought to have.

President Davis proposed to the Federal government that they should send their own surgeons and medicines to care for the Federal prisoners, with the understanding that the South would send like surgeons and medicines North. The Federal government refused it.

President Davis turned a sergeant and several men loose with the understanding that they would go to Washington and tell Mr. Lincoln of the inability of the Confederate government to care for their prisoners, and to ask for their exchange, but the sergeant and men were sent back to prison to die.

In August, 1864, Judge Robert Ould, agent of exchange, sent a written statement exhibiting the mortality among the prisoners at Andersonville, to the Federal government.

President Davis then offered to turn over to the Federal government without exchange 1,300 sick prisoners at Andersonville in the month of August. The Federal government did not send a vessel to Savannah to receive them until December. In that length of time hundreds of them had died. When the vessel came they not only turned over all the sick they could, but put in many well men, in fact, all that they would receive, in order to get shut of prisoners.

Not only that, but the Federal government at the beginning of the war made all medicines contraband, a thing that only one other civilized government in the world was known to do, and one of the most horrible crimes that any government could be guilty of. Your people knew that there was not a pharmaceutical laboratory in the South, and the only way they could get remedies for the sick was from the herbs in the woods and meadows, and that not only the sick and wounded of the Confederate Army in hospitals would die by thus being deprived of medicines, but the women, children and negroes at home would likewise perish for the lack of medicines, and your own prisoners, as well. Thousands of surgical operations on Confederates and Federal wounded were performed without anesthesia. The blockading of our ports and the making of medicines contraband of war was an everlasting and black crime. [232]

The Confederate government was aware of its inability to properly care for prisoners, and made every effort possible to turn them over to the Federal government, so that they could care for them, but they refused continually and finally General Grant put his positive veto upon the exchange of prisoners upon the grounds that if they were exchanged they would have to fight them. That is the greatest monument that I know of to the Confederate soldier; that they could not whip them in the field and the only way to conquer them would be to starve them to death.

The Federal prisoners got the same rations that the Confederate soldiers in the field received; the only difference being that the prisoners got their's regularly, while the soldiers in service frequently failed.

Another unavoidable hardship and one that caused many deaths in Southern prisons was that, except in Virginia and Tennessee, the South raised no wheat, and after 1862, the wheat growing section of these States was lost to the Confederacy. Hence, as corn was our only staple for bread, all were glad to get cornbread, a diet that the Northern man was unused to, and a less healthy bread in hot weather than wheat bread.

Your armies had burned our mills, destroyed our crops, both growing and gathered. Sheridan wrote Grant that a ‘crow passing through the Valley of Virginia would have to carry a haversack.’ Sheridan also said that ‘nothing should be left the people but eyes to lament the war.’ How then, Corporal, could we treat our prisoners ‘more humanely’ with our eyes running great creeks of tears.

Sherman said ‘war is hell,’ and he made it so, and I charge the Federal government with deliberately starving and freezing to death Confederate prisoners. It was in their power to feed, clothe and shelter these men, but they gave them insufficient, and in some cases rotton cornmeal, when plenty of good, wholesome food could be had, and when remonstrated with, informed the prisoners that they were giving them the same diet that the South was giving the Northern prisoners; and Corporal Tanner says our soldiers were half-starved, and hence we could only half-feed our prisoners. [233]

The Confederate prisoners were told in every pen that the reason they got no better rations was that they were retaliating for the South's treatment of their prisoners. Now, Corporal, where does the inhumanity come in? Tell us why that in a healthy climate, where there was an abundance of fuel, provisions and medicines and all the humanity in America and a rich government, that 3 per cent. more Confederates died in your prisons?

Corporal, will you also kindly tell me how you ‘well fed and sheltered’ the 600 Confederate officers that your government placed on Morris Island, S. C., under fire of the Confederate batteries. Why did you do this? And why did you feed these men on rotten cornmeal and pickles, the cornmeal being alive with worms, and you allowed them no means of cooking the meal?

When Camp Chase was first established as a military prison the Confederates were taken to the old Fair Grounds and kept the first winter in the stalls that had been erected on the ground for horses. Their other prisons seemed to have been selected with a view to exposing the prisoners to the hardships of the climate. For instance, Johnson's Island, Sandusky and Elmira, N. Y., were about as cold and bleak places as men could be placed in prison.

I think Corporal Tanner and his friends should shut up on this prison business until they can tell us why 3 per cent. more Confederates died in their hands in a healthy and salubrious climate, where there was plenty to eat and plenty to wear, than died in the sickly, unhealthy Southern climate, where men were not used to it; when the Confederate soldier was living on less than half rations, and the women and children at home were faring but little better, and where the only medicines in reach were the herbs that grew in the woods.

So far as a monument to Captain Wirz is concerned, the ladies of the South are going to erect one, and it will be built just as tall as it will be possible for them to get the money to build it, and they will inscribe upon it the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help each one of them God so far as they know the truth, regardless of Corporal Tanner's opinion or any one else's. It is a little peculiar that the people of the [234] North can put up their fine monuments in the South, right under our noses, falsifying history, and think it is all right, but the Southern people must say nothing. The Grand Army of which he was commander-in-chief, has been objecting to using histories in the Southern schools not written by Northern authors, teaching our children that we were rebels, traitors, knaves, liars and the most brutal people living.

Unfortunately, the South has always depended upon the North for their textbooks; but when the war was over and they sent down here such infamous stuff to poison the minds of our children, we had simply to throw it out, and have published histories of our own. I will illustrate the case of one little public school girl in Nashville, Tenn. Soon after the war, upon being called to her history class, she told the teacher that she had no lesson, and when asked the reason, informed her that she had burned up her history. When being reproved for having done so, the little girl informed her that she would not study a history so full of lies as hers was, and went on to explain that her history stated that the Confederates were whipped at the battle of Chickamauga. The fact of the case is that the battle was begun at Crawfish Springs, thirteen miles south of Chattanooga, and on the evening of the second day all of the Yankees were cowering under the banks of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, and the Confederates were on Missionary Ridge, a mile and a half from the river, their army not only being whipped, but all of it except Thomas's corp, having been panicked. Now, this army was whipped and driven thirteen miles, and yet their historians claim the victory. Our little children knew better and simply resented it.

Corporal Tanner holds the Confederate government responsible for the treatment of the prisoners, and says it was their duty to treat them humanely, whether the United States government would agree to an exchange or not. He therefore agrees that his government refused to exchange the prisoners.

In the next paragraph, he says, ‘The plea that it could not have fed them better is conclusively refuted by the fact that when Sherman passed through that country he found an abundance of provisions for his great army of 60,000 men.’ Yes, we [235] admit that Sherman did pass through the country and got plenty to feed his 60,000 men.

The Confederate States government passed a bill requiring all farmers and planters to pay a tithe of all their products. Later Congress enacted a law that everything should be taken for the support of the army, except a certain allowance, which was stated, for each member of a family.

In the summer of 1864, the writer was detailed to go to Rockingham county, Va., and was furnished with a wagon train to collect the tithe and the excess provisions for the use of the cavalry corps. This was the case all over the South, and where any family had more than enough provisions to supply them until next crop, the government took it for the support of the army. This was the condition in Georgia when Sherman marched through.

So when Sherman took in his swath of sixty miles he did not cripple the Confederate Army at all, but he took this from the mouths of the women and children that were at home. I wish we could get before the Northern people the horrors of that march through Georgia of Sherman's, of which they so delight to sing.

Sherman claims that in passing through Georgia he damaged the State $380,000; $180,000 of which he used for the support of his army and $200,000 was destroyed.

As to the responsibility further of the treatment of prisoners, wont the corporal take the evidence of his famous general, Benjamin F. Butler. This is Spoons Butler, or Beast Butler, who attempted to whip the women of New Orleans with his army. To quote from General Butler's speech at Lowell, Mass.: ‘Every one is aware that, when the exchange did take place, not the slightest alteration had occurred in the question, and that our prisoners might as well have been released twelve or eighteen months before as at the resumption of the cartel, which would have saved the republic at least twelve or fifteen thousand heroic lives. That they were not saved is due alone to Mr. Edwin M. Stanton's peculiar policy and dogged obstinacy; and, as I have remarked before, he is unquestionably the digger of the unnamed graves that crowd the vicinity of every [236] Southern prison with historic and never-to-be-forgotten horrors.’

Who is to blame, Corporal Tanner?

My dear friend, the thing that irritates the Southern people is that you Northern people never fail, when you have an opportunity to libel the Confederate government for its ill-treatment of prisoners. We know it is absolutely false, and we know that any intelligent man in the North who knows the facts, knows it is false, and hence we very naturally resent it.

Now, I would like to do this: I would like for the G. A. R. to appoint three good, conservative men from there, and form a committee to bring out all the facts bearing on the treatment of prisoners, provided that the result of the investigation would be published in all the leading magazines of the United States and one or two each in England, Germany and France.

I think a great deal of the ignorance in the North of the period of 1850 to 1874, is due to the fact that Northern magazines and papers would not publish anything that reflected upon the Northern people, particularly during the war. Thousands of articles have been written for Northern magazines by Southern men, trying to put before the country the truth of that period and denying the scurrilous and libelous articles written by the Northern people of the South, but the publishers would refuse them and do even at this time.

Next week I want to inform Corporal Tanner of some reasons why the South is solid, and why it is so strange to the Northern people that the Southern people have not forgotten all about the war.

With much respect, comrade,

J. R. Gibbons, Of Stuart's Cavalry.

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