Andersonville Prison

Andersonville Prison Map
Andersonville Prison Map. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division

Although it was officially known as Camp Sumter, one of the most notorious Confederate prisons was commonly called Andersonville Prison after the Georgia town where it was located. The prison was originally built by the Confederate States of America as a stockade to hold no more than 10,000 Union Army prisoners captured during the U.S. Civil War. That number was quickly exceeded upon opening and at one point over 26,000 Union soldiers were confined there.

 

In late 1863, the Confederacy was concerned with a possible Union attack upon Richmond, Virginia. Richmond was home to prisons housing over 13,000 captured Union Army soldiers. Therefore, the Confederacy began looking for a new site to build a prison. 

The site for this new prison had to be centrally located deep in the Confederacy, with close proximity to mature timber, the railroad, and fresh water, but also with a low population concentration. Andersonville Station was chosen due to being on the Southwestern Railroad and having a population of only 20. The freshwater supply for the prison came from what was called Stockade Branch, which was an offshoot of the Sweetwater Creek, and it flowed directly through the prison yard. Mature pine logs from the area were used to build the approximately 15 feet tall wall that surrounded the prison pen. The stockade walls were 8 to 12 inches thick and sentry boxes were placed 90 feet apart along the perimeter.

Within two weeks of the prison opening, 15 prisoners escaped by scaling the stockade wall. They were soon captured after being tracked by bloodhounds. In response, stockade authorities created an area called the dead-line fence inside the prison that was about 19 feet from the wall and marked by a simple post and rail fence.

 Any prisoner who crossed the 'dead-line' was subject to being shot by the prison guards.

Andersonville began receiving prisoners in February 1864 and by June 1864 the population had swelled to 26,000 Union soldiers. At this time, the prison pen had been extended to enclose over 26 acres. During the time it was open, Andersonville held more prisoners than any other Confederate prison. The most that the prison held at any one time was around 32,000 captured soldiers, some of whom had been wounded in action. 

The conditions inside the walls of Andersonville were horrendous due to lack of adequate food, disease, water that had become tainted, and shelter that was inadequate to protect from the elements. Originally, prisoners were given salt, meat, and potatoes but these items were eventually removed from prisoner’s diets and replaced with a cornmeal allotment. Over time the amount of cornmeal allotted per prisoner was decreased, and then the daily distribution was halted.  Overcrowding at the prison caused the water supply to become tainted. In addition, a lack of medicine meant that those who became ill suffered gravely.

The only shelter for prisoners was for the most part homemade tents, but as the population increased more and more prisoners had no shelter whatsoever.

 The summers were hot and the winters were cold, and it has been reported that there were periods where in rained for several days in a row.  It was reported that prisoners, sometimes by the hundreds, would huddle together to try and stay warm.

Andersonville was only in use for about 14 months, during which over 45,000 Union Army prisoners were confined there. Of those, approximately 13,000 died. Due to a lack of food, malnutrition was rampant, with large numbers dying of starvation or parasitic diseases. Andersonville buried the dead in a cemetery that was situated just outside the walls of the stockade. 

Today, you can visit the Andersonville National Historic Site which contains not only the Camp Sumter military prison, but also the Andersonville National Cemetery and the National Prisoner of War Museum.

 On July 26, 1865, Andersonville National Cemetery was established and by 1868, over 13,800 Union soldiers had been buried there. As being one of fourteen National Cemeteries, it is open for burials of veterans or their spouses. The National Prisoner of War Museum opened in 1998 and honors U.S. prisoners of war from all wars our servicemen have ever fought.