The Andersonville Prison Camp: North-American Perspective

The American Civil War, 1861-1865 (April), was a landmark of historical era, where the inhabitants of the great nation fought each other, pitting the Confederates against the Unionists. As such, this war emanated from the withdrawal and secession of several Southern states, which formed the Confederate States of America, with the remaining being referred to as the Union/North. The town of Andersonville, Georgia during this era, remained unaffected by the war until the final phase, with the prisoner-of-war camp - Camp Sumter/Andersonville Prison - which is famed for having held an approximate 45,000 Union prisoners, with about 13,000 of them dying from malnutrition, starvation and diarrhea amongst other communicable diseases mentioned in example of book review essay

Reasons for the Interest in and Significance of this Topic

The aforementioned topic is of fundamental interest to all individuals, especially within the United States of America, who should be knowledgeable of the historical fact and presence of the prison camp. This is due to the fact that it does cover an important historical event, where captured Union soldiers were held and subjected to inhuman surroundings with the result being the death of an estimated 13,000 individuals. It was by far the largest institution holding captured soldiers during the war and, thus, provides a perfect case study as to the then ongoing activities within such confines, which unfortunately resulted in the aforementioned loss of thousands of lives. Moreover, a critical issue is the consequential influence and effect that the prison camp had on not only its surrounding environment, but the greater American social system.

A General Overview of Sources to be Used Towards Completing this Assignment

A number of authors have extensively researched on the critical aspect of the American Civil War, in addition to addressing various pertinent measures, effects, influences and features of the war. With respect to this, there has been a greater focus on the aforementioned Andersonville Prison Camp (Fort Sumter) with its overall influence on not only the Southern Confederate States, but also the greater American region, by way of shaping the Civil War’s historical journey. There is Greer, who provides an account of the existent casualties resulting from the war with its consequential social-economic and political effects. Robert S. Davis, through his various contributions, specifically delves into the prevalent state of affairs within this specific prison, as well as the reasoning behind its establishment.

John C. Inscoe provides an account of outsider perspectives and prisoner accounts with reference to this and other camps present. James M. Page seeks to portray the truth about this camp, with reference to existent propaganda disseminated during this era as part of the greater war strategy by both warring sides. Joe H. Seagars provides with what may be termed as a southern perspective, in which southerners were blamed for the deaths. Chipman provides crucial detailed information with reference to this tragedy, compiled from various accounts, testimonies and reports of witnesses/prisoners who survived.

To better understand this, there is the need for one to acknowledge the aspect of slavery which provided the catalyst for the war. As a fractious issue, especially with reference to the extension of slavery into America’s western territories, it unfortunately led to the death of over half a million soldiers (from both sides), with the additional destruction of much of the South’s existent infrastructure. This did eventually result in the Confederacy’s collapse with slavery being abolished. What was to follow is the difficult and emotional Reconstruction Era, where focus lay on the restoration of a sense of American national unity, in addition to the guaranteeing freed slaves’ rights and freedoms. War hostilities necessitated the imprisonment of various Union soldiers, captured in some of the Confederate’s successful battles.

As Greer portends, there were many casualties resulting from the Civil War in addition to those recorded at the infamous Andersonville Prison Camp amongst others both in the Northern and Southern regions of the USA. As such, casualties from the Civil War (a combination of ten successful battles) were mainly young men from both sides, with a number of civilians being victims. Due to the lacking medical capacities of current times, many of injured civilians often succumbed to their battle injuries, with the disease being behind a majority of such deaths. Due to the lack of clear statistics, casualties were often approximated/rounded off, or tagged as KIB (killed in battle), and hence the lack of their accounting. To be noted is that, while referring to casualties, a lot of prisoners-of-war were not accounted for, as they were often either traded or paroled and hence the effect of being counted more than once.

Symbolically, the initial war hostilities began when forces from the Confederate side fired upon the aforementioned Fort Sumter, which was by then a key fort under the control of the Unionists stationed in South Carolina. This resulted in President Lincoln’s call for each of the Unionist states to provide troops necessary to retake the strategically placed port. Hence, its capture and maintenance as an asset of the South also educated its establishment as a prisoners-of-war camp, symbolically being used for propaganda purposes. Its main aim was the seclusion, torture and punishment of caught POWs, especially with reference to the North’s Unionist soldiers. Adding on to that was its crucial role of intimidating any individual in the Southern-held territories of the consequences to be faced in case of mutiny or defection to the North.

The camp played the crucial role of holding captured prisoners-of-war. They were confined to a small, deplorable space with inhuman conditions, as a result of the increasing pressure that the Confederate South was experiencing under Union battle victories. Hence, it served as an avenue of revenge, where captured Unionist prisoners were tortured, confined, starved and shot to death repeatedly. It acted as a form of retribution to the Unionist armies’ advancement. As such, it served as a symbolic rallying point for the Confederate South, displaying its gains and advancements, with reference to the civil war, and for intimidation purposes, where confederate army personnel who deserted were imprisoned and tortured.

Due to the inhuman living conditions, coupled by the torture, death, disease and starvation, it remains vividly clear that the prison’s role was vengeance towards the North. As Davis was to establish, the aforementioned aspects were prevalent, with the prisoner’s being checked in place by the snipers who shot on sight anyone attempting to even reach the deadline. This was simply a waist-high perimeter fence within the prison, which ran parallel to the existent stockade walls, intended for containing these prisoners till the Civil War’s end, or their deaths. As aforementioned, propaganda was essentially important as it denoted a specific direction in terms of thoughts, ideals and action-implementation, and hence was utilized effectively to the Confederate side’s advantage.

As aforementioned, the main aim of the camp was the physical, psychological and social destruction of the captured men, with the effect not only being on those captured, but also on the surrounding region, as well as the greater American arena. Starvation was frequent as the camp was poorly funded, in addition to being poorly provided for in terms of requisite resources. Water was from a creek, which unfortunately was also the same place where a majority of the camp went to relieve themselves. This portent mixture resulted in mass starvation with men being reduced to walking skeletons, with reference to those who survived while others died from scurvy, diarrhea and dysentery amongst other communicable diseases. Adding on to this were deaths resulting from infighting amongst the prisoners, hangings and shoot-on-site orders.

The primary cause of the en masse deaths witnessed, as Inscoe portends, is the then prevailing living conditions not only within this notorious arena, but also other existent camps within the state of Georgia. Diseases were the major cause of death. Scurvy, diarrhea and dysentery claimed many lives at a given time. Adding on to that was the aspect of prevailing weather conditions, which majorly affected captured prisoners due to the lack of provision of basic shelter. As aforementioned, this prison camp was also utilized for propaganda purposes, which the Confederate South utilized effectively, with the aim of mitigating thoughts of mutiny, as well as encouraging its fighting armies to march on to their next battles and victories.

After the Confederate’s surrender, as Chipman elucidates, this camp, amongst others present within the South, vividly provided details of the harrowing nature of human survival and existence. From prisoner account and former confederate witness testimonies, as well as Union army soldiers, the picture portrayed of the center was indeed horrific and unimaginable in American history. It is this memory, which the American nation intended to conserve by way of establishing the Andersonville National Historical site and Cemetery and the National Prisoner of War Museum; all in memory of the great human cost and suffering incurred because of the Civil War, often considered as the worst in America’s history.

While other camps did exist, this specific one was to become notoriously remembered for its inhuman treatment of POWs, as well as the deplorable conditions there. While other camps did exist, both in the North and the South, and especially within the State of Georgia, with reference to the Confederate South, none was as deplorable as this specific camp. As vividly expressed by Dr. James Jones, who sent a letter to the then existent Confederate’s Surgeon General, which depicted the deplorable conditions, graphically detailing this in the report aforementioned.

To conclude, it would be right to say that the prison-camp’s existence was not unique as others did exist in both warring parties’ territories. However, it is the kind of inhuman nature that this prison symbolized, which provides for a critical place of the camp in American history. To be noted is that its prisoners were not foreigners, but fellow citizens, warring each other along ideals and self-interests.