The most infamous Confederate prison of the Civil War was at Andersonville, Georgia. It was known as Camp Sumter when the first Union prisoners arrived in February 1864. The original stockade was built to house 10,000 men, but as hundreds of captured prisoners arrived every day, the site quickly reached its capacity and exceeded it. Six months later, over 32,000 men lived in deplorable conditions inside the prison. In its 14 months of existence, 45,000 men came through the gates. Nearly 13,000 are buried there.
There were 150 prison camps on both sides in the Civil War, and they all suffered from disease, overcrowding, exposure, and food shortages. But Andersonville was notorious for being the worst. Some men agreed to freedom and fought for the South as galvanized soldiers, fearing the dangers of imprisonment to be greater than those of the battlefield. Eventually, General Sherman’s occupation of Atlanta forced officials to move prisoners to other camps in Georgia and South Carolina.
The only official executed for war crimes in the Civil War was Captain Henry Wirz, the Confederate commandant of Andersonville Prison. He was charged with conspiring with others to “injure the health and destroy the lives” of Union soldiers. While no conspiracy was ever truly proved, public opinion forced a guilty verdict and his execution by hanging.
The National Park Service maintains the prison site, its museum, and the Andersonville National Cemetery. Information about the 150th anniversary of Andersonville Prison is available here.
Despite the terrible death toll, thousands of men survived Andersonville and related their stories. If you had an ancestor confined to Andersonville, or any other Civil War prison for that matter, their tales may have been passed down over the last century and a half. The military records of the men who survived Andersonville Prison can be found in the documents on Fold3. One survivor, R.K. Sneden of the 40th New York Volunteers, was a prisoner there until April 1864. He drew several colorful maps of Camp Sumter and its vicinity that include captions and details of interest.