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Andersonville, GA

I couldn’t stand being so close to the Andersonville Confederate war prison site without checking it out. While the structures were gone long ago, archaeologists have mapped out the site and partial replicas and markers are in place to show a taste of it. The National Prisoners of War museum there fills in the rest. Keep in mind, that while this prison may be the most notorius during the Civil War, that is not to say that Union prisons were that much better. Neither side made any preparations for POWs before running off to war.

The prison was built to house 10,000. It began filling up even before it was finished. They did add more space eventually though still not enough for the 45,000 prisoners there at the end of the war. No housing or bedding was provided. The food was scarce. Water came in through a small stream which was downhill from the guards camp (a poor layout) and full of pestilence. Despite pleas from both commandants, supplies were channeled to fighting soldiers and not to enemy captives.

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For a while there was a captive exchange program but the Union ended it with objections to black soldiers (both freemen and former slaves) being sent into slavery when captured rather than being treated like the other POWs. Then too, as General Grant noted, every enemy soldier released is another soldier they would have to fight again thus making the war last longer. Delegates repesenting the captured Union soldiers with signed petitions from them were sent back to the camp to return into prison life.

For a short time, a gang was formed called the Raiders. They were mostly those of low reputation before the war. They mugged and killed other prisoners for food, shoes, anything of value. The ring leaders were rounded up one night, tried, and hanged. You can see the 6 graves side by side there.

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Inside the prison stockade, the second prison commander added a fence called the deadline. Step into the area between the walls and fence and you would be shot by the guards in the towers outside the walls. That commander was later hung in Washington, DC for the atrocious conditions though he claimed he was just following orders and had done nothing wrong.

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Of the 45,000 men imprisoned in Andersonville, 14,000 died there. Others were never the same or healthy again. The graves were marked only by numbers originally but a smart orderly in the hospital kept a copy of the death list and came back after the war to put the names with the numbers so they would not go unremembered.

Many states have erected memorials here to their soldiers who died here.

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This is also the location of the National Museum of POWs. Many aspects of POWs such as the Geneva Convention, Codes of Conduct for captured soldiers, female POWs, etc. are discussed inside. I found it interesting that Great Britain’s code tells soldiers to obey their captors, act appropriately, etc. while the US tells soldiers they must resist and attempt to escape at every opportunity.

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