The Horrors of Andersonville: Life and Death Inside a Civil War Prison


Conditions at Andersonville were indeed deplorable. The soldiers drank from polluted water and ate meager rations-mainly bug-infested cornmeal and bacon, which was often consumed raw, as there was little firewood for cooking. While some prisoners managed to make tents or shanties, many had to survive in the open without blankets or adequate clothing. Disease was rampant.

The camp had other dangers as well. Guards could shoot prisoners for just reaching across the deadline-an ...

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Conditions at Andersonville were indeed deplorable. The soldiers drank from polluted water and ate meager rations-mainly bug-infested cornmeal and bacon, which was often consumed raw, as there was little firewood for cooking. While some prisoners managed to make tents or shanties, many had to survive in the open without blankets or adequate clothing. Disease was rampant.

The camp had other dangers as well. Guards could shoot prisoners for just reaching across the deadline-an internal border 15 feet from the stockade walls. Some prisoners turned against each other in hopes of earning extra rations. And for a time, a gang called the Raiders preyed on fellow prisoners.

Of the nearly 45,000 prisoners that came to Andersonville, more than 13,000 died. When the Civil War ended, many people felt outrage. Was the camp commander Captain Henry Wirz ultimately responsible for these horrors? Or was he unfairly executed as a scapegoat for the atrocities of the camp?

Using diaries, letters, official U.S. government war records, media of the time, and other primary source documents from both Confederate and Union soldiers, author Catherine Gourley pieces together the life and death stories of Andersonville, revealing that the horrors of war include far more than what happens on the battlefield.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Greg M. Romaneck
The Civil War was the bloodiest conflict in American history. In just four years, over 630,000 American soldiers perished in a war that pitted fellow countrymen against one another. Perhaps no chapter in the history of the Civil War is more disturbing than the fate of prisoners of war. Prisoners in both the North and South fared poorly. Among the pantheon of Civil War prisons none has a grimmer reputation than Andersonville. Located in rural Georgia near the town of Americus, Andersonville was a truly hellish place. In the roughly twelve months that Andersonville was operational, over 13,000 inmates died of starvation, illness or other avoidable causes. The stories of Andersonville, its inmates, and the fate of the camp commandant after the war are grist for the mill of author Catherine Gourley's substantial talent, as evidenced in this publication. Focusing on both the events that make up the history of Andersonville and the stories of a cadre of specific prisoners, Gourley's book does an outstanding job of telling the terrible story of the most notorious Civil War prison. After reading this insightful book, youngsters will be left not only with a clear picture of the historical events that surrounded Andersonville but also the human face of such pointless cruelty. This is a first-rate work which will help readers to better understand one of the darkest sagas of American history. Reviewer: Greg M. Romaneck
VOYA - Jonatha Basye
Civil War historians are more than familiar with Andersonville. Officially known as Camp Sumter, Andersonville was a place of extreme suffering and horror for Union Prisoners of War. Of the 45,000 soldiers who were housed in the camp, nearly 13,000 perished because of overcrowding, disease, poor sanitation, and exposure to the elements. Much of the book follows several different Union soldiers who passed through Andersonville's gates. Some of them were fortunate enough to survive the atrocities within the camp. Many survivors returned to the North and relayed their stories to those who would listen. They also helped create a memorial and cemetery to commemorate the men who lost their lives in Andersonville. Their stories live on in the pages of this book. Gourley touches on many different aspects of what life was like in the camp. Each section focuses on a different topic: distribution of rations, prison slang, lice, scurvy, blockade-runners, and writing letters to name a few. The book is also broken down into a timeline of sorts: Part 1 discusses what happened in the camp from December 1863 to November 1864; Part 2 focuses on the court martial of Captain Henry Wirz from May November 1865. Captain Wirz was the commandant in charge of Andersonville and was blamed for much of the suffering that occurred. This will be a great addition to any American History or Civil War collection. Social Studies teachers will find this a valuable source when presenting American History curriculum to their students. Reviewer: Jonatha Basye
School Library Journal
Gr 5 Up—To tell the story of the notorious Civil War prison, the author relies upon memoirs of soldiers who survived the camp; government documents, including the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion; and contemporary newspapers and periodicals. A history of the camp's origins is followed by an engrossing story of deterioration and despair not only for the Union soldiers housed within Andersonville's walls, but also for the Confederacy. The author focuses on six Union soldiers, including John McElroy, who was 16 when he enlisted in the Illinois Cavalry in 1862 and spent 14 months at the prison and later wrote a memoir. Others include James Madison Page, who wrote a book about Henry Wirz, commandant at Andersonville and the only Confederate officer hanged for war crimes, and John Ransom, who kept a detailed diary of his experiences. Along with Wirz, two other Confederate officers played a part in this story as well as three individuals who were associated with Wirz's trial. Combined with photographs and illustrations, the firsthand accounts and quotations make a compelling, interesting book. Numerous sidebars offer intriguing stories about hospital gangrene and surgical fevers, distribution of rations, escape attempts, and cleanliness issues such as lice. A welcome addition for all Civil War collections.—Patricia Ann Owens, Wabash Valley College, Mt. Carmel, IL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780761342120
  • Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/1/2010
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 698,078
  • Age range: 14 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: 990L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Table of Contents

Author's Note 6

Cast Of Characters 8

Prologue Captured! 10

Part I The Camp, December 1863 To November 1864

Chapter 1 On Belle Isle 14

Chapter 2 The Road To Americus 26

Chapter 3 The Flying Dutchman 42

Chapter 4 The Will To Survive 60

Chapter 5 The Raiders And The Regulators 80

Chapter 6 General Exchange 98

Chapter 7 Leaving Andersonville 112

Part II The Court-Martial, May 1865 To November 1865

Chapter 8 The Fiend 126

Chapter 9 Pacts And Fabrications 144

Chapter 10 Remember Andersonville! 160

Epilogue After Andersonville 168

Cast Of Characters Revisited 172

Source Notes 180

Selected Bibliography 184

Further Reading, Film, And Websites 187

Index 189

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  • Posted March 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    An fine introduction for young readers

    Catherine Gourley is an award-winning author and editor of books for young adults, with more than twenty titles to her credit. Her latest work, The Horrors of Andersonville: Life and Death Inside a Civil War Prison, will appeal not only to youth, but also to any Civil War buff looking for a good overview of the infamous Confederate-operated prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia. The author interweaves a fictional cast of characters, both those wearing the blue and those of the gray persuasion, to introduce the reader to the misery and suffering that marked the conditions in what was arguably the worst prisoner-of-war camp in the country during the Civil War.

    Skillfully telling the story of the main characters without sacrificing reality, Gourley uses sidebars to give the reader more depth and details on such topics as burying the dead, distribution of rations and supplies, President Lincoln's views on prisoner exchanges, medical conditions, real-life escape attempts, and facts and fabrications that have arisen over the years since the camp was closed and its commandant, Swiss-born Henry Wirz, became the only Confederate officer executed for war crimes.

    Gourley's fictional "band of brothers" must recover from the shock of being taken prisoner, endure the humiliation of initial captivity at Richmond's Belle Isle, live through the long and grueling transport to southern Georgia, and then find a way to survive (or not) at Andersonville. She introduces a number of protagonists, including members of a wicked gang of "Regulators," fellow Union prisoners, who control the social and "economic" circles within the ranks of the prisoners.

    Her writing style is lucid and well flowing, with believable character definition and a steady pace and style that invites the reader to turn the page and learn what happens next to the heroes and villains. The side bars can be distracting if the reader skips between the storyline and the factual details presented, but that is a minor issue and perhaps it is best to read the story and then go back and pick up the facts before a second reading for context.

    The book is filled with illustrations, period photographs, and other useful information, although maps would have been useful for the new Civil War reader who might not know where Belle Isle was located within the Confederacy versus Andersonville and other locations mentioned. She also could have worked in the story of the Sultana, an overcrowded Mississippi River transport vessel that exploded and sank rapidly, killing more than a thousand exchanges prisoners, including hundreds of ill-fated soldiers from my native Ohio.

    All in all, Catherine Gourley's interesting book should appeal to a generation that needs to better understand our country's rich heritage, both the good and the bad. Few of the modern generation know much about the horrors of Andersonville, other than to perhaps have seen the old TNT mini-series on DVD or on-demand downloads. She is to be commended for tackling a difficult subject like Andersonville and making it come alive for the casual reader.

    The Horrors of Andersonville: Life and Death Inside a Civil War Prison Camp
    Catherine Gourley
    Twenty-first Century Books, 2010
    192 pages, illustrated, hard cover with dust jacket
    ISBN 978-0-7613-4212-0

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