American Civil War Prison Camps
Prison Mortalities: Many prisoners died in Civil War prison camps, some from disease and infection, some from beatings and trigger happy guards, and some from starvation, exposure to the elements, and unsanitary conditions. There were some exceptions, but conditions in most prison camps were appalling. It is estimated that at least 50,000 Americans died in Civil War prison camps.
Prison Activities: Much of a prisoner's daily life was centered on survival. Prisoners built huts, repaired clothing, and nursed the sick. Some prisoners were allowed to plant vegetables gardens. To alleviate boredom, prisoners played cards. They whittled dominoes and chess pieces. They formed musical groups, both vocal and instrumental, and performed concerts for prisoners and guards. One of the most popular activities was baseball. Union soldiers taught Southern soldiers how to play, and both sides formed teams, while spectators cheered for their side.
A Very Good Prison Camp, Castle Pickney: The Castle was located in Charleston, South Carolina. It was the first prisoner-of-war camp. It was one of the few that was not a death camp. The prisoners, with the assistance of their Confederate guards, established rules for prison life. Time was put aside each day for prisoner recreation. Throughout the war, Confederate guards made sure the Union prisoners were clean and fed, and that sanitary conditions existed.
A Very Bad Prison Camp, Andersonville: When prisoners first arrived at Andersonville, Georgia, the prison had not yet been completely built. Shelter and medical care were unavailable. Conditions did not improve as construction of the camp was finished. Along with the Georgia heat, the lack of adequate medical care, exposure to the elements, starvation, and brutality, the prison was overcrowded and filthy. At one time, 32,000 prisoners were jammed into a space designed for a maximum of 10,000 prisoners. The North had camps nearly as horrible, like the Union prisons at Elmira and Rock Island, but Andersonville was the worst of all the prison camps. Of the 50,000 men who died in prison camps during the Civil War, approximately 13,000 of them died at Andersonville.
War Crimes, Andersonville, Commander Wirz: When the war ended, the Andersonville Prison camp commander, Commander Wirz, was arrested for war crimes. He was the only Confederate arrested for war crimes in the war. Prosecutors told him his sentence would be greatly reduced if he would admit he was following orders from Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee to murder and mistreat prisoners. Commander Wirz refused to do that. Nor did he admit he murdered or mistreated any prisoners. There were witnesses who claimed they saw Wirz shoot prisoners at a time Wirz could prove he was on sick leave and not even at the prison. The court disallowed evidence in his defense. Witnesses for Wirz were intimidated. He was found guilty and executed.