February 27, 1864 – Confederate officials opened a new prisoner of war camp in Georgia that soon became notorious for its inhumane living conditions.
By this time, the tentative prisoner exchange cartel between the Federals and Confederates had virtually broken down for various reasons, including:
- Confederates would not recognize black prisoners as legitimate combatants eligible for exchange
- Federals would not ease the Confederacy’s manpower shortage by returning Confederate prisoners
- Confederates refused to negotiate with Major General Benjamin F. Butler, the new Federal agent for prisoner exchange, because they deemed Butler a war criminal for his dictatorial rule over New Orleans
Consequently, the number of prisoners began skyrocketing, and prisons in both North and South quickly became overcrowded. The Confederates held tens of thousands of Federal prisoners in Richmond, which was within striking distance of Federal guerrillas seeking to liberate them. Confederates also sought to address the problem of dwindling real estate in which to house this growing number of captives.
Confederate officials decided to set up a new prison camp near Americus, in southwestern Georgia. The climate in this area allowed for holding a large number of prisoners in an outdoor stockade. It was also an area relatively unaffected by the war, far from any potential Federal raiders. Moreover, it boasted plentiful natural resources, with a local professor stating that the water “may be considered as equal in purity to the purest well-water in the world.”
The prison was named Camp Sumter, located near Anderson Station on the Southwestern Railroad, in Sumter County. According to the professor, “there is no recognizable source of disease in the water and soil of Andersonville.” Confederates measured out and built a stockade 750 feet by 750 feet, with walls 15 feet high and a stream running through the compound. When residents refused to donate supplies or slave labor for construction, the foreman impressed their slaves into service.
By this month, the stockade featured two gates on the west wall, guard towers every 90 feet, and other facilities outside the compound such as a cook house, hospital, and sawmill. The prison was designed to hold 9,000 men. Colonel Alexander Persons of Georgia was appointed commandant of the new prison, which soon became known as Andersonville.
The first 500 prisoners from Belle Isle, Virginia, arrived on the 27th, before the compound was completed. The prison eventually grew to cover 26 acres and house some 30,000 prisoners. The Confederacy, having barely enough food or medicinal supplies for its citizens, had even less for prisoners. Efforts by President Jefferson Davis to procure medicines from the Federals to tend to their soldiers went ignored. Davis’s offer to allow Federal doctors to treat the prisoners within Confederate lines also went unheeded.
Widespread illness, famine, and disease ran rampant as a result. Others suffered from exposure due to a lack of adequate shelter from the elements. Andersonville quickly epitomized the brutality of military confinement.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21491; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 378-79; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 403; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 13; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 469; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 795-96; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q164