Progress Notes



Joe Pryor - News Tribune Article Monday, June 04, 2007


Monday, February 4, 2008

Progress Notes

Last week on our way south for a three week vacation we stopped at Andersonville, Georgia to tour the Andersonville prison camp where the Confederate Army held more than forty five thousand Union soldiers during the Civil War (photo 01 of prison site 2008).

01 Andersonville Prison - Looking North
01 Andersonville Prison - Looking North

Because of inability to transport food and other supplies due to supply routes being cut off by Union forces in addition to severe overcrowding due to absence of alternative prison camps, conditions at the prison camp deteriorated, especially during the last part of 1864 and early 1865 (photo 02 of prisoners). Disease and starvation killed some 14,000 Union soldiers during the time the prison camp was in operation.

02 Prisoners at Andersonville
02 Prisoners at Andersonville
Click photo for a larger view

My interest in stopping to tour the site which is now managed by the U.S. Park Service was inspired by the fact that a well known Miller County farmer, George Washington Edwards (photo 03), was one of the prisoners interred there for six months in 1864.

03 George Washington Edwards
03 George Washington Edwards

You can read more about George Edwards and his family on our own website at:
www.millercountymuseum.org/people/bio_e.html

Next click on "E" in the alphabetical bar at the top of the page and then scroll down the page until you reach the articles about George Edwards. These articles were written by Doris Edwards Wyrick, his granddaughter, and by Karen Wyrick Smith, his great granddaughter.

Upon entering the administration building at the AndersonvilIe prison site I was offered the opportunity to confirm that George Edwards indeed had been a prisoner there in 1864 because the Park Service has on computer all the prisoners who were sent there as well as a complete record of all who died there. The computer very quickly came up with the name of George Washington Edwards of Ohio (from where George originally came).

After touring the prison site and learning about the inhuman conditions which the prisoners suffered I was amazed that George Edwards was able to survive his stay at the prison, especially since he was imprisoned for six months. I do need to mention that the museum guide at Andersonville emphasized some Union prison sites had mortality rates almost as severe as Andersonville, but Andersonville was the worst. Before taking a photographic tour of the prison camp I am inserting here a summary of the history of Andersonville taken from the following website:
www.nps.gov/seac/histback.htm

"In November of 1863, Confederate Captain W. Sidney Winder was sent to the village of Andersonville in Sumter County, Georgia, to assess the potential of building a prison for captured Union soldiers. The deep south location, the availability of fresh water, and its proximity to the Southwestern Railroad, made Andersonville a favorable prison location. In addition, Andersonville had a population of less than 20 persons, and was, therefore, politically unable to resist the building of such an unpopular facility. So Andersonville was chosen as the site for a prison that would later become infamous in the North for the thousands of prisoners that would die there before the war ended.

After the prison site was selected, Captain Richard B. Winder was sent to Andersonville to construct a prison. Arriving in late December of 1863, Captain Winder adopted a prison design that encompassed roughly 16.5 acres which he felt was large enough to hold 10,000 prisoners. The prison was to be rectangular in shape with a small creek flowing roughly through the center of the compound. The prison was given the name Camp Sumter.

In January of 1864, slaves from local farms were impressed to fell trees and dig ditches for construction of the prison stockade. The stockade enclosure was approximately 1010 feet long and 780 feet wide. The walls of the stockade were constructed of pine logs cut on site, hewn square, and set vertically in a wall trench dug roughly five feet deep. According to historical accounts, the poles were hewn to a thickness of eight to 12 inches and "matched so well on the inner line of the palisades as to give no glimpse of the outer world" (Hamlin 1866:48-49). A light fence known as the deadline was erected approximately 19-25 feet inside the stockade wall to demarcate a no-man's land keeping the prisoners away from the stockade wall. Anyone crossing this line was immediately shot by sentries posted at intervals around the stockade wall.

Included in the construction of the stockade were two gates positioned along the west stockade line. The gates were described in historic accounts as "small stockade pens, about 30 feet square, built of massive timbers, with heavy doors, opening into the prison on one side and the outside on the other" (Bearss 1970:25). Each gate contained wickets (door-sized entryways).

Prisoners began arriving at the prison in late February of 1864 and by early June the prison population had climbed to 20,000. Consequently, it was decided that a larger prison was necessary, and by mid-June work was begun to enlarge the prison. The prison's walls were extended 610 feet to the north, encompassing an area of roughly 10 acres, bringing the total prison area to 26.5 acres. The extension was built by a crew of Union prisoners consisting of 100 whites and 30 African Americans in about 14 days. On July 1, the northern extension was opened to the prisoners who subsequently tore down the original north stockade wall, then used the timbers for fuel and building materials. By August, over 33,000 Union prisoners were held in the 26.5 acre prison.

Due to the threat of Union raids (Sherman's troops were marching on Atlanta), General Winder ordered the building of defensive earthworks and a middle and outer stockade around the prison. Construction of the earthworks began July 20th. These earthworks consisted of Star Fort located southwest of the prison, a redoubt located northwest of the north gate, and six redans.

The middle and outer stockades were hastily constructed of unhewn pine logs set vertically in wall trenches that were about four feet deep. The middle stockade posts projected roughly 12 feet above the ground surface and encircled the inner prison stockade as well as the corner redans. The outer stockade, which was never completed, was meant to encompass the entire complex of earthworks and stockades. The posts of the outer stockade extended about five feet above the ground surface.

By early September, Sherman's troops had occupied Atlanta and the threat of Union raids on Andersonville prompted the transfer of most of the Union prisoners to other camps in Georgia and South Carolina. By mid-November, all but about 1500 prisoners had been shipped out of Andersonville, and only a few guards remained to police them. Transfers to Andersonville in late December increased the numbers of prisoners once again, but even then the prison population totaled only about 5000 persons. The number of prisoners at the prison would remain this low until the war ended in April of 1865. During the 15 months during which Andersonville was operated, almost 13,000 Union prisoners died there of malnutrition, exposure, and disease; Andersonville became synonymous with the atrocities which both North and South soldiers experienced as prisoners of war.

After the war ended, the plot of ground near the prison where nearly 13,000 Union soldiers had been buried was administered by the United States government as a National Cemetery. The prison reverted to private hands and was planted in cotton and other crops until the land was acquired by the Grand Army of the Republic of George in 1891. During their administration, stone monuments were constructed to mark various portions of the prison including the four corners of the inner stockade and the North and South Gates."


Looking Northwest as depicted by this old sketch in which Stockade Creek clearly is seen in the middle (photo 04), one can see the twenty five or so acres which contained the prison camp.

04 Sketch of Andersonville Prison Camp
04 Sketch of Andersonville Prison Camp

Even after enlarging it for a maximum of 20,000 prisoners, more than 33,000 prisoners were forced to crowd together, a situation which led to disease and because of a shortage of food, inanition, starvation and death. On a tour of the prison camp one can stop at several important sites where signs are present with diagrams and narratives. In the next few paragraphs I will include photos I took of these signs which help to tell the story of the prison camp.

On these images, in order to read the captions and narratives, click on the image which will open a new browser window with a larger version. You can then bring up an even larger image by clicking on the new image (your cursor will change to a magnifing glass) in which the wording will be large enough to read.

However, on some computers, after the first click on the image opens a new browser window with a larger image as described above, you will need to slide the arrow cursor off the image and then slide it back on the image after which you will find an orange icon in the lower right corner which when clicked will magnify the image even more.

The prison layout is depicted in this drawing (photo 05). The prisoners were brought into the camp on the North at the North Gate (photo 06). The Command Post was to the South located on a slightly elevated area (photo 07).

Click on photos for larger view:

05 Prison Layout
05 Prison Layout
06 North Gate
06 North Gate
07 Post Command
07 Post Command

This gave the Commander, Captain Henry Wirz (photo 08), opportunity to observe the entire camp with full perspective (photo 09). Sentries were posted every 100 feet along the top of the stockade walls at locations called "Pigeon Roosts" (photo 10). New arrivals were shocked at the depraved conditions to which they were to be exposed (photo 11).

08 Captain Henry Wirz
08 Captain Henry Wirz

Click on photos for larger view:

09 Commander's Perspective
09 Commander's Perspective
10 Pigeon Roosts
10 Pigeon Roosts
11 World of Lost Spirits
11 World of Lost Spirits

The prison hospital was nothing more than a place to die (photo 12). Escape attempts were attempted by tunneling (photo 13). However, only three hundred escapes were recorded, almost all by prisoners who were working outside the prison, a rare circumstance. Prisoners had to provide their own shelters (called "Shebangs") (photo 14); no buildings were built to provide shelter.

Click on photos for larger view:

12 Prison Hospital
12 Prison Hospital
13 Escape Tunnels
13 Escape Tunnels
14 Shebangs
14 Shebangs

The creek which ran through the camp, called Stockade Creek, was insufficient to supply enough water for the prisoners causing dehydration and because of lack of flow, the water became stagnant and contaminated leading to further illness. Prisoners desperately began digging for water and if found would guard it closely or sell it. Dying of dehydration became the predominant cause of death next to starvation and disease. Prayers desperately were offered asking for rain, and one night, rain did come. Thousands of starving thirsty prisoners witnessed something that became one of the persevering memories of all who were imprisoned as well as the Confederate guards themselves; for suddenly a lightning bolt came down from the sky and struck the ground near the southern boundary of the camp creating a large hole from which sprung an artesian fountain of water, enough to more than supply the thirty some thousand prisoners present (photo 15). This miraculous event is one of the enduring stories of Andersonville for which purpose a monument was constructed in the early part of this century which was located over the spring which still runs to this day (photo 16).

15 Providence Spring
15 Providence Spring
Click on photo for larger view

 

16 Providence Spring Memorial
16 Providence Spring Memorial

George Edwards was present at Andersonville the night of the lightning bolt which opened the ground and let the spring water escape. Mr. Edwards' obituary records the fact that, indeed, he was one of those prisoners who were there the night of the creation of the spring (photo 17 of obituary). The availability of fresh water in abundance undoubtedly saved many lives.

17 George Edwards Obituary
17 George Edwards Obituary
Click photo for larger view

Captain Henry Wirz (see photo 08 above), officer in charge of Andersonville, was tried and hanged in Washington D.C. in 1865. The following photo is of the hanging (photo 18).

18 Gallows
18 Gallows

The trial was very controversial since many witnesses gave testimony that Wirz tried as best he could to improve conditions at the prison camp. Others, however, severely criticized him. Also, as mentioned above, some Union prison camps had similar conditions to Andersonville. However, the Andersonville prison camp was considered by most observers to have been the most egregious example of all the prison camps of the Civil War, North or South. You can read more about the trial of Captain Henry Wirz as well as the terrible conditions at Andersonville at the following web site:
www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/Wirz/Wirz.htm

This site also has many links to other sites which in turn have links such that if you are so inclined, you could spend several hours reading about Andersonville as well as the controversial trial of Captain Henry Wirz.

Regarding the burial of those who died at Andersonville briefly mentioned above, because so many were dying so rapidly, mass burials were performed laying the bodies side by side with only a stake in the ground at the head with the prisoner's identification number; no names were recorded at the burial site. The names of these prisoners would have been lost forever were it not for the heroic efforts of Dorence Atwater (photo 19), one of the prisoners who worked in the hospital who carefully recorded the name of each and every one of the prisoners who died and were buried at Andersonville, putting the names alongside the identification numbers.

19 Dorence Atwater
19 Dorence Atwater

He secretly kept the list until after the war when he made known its presence. You can read Dorence's own testimony about his heroic actions at this website:
www.angelfire.com/ga2/Andersonvilleprison/ATWATER.html

Without this list the current cemetery at Andersonville could never have been renovated as a memorial because the names of those buried at each gravesite would never have been known. You can view some photos of the cemetery at the following website:
www.flickr.com/photos/80297647@N00/206779191/in/set-72157594283817210/

Karen Wyrick Smith one of our regular museum volunteers who has donated much of her free time helping us renovate and organize the museum, is a great granddaughter of George Edwards. She has researched much of the Edwards' family history, some of which is on our website to which I referred earlier in this narrative. Karen has a photocopy of an article about her great grandfather's experience at Andersonville originally printed in the Miller County Autogram in October of 1922 which I copy below (photo 20). You may need to use the magnifier device on your computer to read it with greater facility.

20 George W. Edwards Newspaper Article
20 George W. Edwards Newspaper Article
Click photo for larger view

One interesting document regarding George Edwards' experience as a Union soldier was recorded by a medical officer in regard to a clerical error which led to a temporary but erroneous order to declare Mr. Edwards AWOL. The medical officer wrote an explanation of the error which exonerated Mr. Edwards (in spite of numerous spelling errors by the officer!). Karen Wyrick Smith, great granddaughter of Mr. Edwards, found the document in some old files and it is copied here (photo 21).

21 George Edwards Civil War Document
21 George Edwards Civil War Document
Click photo for larger view

I was very impressed by the quality of the National Park Service's management and presentation of the Andersonville Prison museum and cemetery. I believe that a visit to this historical site is well worth the effort if one wants to really understand the tragedy of our country's war against itself nearly a century and half ago. Only approximately 250 Missouri citizens were prisoners at Andersonville. Although George Edwards was originally from Ohio, his adult life was predominately lived in Miller County Missouri and we are proud to record his heroic story for the historical record on our website.


We were saddened to learn of the passing of Judson Berry (photo 22) of Jefferson City last Thursday, January 31. Judson was a native of Tuscumbia who worked for many years in Washington D C. for the National Security Agency. He and his wife, Mary Lou, moved back to this area in 1985. My wife Judy and I knew him, his siblings and his parents very well. Judson was an active supporter of the Tuscumbia schools, community and especially the Miller County Historical Society.

22 Harry Judson Berry
22 Harry Judson "Jud" Berry

You can read his obituary at the following website:
www.legacy.com/NewsTribune/Obituaries.asp?Page=LifeStory&PersonID=102457391

That’s all for this week.

Joe Pryor



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