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Andersonville Prison

By the winter of 1863-64 the Confederacy was near the last of its resources and manpower. Knowing this, Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant refused to continue the prisoner-exchange agreement that had been in operation during most of the war. This action cut down on the number of Confederate soldiers Grant's army would have to face in the coming campaign, but it also meant death to a great number of Union prisoners who would otherwise have been exchanged.

The concentration of war prisoners in Richmond, Va., drained the local food supply and was a source of danger should the Yankees attack. To relieve the burden, a new prison site was selected in the heart of Georgia, near the village of Andersonville in Sumter County. The prison was officially named Camp Sumter. When the first prisoners arrived in late February 1864, they found 16.5 acres of open land enclosed by a 15-foot- tall stockade—and little else. The not-yet-completed prison provided little in the way of housing, clothing, or medical care. The only fresh water was a stream that flowed through the prison yard, with the downstream end serving as the camp latrine. During the next few months, 400 more prisoners arrived each day, and in June the prison was expanded to 26 acres. By then there were 26,000 men enclosed in an area intended to hold 10,000. By August the prison contained more than 32,000 Union prisoners.

Conditions at Andersonville were worse than at any other war prison, North or South. The Georgia heat, along with disease, filth, exposure, and lack of adequate medical care, took a fearful toll. In September 1864, Gen. William T. Sherman's Union army captured Atlanta and brought its cavalry within reach of Andersonville. The Confederacy relocated surviving prisoners to other camps, and Camp Sumter operated as a smaller facility for the rest of the war. But the summer had taken a terrible toll: of the 45,000 Union soldiers confined at Camp Sumter, 13,000 died.

Fascinating Fact: During the hottest part of the summer when the fetid stream was a mere trickle, a spring burst forth inside the stockade. Many prisoners attributed the occurrence to Divine Providence and named it Providence Spring. It was a permanent source of fresh water that still exists today.

Photo courtesy The New York Historical Society
Written by Stephen T. Foster
Printed in USA
6 MCMXCIH Atlas Editions, USA
D3 602 01.13