Camp Sumter: was a Confederate Prisoner-of-War Camp for Union soldiers, today a historic site located in Andersonville, Georgia, from which the prison derives its more well known name. Its conditions were little known from its opening in February 1864 until it was liberated in May 1865, one month after Lincoln was assassinated. When the mistreatment of prisoners came to light, the entire nation and even Europe were disgusted and dumbfounded by the photographs of horrifically emaciated prisoners who somehow found the strength to survive.
The prison covered 25 and a half acres east of Andersonville, and was nothing but a bare patch of land surrounded by woods and fenced in twice. The outer fence was a log palisade 1,620 feet by 779 feet, with two entrances in the west wall leading into town. 19 feet in from this palisade stood an inner fence of chest-high posts topped with single crossbeams. This was nicknamed the dead line. Anyone who tried to cross it for the outer palisade, or even touched it, was shot without warning.
Inside the camp, there were only eight small buildings that could house a total of about 100 men. The prison held 45,000 by the end of the war. Most were given tents in which to sit or sleep, but the Georgia summer was overwhelming. 13,000 of those men died within 7 months of summer incarceration from sunstroke, starvation, or disease. The entire prison population suffered from a hookworm epidemic, causing most of them to defecate bloody diarrhea filled with worms.
The prison was very poorly supplied with food and medical provisions, and when Dr. Joseph Jones was assigned to investigate, he vomited twice during the one hour he toured the camp, and contracted a severe case of the flu which he warded off with oranges. He then asked the commandant, Henry Wirz, why Wirz was not suffering from scurvy, which was rampant throughout the camp. Wirz replied that he ate apples and oranges. “And the prisoners?” Jones asked. Wirz shrugged and said, “What about them?” Prisoners were able to pull out their own teeth with their fingers because of vitamin C deficiency. 3,000 died per month, or 100 per day.
They had no clean drinking water, but were forced to drink from the same creek running through the camp’s center in which they bathed and which caught about half of all liquid and solid waste. Wirz was tried, court-martialed, and hanged for murder on 10 November 1865, the only Confederate officer to be so executed. His primary defense in court was that the prison’s food and water never arrived by train. When he was hanged, his neck did not break, and he strangled to death for 9 minutes.