A Journalist Reports on Andersonville


Henry J. Winser was born in Bermuda in 1833, the place his father served as an officer within the Royal Navy. After coming to New York in 1851, he discovered work within the printing trade and in time joined the employees of the New York Occasions, first as a proofreader after which as a reporter. With the outbreak of the Civil Warfare, Winser grew to become a primary lieutenant within the 1st Regiment, New York Hearth Zouaves, and the navy secretary to its commander, Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth, who would grow to be the primary Union officer to die within the warfare when he was killed as he eliminated a Accomplice flag from the roof of the Marshall Home inn in Alexandria, Virginia. Winser then returned to the Occasions as a warfare correspondent, writing the primary description of the Battle of New Orleans to be printed by a northern newspaper and occurring to cowl Main Normal William Tecumseh Sherman’s Atlanta Marketing campaign. After the warfare Winser labored as an editor for the Occasions in New York.
In 1869 Winser launched into a brand new profession as a diplomat when he was appointed to be the U.S. consul at Sonneberg, Germany. He returned to the USA in 1882 to grow to be the chief of the Northern Pacific Railway Firm’s bureau of knowledge, however he later returned to journalism, first as an editor on the New York Industrial Advertiser and later because the managing editor of the Newark Advertiser in New Jersey. He died in Newark in 1896.
Winser’s account of a prisoner trade close to Savannah in 1864, which crammed the complete entrance web page of an eight-page version of the New York Occasions, educated a robust highlight on the horrific circumstances at Andersonville, the Accomplice navy jail in Georgia. It contained not just some three dozen firsthand studies of the privations there from surgeons on the jail but in addition a transcript of the day by day demise counts from July 23 to September 5, 1864. Whereas the account was adopted solely by Winser’s initials, the Occasions, in its lead editorial that day, gave credit score to “our particular correspondent, Mr. H. J. Winser,” noting that “out of their very own mouths the rebels are convicted of barbarities to helpless captives that may make the blood of a cannibal run chilly.” Winser’s detailed story—reprinted right here apart from the excerpts from official studies included in his dispatch—undoubtedly helped cement Andersonville’s place in historical past as probably the most notorious Accomplice prisoner-of-war camp.
PORT ROYAL, S.C., Monday, Nov. 21, 1864.—The previous few days have been fraught with a really painful curiosity to all people who has been related in any approach no matter with the trade of our sick and wounded prisoners now in progress on the Savannah River. [Lieutenant] Col. [John E.] Mulford started to obtain our poor fellows final Friday, and the supply is to proceed on the charge of from eight hundred to 12 hundred per day, till the combination variety of the wretched struggling creatures, estimated at ten thousand, return to our welcome holding. I shall try on this letter to provide some thought of the outward look, bodily situation, animating spirit and expression of opinion of those troopers of the Republic who’ve escaped from unutterable distress, with the only object of presenting information to the nation which should outcome within the launch of their fifty thousand comrades who can’t survive the approaching Winter, below the circumstances during which they’re stored via the unparalleled vindictiveness of the Southern authorities. This can be a onerous cost, however I make it intentionally. The irrefragable proof is mendacity earlier than me, not alone within the ex parte testimony and wasted hungry facet of the victims, whose filth and squalor and skeleton frames enchantment for justice to the God of justice, however within the official papers of the insurgent surgeons at Andersonville and the data of the charnel-houses, miscalled hospitals, at that terrestrial hell—data by no means meant to cross the boundaries of the Confederacy, however which a merciful Windfall has delivered to gentle, that out of their very own mouths these barbarians, with whom we’re at warfare, needs to be convicted.
The duty earlier than me I undertake with nice reluctance. Apart from the indignation which each and every man can’t assist feeling on the seen results of the cruelties which have been practiced—an indignation nearly forbidding a peaceful recital of the information—the duty invests itself with one other problem, as phrases are discovered incapable of expressing the revolting experiences and unbelievable hardships of the lads who’ve been languishing with out hope, month after month, shelterless, bare and half starved, crowded—to the variety of from twenty-five to thirty thousand—like sheep in a foul pen, dying at a median of 100 in each twenty-­4 hours. Fortunately, nonetheless, along with the day by day studies, masking a interval of greater than a month of the insurgent physicians at Andersonville, a perusal of which requires no flight of creativeness to conceive of the horrors of the jail, I’ve earlier than me the diaries of two of our useless troopers, introduced right down to a really latest date, from which I function to make some extracts, which, extra forcibly and eloquently than any phrases of mine, will come like voices from the grave, telling a truthful story of merciless wrongs, and interesting to the individuals and the Authorities in behalf of the 1000’s nonetheless in captivity for immediate launch.
Union prisoners of war bury some of their own in a trench at Andersonville in 1864. (Library of Congress)
Union prisoners of warfare bury a few of their very own in a trench at Andersonville in 1864. (Library of Congress)
It’s a distressing reality, however one in every of which I’ve discovered ample proof in lots of conversations with the lads to date introduced again, that the prisoners very typically consider that they’ve been deserted by our Authorities. This concept is sedulously inculcated by the insurgent authorities. I’m satisfied that many a courageous coronary heart has succumbed below the merciless aspersion that the sympathies of the individuals are useless to their woes. Starvation, squalor, filth, nakedness and illness could also be borne, however that hope deferred which leads to heartsickness—that eager for dwelling which superinduces psychological despair, can’t lengthy be survived. Nostalgia is the dad or mum of bodily illnesses, and, below the horrible monotony and privations of the jail pens, it’s extra deadly than bullets on the sphere of battle. A really massive proportion of those prisoners have been held as such for durations of from 9 to sixteen months, and the trade query between the 2 Governments as but provides no promise of a speedy settlement. The rebels guarantee the captives that they’re ready to yield all of the factors at challenge, and have lengthy since introduced the actual fact to the USA Authorities, whose solely motive for non-acceptance is one in every of easy expediency, viz: that by resuming the exchanges 1000’s of rugged, sturdy males could be despatched into the armies of the South from the jail camps of the North and no equal could be obtained within the damaged down, emaciated wrecks of humanity that may be despatched dwelling from the pens at Andersonville, Columbus, Milan and Richmond. Is it a matter of marvel that below the affect of this monstrous perception, a whole lot of the disheartened troopers endeavor to flee the horrors of the prisons by enlisting within the insurgent service? Such is the actual fact, and it behooves our Authorities to weigh it nicely. The exchanges are in abeyance on well-taken grounds, from which there could be no retraction with no sacrifice of nationwide honor. However there are two sides to the query, and the nationwide religion and honor are simply as deeply plighted to the fifty thousand troopers languishing and dying in captivity as it might probably presumably be in different quarters. Justice to the heroic males whom the fortune of warfare has positioned within the arms of the enemy, calls for that no effort needs to be relaxed to launch them from a situation which can convey nearly all of them to sure demise in the course of the quick approaching Winter. The sources of the North in males have scarcely been drawn upon as but, compared with the sources of the South, and the query of expediency in releasing a couple of thousand Southern troopers shouldn’t be entertained an prompt, even when a draft within the Northern States weren’t in a position to put their equal within the discipline.
Having to this point written generalities, let me now come to particulars. Taking any single day of the 4 during which we have now been receiving our males, I suggest to provide some description of the animating scene on the switch of the prisoners from the insurgent vessels to our personal. As I’ve knowledgeable you in a former letter, the rendezvous for the exchanges is at Venus Level, on the Savannah River, a bend of the stream whence the spires and most of the homes of the Metropolis of Savannah are seen. Our boats are invariably the primary on the rendezvous, anchored in mid-river awaiting the insurgent vessels, whose tardiness proceeds from the truth that it is just on the correct tide sure obstructions of the channel above could be crossed.
Lastly they seem over the low marshes, belching their turgid clouds of dense black smoke, and in half an hour their uncouth, grotesque, towering shapes are puffing and wheezing close to us. Col. Mulford instantly goes in a yawl boat to the Gen. Beauregard, a small steamer utilized by Capt. [John P.] Hatch, the insurgent agent, because the flagship of his transport squadron, and after a couple of moments’ session, throughout which the rolls of the prisoners are transferred, the 2 brokers go collectively on board one of many floating objects laden with the launched males, and he or she is without delay laid alongside a neat Union vessel, and the poor fellows are transshipped. These of them who’re in a position to transfer with out assist cross to the safety of the outdated flag first; then come these (alas! there are a lot of of this class) who hobble on crutches, and final the few whose helplessness requires that they need to be carried on stretchers. In all this operation the best formality is noticed. Quite a lot of insurgent civilians, with bands spherical their hats, labeled “Committee for the wounded,” whose place corresponds with our personal Sanitary Fee, accompanying the boats from Savannah to attend on the sick, and help within the transshipment, however seldom on both aspect is a phrase spoken besides with regards to the matter in hand. A unique course is forbidden, and if on both aspect there occur to be a disposition to interact in dialog, watchful guards step up and ask that the dialog shall stop. It’s no unusual factor to see a person who has been so crippled by scrofula that crutches had been essential to his locomotion, below the affect of his ecstasy at once more being free, spurn from him his synthetic helps and stroll, for a time, as erect and as instantaneously as he whom the Saviour miraculously cured by the therapeutic waters of Bethesda.
Nearly 13,000 Union prisoners at Andersonville died from disease, poor sanitation, malnutrition, and the like. (Library of Congress)
Almost 13,000 Union prisoners at Andersonville died from illness, poor sanitation, malnutrition, and the like. (Library of Congress)
When the insurgent boat strikes off and the lads are huddled collectively on the decks of our personal vessels, all totally perceive that the final hyperlink which certain them to rebeldom has been severed, then rises hearty shouting and cheering, which solely could be given below these circumstances. There’s the music of intense gratefulness in it. Three cheers and a tiger for the outdated flag; three extra and a tiger for Col. Mulford; then comes a burst of track, most frequently the phrases being “Rally around the flag, boys, from close to and from far, down with the traitor and up with the star,” the rebels nonetheless inside listening to, most likely gnashing their tooth on the pointed private allusion, however all people else feeling that the dangerous style of the glad fellows is excusable, regardless that exhibited below the sacred folds of a flag of truce. Then vermin-infested rags, until now extremely prized as the one cowl for nakedness, are rudely torn off and flung into the water or solid with glee into the flaming furnaces of the steamers, and new garments are issued, and a basic cleaning-time inaugurated. However the bathing has lengthy been wanted, and scarcely comes quickly sufficient. Most of the males, via sickness or carelessness, are so begrimed with filth, that, had been it not for the useless shade of the blacked dermis, they is likely to be taken for the sons of Ham.
The steamer Eliza Hancox, one of many trade fleet, has a spacious deck, affording room for dancing, and Terpsichore finds her votaries, regardless that they’re tatterdemalions, who dance not ungracefully of their streaming rags. As quickly as potential, barrels of sizzling espresso are ready, and hams are cooked, and containers of hard-bread opened, for the refreshment of those males, to whom respectable meals has been for a very long time unknown. It’s a touching sight to see them, every along with his quart can, file by the steaming espresso barrels, and obtain the refreshing draught whose style has lengthy been unfamiliar. It appears scarcely potential that males ought to really feel such infantile pleasure as they specific in as soon as extra receiving this widespread stimulant. After which, the keen, hungry glare which their glassy eyes solid upon the chunks of ham as they clutch and devour their allowance with a wolf-like avidity! These information can solely be understood by the spectator in remembering that for months they’ve been disadvantaged of a ample amount of palatable meals, and that the little they’ve obtained has been hardly ever cooked, as a result of in a rustic abounding with gas, and gloomy with immense pine forests, their jailors forbade them the poor privilege of sufficient fires. On the prison-pen close to Milan, Ga., for some weeks there was no meal or flour given to the prisoners, and the candy potatoes issued in lieu thereof have been eaten uncooked, as a result of there was no alternative of getting gas for cooking functions.
Such is the condi[tion] of the lads whom we are actually receiving out of chivalrous Dixie. These the sons, brothers, husbands and fathers of the North. Males diminished to residing skeletons; males nearly bare; shoeless males, shirtless males, hatless males; males with no different garment than an overcoat; males whose skins are blackened by grime and hold on their protruding bones loosely as bark on a tree; males whose very presence is just disgusting, exhaling an odor so fetid that it nearly stops the breath of these unaccustomed to it, and causes an involuntary brushing of the clothes if with them there’s unintentional contact. Think about 25,000

of such wretched creatures penned collectively in an area scarcely massive sufficient to carry them, and examine their situation with probably the most depressing situation that may be imagined. The struggling of the Revolutionary captives on the jail ships at Wallabout Bay is not going to stand the comparability, and the horrible sight within the Blackhole of Calcutta scarcely exceeds it in atrocity. Bear in mind, too, that the lads thus returned are the very best specimens of the struggling. Solely these are forwarded to us whom the insurgent medical authorities determine to be sturdy sufficient to bear the fatigue of transportation. If these whose wretchedness I’ve vainly endeavored to painting, are the very best specimens of our sick and wounded, is it not terrible to ponder what have to be the woe of the rest?
Look, now, at this report of the insurgent surgeons. Right here is damning proof of inhumanity, scarcely to be credited amongst a individuals professing Christianity within the nineteenth century. For the interval of a month, via which these studies lengthen, there’s a fixed, monotonous criticism, typically assuming the language of protest, towards the remedy to which the sick had been subjected. Males within the final phases of emaciation from power diarrhoea, obtained no nourishment no matter, and starved to demise on the coarse rations which the abdomen of a powerful man would reject. Others, affected by gangrene and ulcers, had been compelled to fester in putridity with out even ample water to cleanse their loathsome sores. Week after week the diseased and the dying had been stored with out shelter, and plenty of of them with out clothes, on the naked floor, uncovered to a torrid solar by day and to heavy rains always, in whole disregard of the earnest and nearly despairing appeals of kind-hearted physicians for his or her reduction. It is rather simple to grasp how a lot of this horrible wretchedness was unavoidable, significantly that a part of it which proceeded from the shortage of medicines, but it surely requires a really ingenious thoughts to palliate in any diploma the heartlessness which allowed the victims to stay shelterless in a rustic the place the supplies for shelter are as ample as within the South, and the place 1000’s of prepared arms from the prisoners within the stockade would have furnished all of the labor. However why dwell on these issues? The surprising inhumanity of the insurgent authorities will probably be patent to all who learn these plain unvarnished studies.
After the Civil War ended, Captain Henry Wirz, the prison’s commandant, was tried and convicted of murder by a military tribunal. On November 10, 1865, Wirz was hanged in Washington, D.C. (Library of Congress)
After the Civil Warfare ended, Captain Henry Wirz, the jail’s commandant, was tried and convicted of homicide by a navy tribunal. On November 10, 1865, Wirz was hanged in Washington, D.C. (Library of Congress)
The stockade or pen during which the prisoners at Andersonville are confined, is an enclosure of fourteen acres, 5 of which had been a morass. Right here the lads had been with out shelter, and in lots of cases nearly bare, huddled collectively with out room for train. Throughout the sizzling Summer season months there have been scattered about on this pen a median of no less than 500 prisoners, who had been affected by illness in nearly each type incident to man, in a local weather to which he’s unaccustomed. 5 acres of the floor of the bottom had been lined with human excrement, exhaling a morbific affect which might show deadly even to the rice plantation laborer, accustomed from infancy to respiration the malarious ambiance of his native savannahs. Always drenched by rains, receiving dangerous meals, at all times poorly ready and sometimes uncooked, in lots of cases bare and laboring below a psychological despair verging upon melancholy, feeling that their days had been numbered, the prisoners had been stored of their dreadful jail. Underneath these circumstances the mortality grew to become frightful, and as a matter of defence from an epidemic, the insurgent authorities had been compelled to skinny out the shambles early in September, by sending a number of thousand of the prisoners to a brand new stockade established at Savannah, the place their sufferings had been significantly alleviated. Subsequently these males on the breaking out of the yellow fever at Savannah had been eliminated to a different jail pen at Milan. Earlier than the change from Andersonville was made eleven thousand victims had been buried, uncoffined, within the shallow trenches close to the jail.
Of the cruelty of Capt. [Henry Wirz], the insurgent officer having cost of the jail at Andersonville, all of the prisoners converse in unmeasured phrases. His vindictiveness is attributed to the truth that throughout one of many Union raids in Alabama his property was destroyed. It was a typical factor for Capt. [Wirz] to put males within the chain-gang for no larger offence than making an attempt to flee, and in two cases the unlucky fellows died whereas of their fetters. MHQ
—H. J. W.       

This text seems within the Spring 2021 challenge (Vol. 33, No. 3) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Army Historical past with the headline: Basic Dispatches | ‘Our Prisoners’

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