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 Posted: Thu Sep 6th, 2007 11:53 pm
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Doc C
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Since I have ancestors who were pow's on both sides - Andersonville, Camp Ford, Elmira, Ft. Delaware, Camp Douglas and involved as head of Union POW Camps i.e. Winder (head of POW camps east of the Mississippi) and Border (head of Camp Ford) and being interested in civil war medicine, I've developed an interest in the pow camps of the cw. Just wanted to start a discussion - Were the dismal conditions at Andersonville secondary to the already poor state of the confederacy therefore unintentional while the conditions at the Union camps i.e. Elmira, were intentional, have read Elmira, which seems to point to the ill treatment of confederate pow's as intentional. Have seen the recent blog/article comparing the cw pow's treatment to the current american camps for terrorists.

Doc C



 Posted: Fri Sep 7th, 2007 12:36 am
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Johan Steele
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There are some outstanding works on the various POW camps on both sides.  There were some cases of absolute purposeful abuse and neglect... IMO Andersonville & Elmira were both cases like that.  Other camps were not nearly so bad but all were bad.  An example is Rock Island, it received a much worse rep than iy may have deserved.

I'm away from my resources at the moment but the Rock Island Arsenal Museum has a superb short work on the Rock Island POW camp, IIRc Andersonville had a similar work.

 

The story of the camps is a disturbing one at best... I prefer to read of men at their best.



 Posted: Fri Sep 7th, 2007 12:41 am
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Texas Defender
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Doc C,

   At least in the case of Andersonville, the evidence is that the resources to feed the tens of thousands of prisoners there were simply not available. Some of the guards actually starved along with the prisoners.

  Here is a listing of some of the books written about that place.

Best Book Buys - Andersonville Prison Books

  I would recommend ANDERSONVILLE JOURNEY, by Edward F. Roberts. (2000).

  Here is some information on prisons, including an overview, in case you haven't seen it.

 

Civil War Prisons and Prisoners

  I am not an expert on prisons, but I think that I can say that overall, they were very poorly run. Neither side had expected a long war with hundreds of thousands of POWs. Thus, facilities had to be hastily prepared. They were not a high priority for resources with the war raging.

  For a while the Dix-Hill cartel was reasonably effective in exchanging prisoners. It eventually broke down, and when Grant stopped prisoner exchanges, many prisons became grossly overcrowded. This led to diseases and many thousands of deaths from various causes.

  From a military standpoint, Grant's decision made sense. The north had many times the resources of the south, both human and otherwise. Stopping the exchanges shortened the war. That saved thousands of lives on the battlefield, though it cost the lives of thousands of others in the prisons.

  In both north and south, I would cite incompetence and neglect as being greater factors than systematic cruelty. In the case of Elmira and other prisons, the north can be blamed more, since resources were available.

  I have seen stories where Brigadier General William Hoffman, the Commissary General for Prisoners, often returned funds appropriated for prisons to the US Treasury. The funds could have alleviated the suffering of CSA prisoners. I cannot say if Hoffman's actions were due to incompetence, neglect, or hatred of his captured enemies.

Gen William Hoffman (1807 - 1884) - Find A Grave Memorial

  Overall, I would just say that neither side planned for dealing with swarms of prisoners. Neither side had decent facilities available, and neither side made the problem a high priority. As a result, the situation on both sides was a human tragedy, and only served to increase the mutual enmity after the war.



 Posted: Fri Sep 7th, 2007 02:33 am
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CleburneFan
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Overcrowding certainly contributed to the misery of POWs on both sides. But we also have to look at what conditions were like in any non-military prison at that time.  I don't refer to overcrowding, because I don't know if the regular prisons were overcrowded, but I am refering to other conditions such as lack of medical care, lack of nutritional diet, overheating in summer, freezing conditions in winter, brutality from guards and other prisoners, subhuman physical conditions such as dungeon-like facilites, lack of safe sanitation and hygiene, boredom,and so on.

Even the soldiers who were not POWs, but were actually fighting faced much deprivation, lack of sanitation, exposure to elements, poor diets, lack of medicine and medical attention, ragged clothing, no shoes, and so on as above.

So looking at prison conditions in isolation does serve some purpose and is instructive, it is also instructive to look at the "big picture" to get perspective on life and times in the Civil War.



 Posted: Fri Sep 7th, 2007 05:11 pm
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David White
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Have seen the recent blog/article comparing the cw pow's treatment to the current american camps for terrorists.

Wow, I haven't seen that blog but I guess I don't have to-- just more political posturing by another blogger.  Show me the grave of one terrorist at Guantanamo and then I'll begin to entertain such a stupid comparison.  Not even one of the fifty states penitentiaries can match the record of Gitmo in this century when it comes to keeping its prisoners alive and healthy and I am excluding prisoners who received the death penalty.



 Posted: Sat Sep 8th, 2007 03:18 pm
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Johan Steele
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David White wrote: Have seen the recent blog/article comparing the cw pow's treatment to the current american camps for terrorists.

Wow, I haven't seen that blog but I guess I don't have to-- just more political posturing by another blogger.  Show me the grave of one terrorist at Guantanamo and then I'll begin to entertain such a stupid comparison.  Not even one of the fifty states penitentiaries can match the record of Gitmo in this century when it comes to keeping its prisoners alive and healthy and I am excluding prisoners who received the death penalty.



It's merely more ignorance... comparing how we treat terrorist prisoners to CW camps talk about blatant ignorance.  Ask about how they treat US prisoners... but that doesn't matter to them.

Every terrorist deserves a bullet in the neck.



 Posted: Sat Sep 8th, 2007 03:20 pm
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javal1
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Let's try to stick to Civil War prisons here. The other stuff should go to Current Affairs thread. Thanks....



 Posted: Sun Sep 9th, 2007 02:07 pm
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Johan Steele
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One thing I discovered in my many readings over the years was the way POW's were treated... the farther to the rear they got the worse treatment became.  THe men who had been on the line, some who had been POW's, had a distinct tendency to treat POW's quite well but as the POW found himself further to the rear among troops that had not seen the elephent & units who had managed to stay safely out of the line their treatment went downhill... rapidly.  It didn't matter which side of the conflict you were on either as the experiance for both the CS & US POW both seemed to be very similar.

The irony is that didn't really change in WWI or WWII either...



 Posted: Wed Sep 12th, 2007 01:51 am
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Doc C
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Johan

Just found a passage in Marvel's Andersonville - The Last Depot which tells of an artillerist who was transferred from DC duty to one of Grant's infantry regiments for duty at Spotslyvania. He describes his initial good treatment by his confederate captors thus reinterating your statement of pow treatment by line soldiers.

Doc C



 Posted: Wed Sep 12th, 2007 02:26 pm
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HankC
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Presumably you mean white POWs.

Captured USCTs, if they were not killed outright or shortly thereafter, were placed in a condition of slavery, whether they were free men or escaped slaves.

In WWII, German POWs were often allowed free rein in the towns in which they were incarcerated - they merely had to report back in the evening, however, Japanese detainees on detached work teams were frequently 'recaptured' from their overseers by local vigilantes...


HankC



 Posted: Wed Sep 12th, 2007 08:47 pm
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Doc C
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Hank

Captured USCT's at Andersonville were forced to work and sometimes whipped when they refused unlike the white captives which was voluntary. However, when they refused to join the slaves brought in to expand the prison walls no official punishment was made, I know that doesn't mean any wasn't dished out behind the scenes. In addition, for their work on the wood piles or other efforts they did receive extra rations. When compared to the white pow's mortality rate (29%, which incidently was similar to Elmira's 24%) the USCT's was approximately half that of their white counterparts despite a longer average incarceration period than most prisoners. This decreased mortality may be attributed to their extra work (getting them out of the putrid conditions of the prison and extra rations). I find no evidence of Wertz giving up any of the USCT's to slave owners. It was the white officers of the USCT's who suffered at Andersonville. I'm not condoning the treatment of the USCT's but just stating what I've found in the literature. Have several ancestors who served as officers in the USCT regiments.

Doc C

Last edited on Wed Sep 12th, 2007 08:49 pm by Doc C



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