TREATMENT OF PRISONERS *


EDITORIAL COMMENTS
    *SOUTHERN HISTORICAL SOCIETY PAPERS
Vol. I. Richmond, Va., March, 1876.
No.3. March  -  Pages 179-185



Editorial Comments:It appears, then, from the foregoing statements that the prison at Andersonville was established with a view to healthfulness of location, and that the great mortality which ensued resulted chiefly from the crowded condition of the stockade, the use of corn bread, to which the prisoners had not been accustomed, the want of variety in the rations furnished, and the wantof medicines and hospital stores to enable our surgeons properly to treat the sick.

As to the first point, the reply is at hand. The stockade at Andersonville was originally designed for a much smaller number of prisoners than were afterwards crowded into it. But prisoners accumulated - after the stoppage of exchange - in Richmond and at other points; the Dahlgren raid - which had for its avowed object the liberation of the prisoners, the assassination of President Davis and his Cabinet, and the sacking of Richmond - warned our authorities against allowing large numbers of prisoners to remain in Richmond, even if the difficulty of feeding them there was removed; and the only alternative was to rush them down to Andersonville, as enough men to guard them elsewhere could not be spared from the ranks of our armies, which were now everywhere fighting overwhelming odds. 

We have a statement from an entirely trustworthy source that the reason prisoners were not detailed to cut timber with which to enlarge the stockade and build shelters, is, that this privilege was granted to a large number of them when the prison was first established, they giving their parole of honor not to attempt to escape; and that they violated their paroles, threw away their axes, and spread dismay throughout that whole region by creating the impression that all of the prisoners had broken loose. This experiment could not, of course, be repeated, and the rest had to suffer for the bad faith of these, who not only prevented the detail of any numbers of other prisoners for this work, but made way this axes which could not be replaced.

In reference to feeding the prisoners on corn bread, there had been the loudest complaints and the bitterest denunciations. They had not been accustomed to such hard fare as "hog and hominy," and the poor fellows did suffer fearfully from it. But the Confederate soldiers had the same rations. Our soldiers had the advantage of buying supplies and of receiving occasional boxes from home, which the prisoners at Andersonville could have enjoyed to an even greater extent had the United States authorities been willing to accept the humane proposition of our Commissioner of Exchange - to allow each side to send supplies to their prisoners. 

But why did not the Confederacy furnish better rations to both our own soldiers and our prisoners? and why were the prisoners at Andersonville not supplied with wheat bread instead of corn bread?  Answers to these question may be abundantly found by referring to the orders of Major-General John Pope, directing his men "to live on the country"; the orders of General Sherman, in fulfilling his avowed purpose to "make Georgia howl" as he "smashed things generally" in the "great march," which left smoking, blackened ruins and desolated fields to mark his progress; the orders ofGeneral Grant to his Lieutenant, to desolate the rich wheat-growing Valley of Virginia; or the reports of General Sheridan, boasting of the number 
of barns he had burned, the mills he had destroyed, and the large amount of wheat he had given to the flames, until there was really more truth than poetry in his boast that he had made the Shenandoah Valley "such a waste that even a crow flying over would be compelled to carry his own rations." 

We have these and other similar orders of Federal Generals in our archives (we propose to give hereafter a few choice extracts from them), and we respectfully submit that, for the South to be abused for not furnishing Federal prisoners with better rations, when our own soldiers and people had been brought painfully near the starvation point by the mode of warfare which the Federal Government adopted, is even more unreasonable than the course of the old Egyptian task-masters, who required their captives to "make brick without straw."

And to the complaints that the sick did not have proper medical attention, we reply that the hospital at Andersonville was placed on precisely the same footing as the hospitals for the treatment of our own soldiers. We have the law of the Confederate Congress enjoining this, and the orders of the Surgeon-General enforcing it. Besides, we have in our archives a large budget of original orders, telegrams, letters, &c., which passed between the officers on duty at Andersonville was on the same footing precisely with every hospital for sick or wounded Confederates, and that the scarcity of medicines and hospital stores, of which there was such constant complaint, proceeded from causes which our authorities could not control.But we can make the case still stronger. Whose fault was it that the Confederacy was utterly unable to supply medicines for the hospitals of either friend or foe? Most unquestionably the responsibility rests with the Federal authorities. They not only declared medicines "contraband of war" - even arresting ladies coming South for concealing a little quinine under their skirts - but they sanctioned the custom of their soldiers to sack every drug store in the Confederacy which they could reach, and to destroy even the little stock of medicines which the private physician might chance to have on hand.WhenGeneral Milroy banished from Winchester, Virginia, the family of Mr. Lloyd Logan, because the General (and his wife) fancied his elegantly furnished mansion for headquarters,he not only forbade their carrying with them a change of garment, and refused to allow Mrs. Logan to take one of her spoons with which to administer medicine to a sick child, but he most emphatically prohibited their carrying a small medicine chest, or even a few phials of medicine which the physician had prescribed for immediate use. 

Possibly some ingenious casuist may defend this policy; but who will defend at the bar of history the refusal of the Federal authorities to accept Judge Ould's several propositions to allow surgeons from either side to visit and minister to their own men in prison - to allow each to furnish medicines, &c., to their prisoners in the hands of the other - and finally to purchase in the North, for gold, cotton, or tobacco, medicines for the exclusive use of Federal prisoners in the South?

Why might General Lee have said to President Davis, in response to expressions of bitter disappointment when he reported the failure of his efforts to bring about an exchange of prisoners: "We have done everything in our power to mitigate the suffering of prisoners, and there is no just cause for a sense of further responsibility on our part." 

Dr. R. Randolph Stevenson, who was for most of the time surgeon in charge at Andersonville, has in MS. a large volume on this whole subject, and treats fully the diseases at Andersonville, their causes, and their mortality. He has kindly tendered us the free use of his MS. in the preparation of this paper, but we do not feel that it would be right to anticipate the publication of his book (which it is hope will not be long delayed) by full quotations from it.  We give, however, several specimens of the character of the papers to which reference is made above:[Copy.]Extracts from statement of Dr. R. R. Stevenson:

SURGEON-GENERAL'S OFFICE, RICHMOND, VA., September 12, 1864.
Sir - Your are instructed to assign the medical officers now on duty with the sick prisoners at Andersonville, Georgia, to the points that have been selected for the accommodation of the prisoners. All the sick whose lives will not be endangered by transportation will be removed. The medical officers selected will be required to accompany the sick. You will visit each station and see that such arrangements are made for the sick as their wants may require, and use all the means for their comfort that the Government can furnish.
Very respectfully, 
Your obedient servant,
S. P. MOORE, Surgeon-General C. S. A. 
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To I. H. WHITE, Surgeon C. S. M. Prison Hospital, Andersonville, Ga.[Copy.]OFFICE OF SURGEON IN CHARGE C. S. M. HOSPITAL, ANDERSONVILLE, GA., November 4, 1864.Colonel - Under orders from Brigadier-General John H. Winder's I respectfully request that W. H. H. Phelps, of your post, be detailed and ordered to report to me for assignment to duty as purchasing agent of vegetables and anti-scorbutic for the sick and wounded prisoners now under my charge at this place.Yours truly,R. R. STEVENSON, Surgeon in Charge.To Colonel LEON VON ZINKEN, Commanding Post Columbia, Ga.Endorsements.Approved:S. M. BEMISS, Acting Medical Director.Approved:LEON VAN ZINKEN, Colonel Commanding Post.------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
[Copy.]
OFFICE CHIEF SURGEON C. S. M. PRISONS, GEORGIA AND ALABAMA, CAMP LAWTON, GA., November 9, 1864.
Sir - * * * We have been quite busy for the last two days in selecting the sick to be exchanged. After getting them all ready at the depot, we were notified by telegraph not to send them, and had to take them back to the stockade. Many of these poor fellows, already broken down in health, will succumb through despair.
    *             *              *             *              *
I am, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
I. H. WHITE, Chief Surgeon. 



To Surgeon R. R. STEVENSON, in charge Post, Andersonville, Ga.A strong point illustrating the position that the sickness among the prisoners was from causes which the Confederate authorities could not control, is the fact that the Confederate guard, officers and surgeons were attacked by the same maladies, and that the deaths among them were about as numerous, in proportion to their numbers, as among the prisoners themselves. 

Dr. Jones states in his report, that the deaths among the Confederates at Andersonville from typhoid and malarial fevers were more numerous than among the prisoners, and Dr. Stevenson makes the following statement:"The guards on duty here were similarly affected with gangrene and scurvy. Captain Wirz had gangrene in an old wound, which he had received in the Battle of Manassas, in 1861, and was absent from the post (Andersonville) some four weeks on surgeon's certificate. (In his trial certain Federal witnesses swore to his killing certain prisoners in August, 1864, when he (Wirz) was actually at that time absent on sick leave in Augusta, Georgia.) General Winder had gangrene of the face, and was forbidden by his surgeon (I. H. White) to go inside the stockade. Colonel G. C. Gibbs, commandant of the post, of Surgeons Wible and Gore, of Americus, Georgia. The writer of this can fully attest to effects of gangrene and scurvy contracted whilst on duty there; their marks will follow him to his grave. The Confederate graveyard at Andersonville will fully prove that the mortality among the guards was almost as great in proportion to the number of men as among the Federals."Again:"For a period of some three months (July, August and September, 1864) Captain Wirz and those few faithful medical officers of the post were engaged night and day in ministering to the wants of the sick and dying, and caring for the dead. So arduous were their duties that many of the medical officers were taken sick and had to abandon their post. In fact the pestilence assumed such fearful proportions that Medical-Director S. H. Stout could hardly induce such medical men as could be spared from the pressing wants of the service (Georgia was at this time one vast hospital) to go to Andersonville."It was this horrible condition of the captives that prompted Colonel Ould, the Confederate Commissioner of Exchange, to make his repeated efforts in the interest of humanity to get the Federal Government (as they had refused all further exchanges) to send medicines, supplies of clothing, &c. (offering to pay for them in gold or cotton), for the exclusive use of the Federal prisoners, to be dispensed, if desired, by Federal surgeons sent for that purpose."


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