Prison Camps Of The Civil War


So on November 10, 1865, Wirz was led into the courtyard at Old Capitol Prison. En route he stopped at the door of a fellow prisoner and asked the man to take care of Mrs. Wirz and the Wirz children, and to do what he could to clear Wirz’s name of the stigma which had been put upon it. Then he went on, to meet his death with a cool composure which moved Leslie’s Illustrated (which had denounced him bitterly during his trial) to remark that there was “something in his face and step which, in a better man, might have passed for heroism.”

If there had been a conspiracy to kill Union prisoners, nobody ever heard any more about it. All of the men who had been accused with Wirz were released without trial. The War Department theory that Jefferson Davis, president of the Southern Confederacy, had himself motivated this “conspiracy” evaporated, and Davis too was finally released from his confinement.

Andersonville remained a reproach for years to come, a favorite topic during the 1880’s and 1890’s for Northern political candidates who sought election by the process of “waving the bloody shirt.” But the passage of the years has at last brought a new perspective. Andersonville is now seen as a creation of its time and place, the worst of a large number of war prisons, all of which were almost unbelievably bad. And the real culprit is seen now not as Wirz, the luckless scapegoat, but as war itself.