By Carrie W.
In November 1863, Confederate Captain W. Sidney Winder was
sent to the town of Andersonville in Sumter County, in south central Georgia near Americus
and Plains. Captain Winder was
appraising the possibility of building a prison for Union soldiers. Its Deep South
location, its proximity to the Southwestern Railroad, and availability of freshwater made
Andersonville a good location for a prison. The community of Andersonville had a
population of less than twenty people. They could not politically oppose the building of
such an unfavorable facility. For that reason Andersonville became the site of a soon to
be disreputable prison where thousands of prisoners died because of horrible prison
After the location was chosen, Caption Richard B. Winder was
sent to Andersonville to build a prison. Captain Winder designed a prison lay out that
enclosed about 16.5 acres. He thought this would be enough to accommodate 10,000
prisoners. The prison was a rectangular shape with a little creek flowing through the
middle of the premises. The prison was named Camp Sumter.
In January 1864, slaves cut down trees and dug ditches for
the building of the stockade. The stockade enclosure was about 780 feet wide and 1,010
feet long. The walls were constructed of logs set vertically in trenches dug five feet
deep. The inner line of the palisades gave no peek of the outer world. The Deadline, a
light fence, was assembled about 19-25 feet inside the stockade wall to mark a no-man's
land keeping the prisoners away from the wall. Anyone crossing this line was shot by
sentries posted at intervals around the stockade wall.
Andersonville Prison was built to hold 10,000 prisoners, but
by August 1864, the population had enlarged to over 32,000. This was due to the breakdown
of the prisoner exchange system and deteriorating resources. This overcrowding quickly
affected nutritional and health conditions. The Confederates lacked the amounts of food
and essential materials. No clothing was provided. Many prisoners wore rags or nothing at
all. One and one fourth pound of corn meal and either one third pound of bacon or one
pound of beef were the daily rations for the prisoners and the guards. Available shelter
was reduced to unrefined tent fragments, huts made of scrap wood, or holes dug in the
ground. Many had no safety against the cold, heat, or rain. Diseases such as scurvy,
dysentery, diarrhea, and gangrene killed many prisoners. These problems resulted in 12,912
deaths by the end of the war.
General Winder ordered the building of defensive embankments
and a middle and outer stockade around the prison because of Union raid threats. By early
September, Sherman's troops occupied Atlanta. The threats on Andersonville prompted the
transfer of most of the prisoners to other camps in Georgia and South Carolina. Only a few
guards remained to police the remaining prisoners.
After the war ended, the prison was returned private owners.
Crops such as cotton were planted. In 1891, the Grand Army of the Republic of Georgia
purchased the land. During their management, stone monuments were built to mark portions
of the prison, including the North and South Gates and the Four Corners of the inner
stockade. In 1970, the U.S. Congress designated Andersonville National Historic Site as a
memorial to all the Prisoners-of-war in American history.