Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Horrors of Andersonville by Catherine Gourley

The Horrors of Andersonville: Life and Death inside a Civil War Prison describes what it was like for Union soldiers in the Confederate prisoner-of-war camp at Andersonville, Georgia. While Camp Sumter was only operational for the last 14 months of the war and intended to hold 10,000 soldiers, over 3 times that men were crowded into the facility at one time and more than 13,000 men died there.  The inhumane conditions and demoralizing effects of war are described by the prisoners themselves: Gourley, through letters, diaries and war records is able to provide stories from survivors that lets readers know exactly what the soldiers went through. Indeed, Gourley follows several soldiers' stories in enough detail for readers to want to know what happens to them, including prisoner John Ransom, who kept a diary about his time at Belle Isle and Andersonville, and James Madison Page, who wrote a book about Henry Wirz. Another side to the story will make this a particularly useful book for social studies classes or debates, presenting a very balanced looking at both the soldiers and Captain Henry Wirz, commander of the inner prison at Andersonville, who was tried and executed for charges of conspiracy and murder although no conspirators were charged and no one could ever name anyone he himself killed. Admittedly, he was in charge of a horrible place -- the photograph of the Andersonville cemetery as set up by Clara Barton and Dorence Atwater is heartbreaking -- but hindsight says it is more than likely he was a very convenient scapegoat. He was in fact he only Confederate officer hanged for war crimes.
Readers will find a surprising number of photographs for a book about the 19th century, as well as a very complete index, bibliography and list of source notes. This is a worthy addition to any junior or senior high school and public library.

1 comment:

  1. Readers might also enjoy the following:

    After surviving long marches, low morale, and horrific battles, the Confederates swarm over his regiment at Gettysburg on the first day of the great battle. Now a prisoner, he faces a grueling death march south with a defeated, angry Rebel army. Worse, a grinding, lice-ridden death by starvation awaits him at Richmond's Belle Island and later, the infamous Andersonville. How did he survive? A true story that will appeal particularly to those with Civil War ancestors.
    Hiram's Honor: Reliving Private Terman's Civil War, ISBN 978-0615-27812-4.
    Print version amazon