The situation at Andersonville was without a doubt appalling. Territorial armies drank contaminated water and ate inadequate food mostly corn-meal that was infested by microbes and bacon which was frequently eaten raw because of scarce supply of fire-wood that was used for cooking. Although some prisoners attempted to build tents, many had to endure cold nights with no bedspreads and enough warm clothes. Infectious illnesses were also out of control; the campsite had other hazards as well.
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There were numerous ethical dilemmas faced in the camp; many prisoners turned against each other so that they could get additional rations. A gang referred to as Raiders victimized other prisoners. Security-guards could also mow-down detainees who reached the borderline that was fifteen feet from the bulwarks. Out of approximately 46,000 prisoners who went to Andersonville, more than 14,000 died (Solis, 2000). After the end of Civil War, many people were left in great indignation.
At times, one is left wondering if Henry Wirz (Captain Commander) was responsible for horrors of Andersonville or was he unjustly condemned as a scape-goat for the horrors and acts of violence which took place in the camp. Many authors including Catherine Gourley joins together stories concerning Andersonville horrors, disclosing that the atrocities experienced go far beyond what took place on the combat zone. She explores numerous ethical dilemmas and the horrendous conditions in the camp.
It’s noted that a large population of prisoners developed scurvy because their diets lacked vegetables and fruits. Their injuries, cuts and abrasions took time to heal due to improper nutrition thus attracting flies and other infectious bugs. Maggots would squirm in open festering injuries of many prisoners. This was very common, prisoners lived in extremely dirty places and their wounds became gangrenous and awful.
Filthy, unclean, blood-crusted rags were often used to cover wounds with no consideration of cross-contamination or dangerous infections. Diseases such as diarrhoea, scurvy, malaria, dysentery and small pox were widespread in the war prison at Andersonville. Studies show that during months of hot summer, approximately 70 to 100 deaths took place per day (Gray, 2001).
The captain commander Wirz attempted to make appeals to General officers for vegetables and more medicinal, surgical and clothes for prisoners but his petitions were never considered. These problems contributed to the alarming death rates in the prison. The prisoners lacked shelter and this was very difficult for them especially during chilly winter nights. Stronger prisoners preyed on weaker ones for clothes, food and other valuables.
The prisoners faced numerous setbacks and very little was done to improve their conditions. Even though they were prisoners and wrong-doers, they were not treated as humans and this was ethically wrong. Many lost their lives due to avoidable circumstances. Many were also killed by Raiders while others were seriously injured.
A group of prisoners came together to plea for Wirz’s help in bringing these wrong-doers to justice (Banfield, 2000). Wirz heard their case and so he allowed a trial to take place in the camp. The charged were held in a pen located in the prison compound and were taken to the hearing and after they were found guilty of murder they were hanged. Those who were hanged were six but little tribute is given to Wirz for his help in assisting the weak prisoners in enforcement of law in the prison camp at Andersonville.
Banfield, S. (2000). The Andersonville prison Civil War crimes trial a headline court case. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, Inc.
Gray, M. (2001). The business of captivity Elmira and its Civil War prison. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press.
Solis, G. (2000). Obedience of orders and the law of war judicial application in American forums. American University International Law Review, 15, 481–526.