Andersonville Prison, Race, and the Whitewashing of History

Pat Young

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#21
When the NPS entered into an agreement with the American Ex-Prisoners of War to create what would become a very expensive museum, site superintendent Fred Boyles worried that any Confederate controversy would harm the fundraising effort. According to Domby, he asked a speaker at the park to take out any history of the site as a prison so as not to alienate Southern funders. Domby writes:

From the beginning, those involved in the planning of the National POW Museum consciously attempted to avoid controversy as they walked through a political minefield of memory. Boyles believed strongly “the old north–south concerns were still alive” and that they posed a threat to the museum’s success.102 Ever sensitive to criticism about a bias against the South, Boyles always underlined the “all” in “the story of all POWs” when describing the mission of the museum in his correspondences.103 A plaque from a Vermont VFW post that had donated a significant amount to the museum project had to be redesigned because the original wording referred to “the Vermonters who perished in Confederate hands at Andersonville.” Boyles wrote to the donors that such a reference “would serve to inflame those who still are very critical of the National Park Service at Andersonville for our supposed northern bias.”
 

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NH Civil War Gal

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#22
Thank you for posting this. I too, did not realiz the full history of Andersonville. In the the few places I had seen anything at all, it was always about how the North stopped exchanges. Never saw it tied into the EP and racism. Next paycheck I'm getting a subscription to the Civil War History Journal. I bought one on Amazon to read an article @cash recommended to me. Recently @Bee mentioned it too. They are very educational in understanding this war and I wish was more widely read.
 

Pat Young

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#23
Domby is critical of the universalizing message of the POW museum. I have never been there. My sister loved it. So, if you love it took, this Domby's opinion, not mine:

This universalization of the past remains inherently problematic. Emphasizing prisoners’ shared willingness to suffer for their county allows visitors to skirt around issues of responsibility. Indeed, the museum creates an expectation of suffering for POWs because, according to the museum, prisoners have always suffered for their country. Abuse of POWs becomes an unavoidable part of the larger tragedy of war. Andersonville, then, was not a crime but a product of war, regrettable but also inevitable. The museum never addresses the issue of who was responsible for the thousands of deaths and months of anguish. Strikingly, the single, poorly lit, and easily missed panel that discusses war crimes trials focuses on Nuremberg and fails to mention Henry Wirz, the commandant of Andersonville, who was executed after what was arguably America’s first war crimes trial! The erasure of context and specificity from American military history is not the only problematic result with the museum’s universalized narrative.

The focus on celebrating heroic American POWs created an atmosphere where anything that lifts the focus away from heroic prisoners and instead addresses villains or war crimes was unacceptable. As Benjamin Cloyd points out, the narrative presented by the “National POW Museum corresponded to the ongoing desire of Americans to patriotically remember, and admire, the sacrifices of past soldiers,” which unfortunately “inhibits a candid assessment of the evils committed during the Civil War” or other wars, for that matter.110 In a side hallway, easily missed by most visitors, is a single wall display devoted to “POW’s in the U.S.” This display is largely devoted to America’s kind treatment of German and Japanese POWs during [End Page 288] the world wars, and it presents Americans as always treating their prisoners better, even when they were foreigners. This ahistorical narrative allows museum visitors to leave without any moral qualms about Americans’ part in the past, present, and future suffering of prisoners held by the United States.
 
#25
Thank you, Pat. An outstanding thread about Andersonville's history that I had never heard about. The attempt to absolve the Confederacy of responsibility for the mistreatment of POWs is still alive as witnessed on a concurrent thread in regards to the study of POW facilities where the excuse of the South having no food or resources to feed and take care of Union prisoners is being parroted once again.

edit- corrected spelling
 

archieclement

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#26
Please leave your comments!
I don't quite understand what he's saying in regards to a National POW Museum....It would seem logical the impact of such a museum would be far greater on an actual POW prison site......where else should it have gone?

The NPS controls the Rock Island prison cemetery for example, but most the rest is still an active installation. And frankly putting a National POW museum at a site were the United States had mistreated its prisoners, I would think would have been a non starter politically.......
 

Pat Young

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#27
Thank you for posting this. I too, did not realiz the full history of Andersonville. In the the few places I had seen anything at all, it was always about how the North stopped exchanges. Never saw it tied into the EP and racism. Next paycheck I'm getting a subscription to the Civil War History Journal. I bought one on Amazon to read an article @cash recommended to me. Recently @Bee mentioned it too. They are very educational in understanding this war and I wish was more widely read.
We both learned a thing or two from this article!
 

atlantis

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#29
Wirz was made into a scapegoat. All this suffering could have been avoided if the union had not stopped the exchange. Very few USCT soldiers were taken as prisoners.
 

WJC

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#30
View attachment 166387
The Deadline at Andersonville.

View attachment 166390

African American Shanty at Andersonville.

We know of the suffering and death at Andersonville prison during its fourteen months as a Confederate prison for captured Union soldiers in 1864 and 1865. After the war, it was a focal point of African American resistance to white supremacy, white terror, and the efforts of the adherents of the Lost Cause to rewrite and erase history.

Adam H. Domby is assistant professor of history at the College of Charleston, had an interesting article in the September issue of Civil War History entitled The Contested Legacy of Race at Andersonville National Historic Site. Dombyis tells I story I had never heard before, that perhaps bears some examination here.
Thanks for posting this information from the article.
I was not aware of the post-rebellion history of the site. There is so much material there, particularly the information illustrative of the southern revisionism which still persists.
Though I have read a lot about the prison and experiences of the prisoners, I have never visited Andersonville. Now that I understand how it has been transformed with a "universal" message, obscuring the significance of what happened there, I have no desire to visit.
 

DixieRifles

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#31
This photo shows black and white Union veterans at Providence Spring at Andersonville in 1896:
Is that Providence Spring the miracle spring located inside the prison camp? Or somewhere outside it?
That photos appears to show a hilly terrain and not a slightly sloping hill of the camp.
 

WJC

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#32
Wirz was made into a scapegoat. All this suffering could have been avoided if the union had not stopped the exchange. Very few USCT soldiers were taken as prisoners.
Sounds like you have read and endorse the southern revisionist messages mentioned in the article. Blame everyone but those who actually mistreated the prisoners....
 
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#33
This was an informative and educational article. Thank you for posting it. I knew much of the history of Andersonville from other times, but this taught me a few new things about the post war history. It is hard to think that the atrocities committed there could be done by any person with a conscience. Again, thanks.

John Sneed
 

Pat Young

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#34
This was an informative and educational article. Thank you for posting it. I knew much of the history of Andersonville from other times, but this taught me a few new things about the post war history. It is hard to think that the atrocities committed there could be done by any person with a conscience. Again, thanks.

John Sneed
Thanks for your kind comment John.
 
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#35
In all fairness don’t you think a look at the Union prison camps Warrants a mention in the article? If not at least a mention somewhere in this thread? Seems a bit more than a bit biased in my opinion, although it is specifically an article about the history of Andersonville and not the history of civil war prisoner of war camps in general. It does leave a foul ring and more importantly it leaves a false impression that southern whites were somehow cruel beyond anything imaginable in the North. The facts are the facts and the truth of the matter is that the number of Union soldiers who died in Confederate prison camps was very nearly equal to the number of Confederate soldiers that died in Union prison camps. Since no officers in the Union was ever held responsible for the confederate deaths following the war we might get the false impression that they took good or at least decent care of their prisoners. Nothing could be further than the truth. While Andersonville appears to represent the worst of the worst the others were not far behind in their treatment of soldiers with one blatant exception.
The South was suffering terrible shortages of everything by 1864, citizens and soldiers alike barely had food to sustain themselves. Numerous confederate diaries attest to this. THe treatment of prisoners at Andersonville was not from malice or evil intent, it was purely amd simply a lack of every necessity required for the care of prisoners, no food, no clothing, and no medical care, but then they didn’t have these things for their soldiers either. While the North had no such excuse during the war, they had everything necessary to care for their prisoners plenty of food, plenty of clothing, plenty of medecines. What was the reason the death rate of prisoners in Northern prison camps was equal or nearly equal to the death rate in the southern prison camps when the North had every advantage that the south lacked?
Thank you for the thought provoking thread.
 

WJC

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#36
In all fairness don’t you think a look at the Union prison camps Warrants a mention in the article? If not at least a mention somewhere in this thread?
As I understand it, this thread is about a specific article- The Contested Legacy of Race at Andersonville National Historic Site, by Adam H Domby- written about a specific historical site- Andersonville Prison- not a general discussion of Civil War prisons. As such, introducing information about other, similar sites is unnecessary and not relevant.
I would encourage you- or anyone else interested in the general topic of Civil war prisons- to start a new thread. It might be very educational for all of us....
 

Pat Young

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#37
As I understand it, this thread is about a specific article- The Contested Legacy of Race at Andersonville National Historic Site, by Adam H Domby- written about a specific historical site- Andersonville Prison- not a general discussion of Civil War prisons. As such, introducing information about other, similar sites is unnecessary and not relevant.
I would encourage you- or anyone else interested in the general topic of Civil war prisons- to start a new thread. It might be very educational for all of us....
That is correct. The Civil War History journal devoted space in its recent issue to several pieces on prisons. This was one. It focused on the post-war history of Andersonville and the sites relation to the African American community. I am not sure that I have seen another article on this topic.
 

Pat Young

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#38
In all fairness don’t you think a look at the Union prison camps Warrants a mention in the article? If not at least a mention somewhere in this thread?
Since this article is primarily about how the African American community in Georgia and surrounding states related to Andersonville, how would discussing conditions in Northern prisons forward that discussion?
 



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