Book Review Andersonvilles of the North: The Myths and Realities of Northern Treatment of Civil War Confederate Prisoners by James M. Gillispie

#41
That, Pat, is one of the LARGEST pile of bovine excrement ever piled onto this forum.
First off, early on the Confederate Soldiers in prison were walked around so civilians in the North could walk up stairs just to get a peep and charged for it. And they did feed some for a while until this foolishness was stopped as time went on.

The North stopped feeding them on purpose all together.
As you request of others...please provide a source that supports the "North stopped feeding them [Confederate prisoners] all together."
 

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#42
While the author makes some good points, the overall purpose of this book seems like an attempt to whitewash how bad northern POW camps were. Imagine modern prisons allowing men to live on flood-prone peninsulas, or allowing spectators to pay money to watch the freezing and starving men in the prison yard, or prisons where there are mass graves because so many died from conditions in the prison. There would be howls of protest from all quarters. Conditions in those Union POW camps were far worse than they should have been, and treatment of POWs crueler than it needed to be, and that needs to be emphasized.
 

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#43
Part 19:

Another charge made against Northern prisons involves the quality of housing for prisoners. In most cases, prisoners were housed in wooden barracks, but in Point Lookout they were in tents year round and in Elmira many were in tents for half a year. Union officials defended the use of tents as an expedient and pointed out that Confederates in the field lived in tents as well. While that precedent may have be appropriate for Point Lookout in Maryland, it was hardly appropriate for Elmira. Elmira has one of the harshest climates in New York State and living in a tent there in the cold weather must have been miserable.

Elmira had been a Union depot for new recruits and its buildings could accomodate about 5,000 men. These buildings were put up in warm weather and were not designed to house men for long periods of time. Within months of Elmira prison opening in the late-spring of 1864 it had twice as many men as its buildings could hold. This meant that thousands of men slept in tents. Prison authorities were actively building new barracks in the Fall of 1864 and by January 1, 1865 all Confederates were in the new buildings. However, October, November, and December 1864 had been very cold and men had suffered as a result.

The housing problem appears to be an issue of poor planning rather than the intentional killing of prisoners through cold. Evidence Gilispie provides indicates that as Union officials recognized the housing problem in the Fall of 1864 they took pains to alleviate it. If the intent was to freeze prisoners, why incur the heavy expense of building new barracks? Wood stoves provided to heat the barracks proved inadequate to warm the chilly Upstate air, and the prison spent large amounts of money on new coal-burning stoves. Again, if the intent was to kill, why the expenditures?

I think that the performance of Union officials concerning Elmira was negligent, however. There were plenty of indications even before Elmira opened that the prison would soon hold more prisoners than it had housing for. Delaying three months to start building new barracks meant that men would be exposed in tents to terrible cold for as long as sixty days. While Union officials argued that many of the guards were also housed in tents at the time, the guards had other warming opportunities unavailable to prisoners.

In this section Gillispie provides adequate evidence that Union commanders did not use the freezing of Confederates as part of a policy to kill them, but the incompetence and delay in putting up new housing is hardly excusable.
 
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Pat Young

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#45
Part 20:

Gillispie glib characterization of the barracks at Elmira is questionable. He says that "nobody would book a vacation to such quarters," as though that is the heart of the criticism of that prison. Gillispie goes on to write "Union officials would point out that they provided four walls and a roof with stoves in the winter and bunks with straw to sleep in. Such quarters were at least as good as troops in the field lived in..." This second statement is meaningful, the first, about vacationing, is not. I wish the author had not trivialized housing conditions which contributed to the deaths of some of the Confederates there.
 

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#47
Part 21:

The next section of the book examines conditions in all of the major prison camps in the North. The most interesting aspect of the survey are the many times inspectors wrote to inform their superiors of shortcomings at the camp they were inspecting. The reports on problems at the camp can be used against the Union's position, but Gillispie says that the reports themselves show significant interest by central authorities in the well-being of the prisoners. He also says that after negative reports were made, changes in conditions often occurred.

A fair number of measures taken at Union prisons argue against the idea that there was an official intent to harm the Confederates. For example, if you are trying to kill them off, why did camps administer smallpox vaccines to the men? Why did the Union spend so much effort in constructing barracks at Elmira in November and December of 1864 if it was using cold to destroy its prisoners?
 
#48
Twenty two years ago another author published his book about Civil War POW facilities and the treatment of prisoners which by all appearances has been held in high esteem by peer and customer reviews. Many of his findings appear to be mirrored by author Gillispie in this threads review. From the Introduction section of Lonnie R. Speer's Portals to Hell: Military Prisons of the Civil War:

"They began as prisons or holding facilities but, with few exceptions, quickly became nothing more than American concentration camps. Prisoners were crammed into them with complete disregard of capacity limits, hygiene, nutrition, or sanitation needs. Within a short time neither government could cope with the problems created by such a high concentration of people in such small areas or the lack of coordination within the prison system. In the end, more than 56,000 prisoners of war died in confinement, and many more were in poor or failing health when finally released.

"Neither side was more at fault than the other. The number of deaths in Confederate prisons totaled 30,218, or a little more than 15 percent of those incarcerated. In Federal prisons, there were 25,796 deaths, or slightly more than 12 percent. Although propaganda during and after the war convinced many people that the Confederate prisons were much worse than those maintained by the Union, a close examination reveals there were few differences. If Union soldiers were stricken with fear upon entering the gates of Andersonville Prison, Confederates were shocked upon learning that they were headed for Fort Delaware or Elmira prisons.

"The death rate in all the prisons amounted to nearly 13 percent of the total confined. In comparison, those who remained on the battlefield fared much better; based on available figures there, only 5 percent of the total enlistments of both sides were killed.

"When the remaining prisoners were finally released at the end of the war, they were convinced they had suffered through a conscious government effort to reduce their ranks by starvation and disease. At the same time, the public accused both sides of having used the prisoners as pawns to be sacrificed.

"In reality, though, the high mortality rate in the prisons was never intended by either side. There was never any organized effort by one government or the other to eliminate its enemy through concentration camps."
Portals To Hell : Military Prisons of the Civil War, Lonnie R. Speer, pg. xiv
 

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#49
Part 22:

The final section of this book looks at the impact of disease on men in the camps. The author writes that many Confederates arrived in the prisons exhaused from campaigning, wounded, sick, or emaciated. The warders did not cause these conditions. He says that if the health of the men was the result of bad treatment from Union doctors we would expect the sick among prisoners to have a lower surival rate than at the Confederacy's leading hospital. They did not. In fact, it may have been better to be sick in most Union prisons than at Chimborazo near Richmond.
 
#50
Part 22:

The final section of this book looks at the impact of disease on men in the camps. The author writes that many Confederates arrived in the prisons exhaused from campaigning, wounded, sick, or emaciated. The warders did not cause these conditions. He says that if the health of the men was the result of bad treatment from Union doctors we would expect the sick among prisoners to have a lower surival rate than at the Confederacy's leading hospital. They did not. In fact, it may have been better to be sick in most Union prisons than at Chimborazo near Richmond.

Now I know why Gillispie's name rings a bell. He wrote a book about 8 or 9 years ago titled Andersonvilles of the North where he relied heavily on a medical history of the Civil War as a main source for his facts and figures in that book. He pointed out that 28% of Confederate pneumonia cases ended up in death at Camp Douglass while 18% of Confederate prisoners who contracted smallpox at the same prison, died. In comparison, Confederate soldiers who were patients at Chimborazo, the Confederacy's military hospital in Richmond, experienced a death rate of 37% when stricken by pneumonia and 22% when infected by smallpox. Gillispie reasoned that according to these statistics, A Confederate prisoner stood a better chance of survival in a Union prisoner of war camp than a Confederate soldier in a major Confederate hospital.
 

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#51
Conclusion:

Gillispie concludes "This study does not claim to be the last word on Federal policies or living conditions in Yankee prisons during the Civil War. Neither has it sought to portray Union prisons as pleasant places to have been confined. Rather, this study has sought to demonstrate why the predominately negative impression of Union authorities’ policies and actions towards Confederate prisoners as neglectful, apathetic, and deliberately cruel is in need of serious reevaluation. The evidence supporting the prevailing stereotype of the cruel and negligent Yankee comes almost exclusively from the postwar writing of Southerners who, like their Northern counterparts, exploited the prisoner of war issue to achieve a number of goals."

While Gillispie argues his points strongly, there is little evidence adduced that does not conform with the overall exculpatory goals of the book.
 
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Karen Lips

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#52
Part 5:

After the war ended, Henry Wirz, the comandant of Andersonville, was tried, convicted, and executed for the murder of prisoners. The emotional testimony of prisoners against Wirz stirred even more negative feelings against the defunt Confederacy. Northerners believed that they had triumphed over an inhuman regime in the South.

Gillispie says that facing the harsh moral judgement of the North, many Southern whites began to publicize the abuse they say befell Confederates held in Unionist prisons in the North. The author writes:

ex-Confederates did not want to accept that God favored the Yankees over themselves or that Southern honor had been forever sullied by its gross mistreatment of Northern prisoners during the war. Southerners resolved the crisis by creating creating a model for interpreting the Civil War era that came to be known as the Lost Cause. This model allowed Southerners to take pride in their Confederate past in part by denying that God had played much, if any role, in the military outcome and by arguing that the true story of how prisoners were treated showed that the South had been humane and Christian in its care of prisoners while Northerners had been the true demons. How each side prosecuted the war and conducted itself in battle became more important in the Lost Cause school than ultimate victory or defeat. That model taught, among other things, that losing carried no stigma and could even be called heroic if one fought nobly and chivalrously against a huge and unprincipled foe....
I think Wirz was a scapegoat.
 

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#54
Here is a review from the Iowa Historical Society:

https://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewconten...psredir=1&article=1362&context=annals-of-iowa

From the review:

It is this “traditional, well established image of cruel Northern keepers” that Gillispie methodically attacks, although he goes beyond merely shifting blame back to the South. He instead marshals convincing evidence and solid arguments to demolish this Lost Cause image and shows that the suffering and death in Northern prison camps was “far more attributable to the misfortunes of war than to systematic Yankee cruelty or neglect” (246).

This is a fascinating, well-written, and evenhanded work that will undoubtedly become a standard work on the subject of Northern POW camps, including the one at Rock Island. Gillispie’s tempered approach shows that the overall topic of Civil War prisons, an emotional issue undoubtedly made more so to Americans by the experiences of Vietnam War POWs, can now be approached methodically and calmly, using evidence instead of agendas as a point of departure for future debate.
'
 

19thGeorgia

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#55
Gillispie reasoned that according to these statistics, A Confederate prisoner stood a better chance of survival in a Union prisoner of war camp than a Confederate soldier in a major Confederate hospital.
Everyone who goes into a hospital is already sick. Everyone who goes into a prison is not.
 
#56
Everyone who goes into a hospital is already sick. Everyone who goes into a prison is not.
Many of the prisoners were arriving at the POW camps with smallpox but regardless, once a prisoner arrived with or has contracted smallpox, he would be moved to the prison hospital or a separate facility at the compound to segregate them from the remainder of the prisoners and camp personnel. The fact is according to Gillispie, there was a slightly better survival rate for those infected with smallpox at certain POW camps than at a Confederate hospital.
 

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#57
H-Net reviews the book:

https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=26197

From the review:

Perhaps Gillispie’s most emphatic contention in this book aims to dispel the misconception that Union officials intentionally suspended the prisoner exchange program in 1863 for purely military reasons. This decision, which created a glut of POWs that neither side was properly prepared to care for, “has been held up for generations as the ultimate proof of Yankee callousness and calculation,” Gillispie writes (p. 244). After reviewing the Official Records it is clear to Gillispie that had the Confederacy agreed to include black Union soldiers in the exchange program it would have been quickly resumed. The Davis administration’s official policy of enslaving black Union POWs and executing their white officers could not be tolerated by Abraham Lincoln or the Union army and was the true reason for the exchange policy’s termination. It is not the fault of the Union, Gillispie argues, that Confederate racial policy created a political environment in which the exchange regime could not be resumed.

In conclusion, Gillispie freely concedes that Union POW camps were generally dirty, overcrowded, and by and large unhealthy places to be; however, his final judgment is that: “Confederate suffering and death in Union prisons were truly tragic aspects of America’s Civil War, but the wartime evidence strongly points to the conclusion that they were far more attributable to the misfortunes of war than to systematic Yankee cruelty or neglect” (p. 246). While this reviewer would have liked a more thorough examination of the actual physical treatment of the prisoners by camp personnel, such as punishments and work requirements, as well as further evidence of discussion and debates among Union officials regarding the treatment of prisoners, this is still an excellent study. Overall, this book is a well-argued, convincing corrective to the existing historiography and should prove to be an important and enduring work on the topic of Civil War POWs.

 

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#58
One thing that bears repeating when issues like this come up: many Northern whites in the 1860s were opposed to slavery (and reenslavement) while still being racist. Today many people seem to see racism as a binary, but it is more like a spectrum.
I think that is right.
 

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#60
Collection; Master of Military Art and Science Theses
Title; Camp Chase, Columbus, Ohio, 1861-1865: a study of the Union's treatment of Confederate prisoners of war.
Author; Ivy, Jack M., Jr.

Abstract; Camp Chase, four miles southeast of Columbus, Ohio, began in May 1861 as a mustering center for units entering Union service during the American Civil War. By June 1861 it picked up additional responsibilities of housing Confederate prisoners captured by Ohio units during the earliest military actions of the war. It eventually expanded to hold 9,423 prisoners in January, 1865, which made it one of the larger Union prison camps. The earliest prisoners were afforded extraordinary leniency by state authorities until the Union government stepped in with rules and regulations. By October 1862, an effective system was in place to secure and care for prisoners. Success continued despite fluctuations in prison population, disease and a constant influx of captured wounded, until August 1864 when rations were reduced in retribution for Confederate treatment of Union captives. Ration reduction caused prisoners hardships but did not markedly increase mortality. Quality medical care and sanitation kept mortality below Union Army deaths from disease. As prison population soared during the last months of the war, increasing numbers of wounded, severely exposed and weakened captives joined Camp Chase. Reduced rations continued to pose hardships but ration reduction was offset by superb medical care and sanitation which continued to keep mortality below that experienced by the Union Army from disease. The study confirms William B. Hesseltine's study of prisons in his book, Civil War Prisons: A study in War Psychology, and examines Confederate prisoner of war mortality, comparing it to Union soldier mortality from disease. The thesis concludes that William B. Hesseltine's thesis is partially correct when applied to Camp Chase. Prisoners were well treated up to the time rations were reduced in retaliation for alleged Confederate cruelties to Union prisoners. In spite of this, Camp Chase officials continued to stress sanitation and provide clothing late in the war even though they were not obligated to do so. This demonstrated that officials at Camp Chase were successful in managing a prisoner of war camp, even during the period of Union retaliation.

Series; Command and General Staff College (CGSC) MMAS thesis
Publisher; Fort Leavenworth, KS : US Army Command and General Staff College,
Date, Original; 1990-06-01
Date, Digital; 2008
Call number; ADA 228997
Release statement; Approved for public release; Distribution is unlimited. The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of the student-authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College or any other governmental agency. (References to these studies should include the foregoing statement.)
Repository; Combined Arms Research Library
Library; Combined Arms Research Library Digital Library
Date created; 2008-02-19
943

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USS ALASKA
 

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