Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Featured Book Reviewer
- Jan 7, 2013
- Long Island, NY
Civil War Prisons edited by William B. Hesseltine published by The Kent State University Press (1972) 123 pages $12.00 Paperback, $11.40 Kindle.
This collection of short essays, originally published in the journal Civil War History at the start of the Civil War Centennial, was the standard scholarly work on the subject for more than a quarter of a century. Hesseltine had put together the volume to bring a scholarly lens to the lurid field of writing about the prison hell holes of the Civil War.
Horrible photos of newly liberated priosners of war published in 1865 showed skeletal survivors of Andersonville. After the Civil War many Union soldiers who had been incarcerated at Andersonville, Libby, and elsewhere published first-person accounts of prison life in Confederate jails. These volumes sometimes exaggerated the intentional ill-treatment prisoners received in order to attract readers. Except for William Hesseltine's 1930 scholarly work on the subject, there was little objective scientific history being applied. Mackinlay Kantor’s fictionalized Andersonville was published in 1955. When it became a bestseller and won the Pulitzer Prize it cemented the image of Andersonville as the predecessor of the death camps of the 1940s.
For all of the popularity of non-academic books on Civil War prisoners of war, there was very little scholarly work on the subject for the first century after Appomattox. Hesseltine decided to work with the Civil War History journal to try to establish prison studies as a sub field of Civil War history. This collection of essays was the result. It was such a popular issue of the journal that in 1972 Kent State Press published it as a book. That book went on to sell 22,000 copies, a large number for a university press publication.
Note: This review will be published in several posts.