Book Review Haunted by Atrocity: Civil War Prisons in American Memory by Benjamin G. Cloyd

JPK Huson 1863

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#21
Part 9:

As the years went by, Civil War prison experiences became the fodder for adventure yarns. One volume, Famous Adventures and Prison Escapes of the Civil War, went through a number of printings. Prisons were also seen as likely tourism sites, with Libby Prison being dismantled and moved to Richmond to be opened to paying customers. Communities around Andersonville began to advertise the prison as a tourist destination. Elderly veterans held reunions at the once detested prison.

In spite of the lessening of conflict between white Northerners and Southerners, veterans on both sides continued to act as the guardians of "true history" and they rebelled against anything that they felt distorted their experiences.

I'm not crazy about picking holes in academic works and this may be just oversight or plain, old mistake- Libby was already in Richmond? It was moved to Chicago. I don't think it lasted very long- dismantled again and bricks sold as souvenirs.

Also, is it weird to describe some of the escapes we know genuinely happened as ' adventure yarns'? It seems a little dismissive plus an awful lot of those stories were printed in papers as they occurred, not just post war.
 

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#22
I'm not crazy about picking holes in academic works and this may be just oversight or plain, old mistake- Libby was already in Richmond? It was moved to Chicago. I don't think it lasted very long- dismantled again and bricks sold as souvenirs.

Also, is it weird to describe some of the escapes we know genuinely happened as ' adventure yarns'? It seems a little dismissive plus an awful lot of those stories were printed in papers as they occurred, not just post war.
Sorry, the error was mine, not Cloyd’s. I meant to write that it was moved to Chicago.
 

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Also, is it weird to describe some of the escapes we know genuinely happened as ' adventure yarns'? It seems a little dismissive plus an awful lot of those stories were printed in papers as they occurred, not just post war.
Famous Adventures and Prison Escapes of the Civil War?
 

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Part 17:

In December 1959 The Andersonville Trial made its Broadway debut. The play focus on the Wirz trial and used it to draw lessons on the Nuremberg trials. The play was a big hit and was seen by tens of thousands over its run. In 1970, PBS televised it. The cast of the TV production included William Shatner as Lt. Col. Norton P. Chipman, Cameron Mitchell as Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace, Richard Basehart as Capt. Henry Wirz, Jack Cassidy as Otis Baker, Martin Sheen as Capt. Williams, and Buddy Ebsen. The play was hardly good history, but it made Americans even more aware of Andersonville as a major Civil War site.

Tourism to the old camp increased and efforts were made to restore the Wirz monument. With the Centennial celebration, Andersonville became another place to vacation, buy tchotches, and soak up history. So by the 1960s, Andersonville was a subject of serious study, a literary metaphor and part of a Civil War vacation, all at the same time, though not always to the same people.
 

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Part 18:

Georgia's tourism board heavily promoted Andersonville as part of its Centennial Civil War tourist trail. It was ranked as the fourth most important site after those associated with the fall of Atlanta. The town of Andersonville embraced their disreputable past in pursuit of tourism dollars. Boosters cobbled together tours of the area hoping to make it a stop for interstate tourists.
 

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Part 19:

With revived interest in Andersonville, came an attempt by die-hard Lost Cause devotees to rehabilitate the memory of Henry Wirz. In the 1970s, the UDC and the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) began cosponsoring annual memorial services in Novemeber to commemorate his execution.

The Wirz cult reached its apogee in the 1980s. In 1981, the SCV awarded Wirz the Confederate Medal of Honor. In 1984, former governor Lester Maddox gave the annual Wirz memorial speech. Maddox, a hard-line and notorious racist and segregationist reminded many African Americans, if they needed reminding, of the racialized meanings of Andersonville.

According to Cloyd:

The opportunity to confirm southernness by celebrating Wirz attracted white southerners who sought to assert the legitimacy of their heritage in a difficult era of turbulent race relations and political transition. The ritual celebration of Confederate mythology offered a reconfirmation of the traditional racial identities of the past. It was not coincidence that in the same speech in which Maddox, never one to shy away from controversy, portrayed Wirz as a symbol of southern virtue, he also took a thinly veiled shot at African Americans, criticizing welfare recipients as “bums and parasites.”
 

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Part 20:

While the Wirz commemorations of the 1970s and 1980s drew respectable sized crowds of up to 200 people, they began to peter out in the 1990s. Tony Horwitz described one in the mid-1990s in his book Confederates in the Attic which only drew about forty people.

Local boosters of the economics of Civil War tourism see the Neo-Confederate visitation as miniscule, while the more than 100,000 tourists from all over the country who visit the prison site have become a vital part of the area's economy. They hope to attract tourism dollars to Andersonville and surrounding communities by emphasizing the historical significance of the area and the homey amenities of Andersonville. An annual historical fair has become a well-attended draw.

Cloyd says:

The persistence of the small band of Wirz supporters—and the complex meaning(s) of heritage at Andersonville—reveals the ongoing paradox that many contemporary white southerners face as new generations, each more divorced from the actual events, come to terms with the embedded memories of the Civil War and its prisons. Although Andersonville residents like Sheppard continue to defend Wirz’s innocence, the financial interest of the town depends on a muted portrayal of the prison controversy. The resulting presentation of the town’s history is artificial, but understandably so. Today’s Andersonville residents have little or no personal connection to the horrors of 1864 except to recognize that that history represents a viable commercial asset. The community benefits far more from the yearly visits of the tens of thousands of casually interested tourists, many of whom know nothing about what happened at Andersonville Prison and have little personal stake in dwelling on the old wounds, than from the gatherings of the pro-Confederate diehards. For most participants in the Historic Fair, enjoyment of the rustic Civil War town’s appearance is all that matters. While the reputation of Andersonville sparks interest, the design of the town and its annual celebrations acknowledges the controversy but refuses to risk alienating potential visitors. Andersonville thus offers its history on two levels—the general ambiance of the Civil War era, intended to charm the crowds of infrequent tourists, and the opportunity to learn of Wirz’s unjust execution, targeted at southerners more deeply interested in the subject of Civil War prisons. Andersonville introduces many visitors to the controversy over Civil War prisons but, upon arrival, those same tourists encounter an idealized rather than actual history. As the emphasis on general ambiance continues, the influence and numbers of Wirz supporters correspondingly decline. Although a few white southerners cling to the heritage of their Confederate ancestors and make their token appearance to honor Wirz every November, the waning intensity of the devotion suggests that memories of Civil War prisons now provoke mere curiosity instead of inspiring cause.
 

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Part 20:

For more serious visitors to Andersonville, the message of Hesseltine's objectivist school of interpretation has gained the upper hand. They were less interested in assigning sectional blame and more likely to view the deaths at Andersonville and Elmira as two manifestations of the brutality of modern war. They want to understand the suffering and are less interested in who, personally, caused it.
 

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Part 21:

In 1966, State Senator Jimmy Carter of nearby Plains, Ga. led the effort to have Andersonville become a National Park. Cloyd writes of Carter's delegation meeting with the Sec. of the Interior during which he advocated for:

a proposed “national historical memorial on the site of the Confederate prison near Andersonville, Ga.” Carter took pains to assure Udall that Georgians had no intent “to reconstruct a one-sided version of what took place at Andersonville” but rather preferred to focus on the “national significance” of Andersonville “as part of the nation’s history.” Udall, although noncommittal, indicated that the concept intrigued him. “I like the idea,” Udall declared, because “that is the story of life.” “History,” he stated, “contains many things that are pleasant and unpleasant.”5 The meeting of these officials marked the beginning of the campaign to transform Anderson-ville into a national park. If properly presented, the history of Anderson-ville promised not only financial benefits but a chance to further defuse the sectional animosities of the past and, unfortunately, present. In the recent climate of the Civil Rights Movement, which once again pitted the South against the rest of the nation, the opportunity to recast a symbol of sectional bitterness as a healing memorial to all prisoners of war (one that, not coincidentally, avoided the peculiar and potentially inflammatory racial dimensions of Civil War prisons) made both business and political sense.
 

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Part 22:

One factor in park discussions in the late-1960s was the Vietnam War. POWs and MIAs were in the national consciousness in a way that Americans who came of age in the last thirty years cannot even imagine. The suffering of Americans captured by the Vietnamese, and the national desire to free and account for all of the captured as a huge preoccupation, and would remain so for a decade after the war ended. Supporters of the park broadened its message to be about more than the Civil War prison experience. A report said that the proposed park would be a memorial for “all Americans who have served their country, at home and abroad, and suffered the loneliness and anguish of captivity. It is the undaunted spirit of men such as these that keeps America the Nation that it is.”

As you might expect, the United Daughters of the Confederacy opposed the creation of an Andersonville National Park. J.G. Mandry of the UDC's Andersonville committee led the charge. Cloyd writes that:

Motivated by the desire to protect southern memories of Civil War prisons, and as part of the larger struggle to preserve the Confederate heritage of the white South, the UDC actively campaigned to repeal the legislation designating Andersonville as a national park. Madry and the UDC resented that “this prison is being singled out,” when “we feel that what happened to our Confederate soldiers in Northern prisons is as bad as what happened to Union soldiers at Andersonville.” “Most tourists aren’t historians,” she exclaimed, and therefore, no matter how objective the presentation of history or strong the emphasis on the universal story of prisoner of war suffering, Madry feared that the site would only reconfirm the “malicious and libelous, insulting and injurious myth” of Andersonville’s singular reputation for cruelty.
 

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Part 23:

On Memorial Day 1976 a statue honoring American Prisoners of War from "all wars" was unveiled. It symbolized Andersonville's new role, as a stand-in for all of the palces Americans have been imprisoned in during wars. From the British prison ships in New York City to the Hanoi Hilton of Vietnam, this one site would bear the burden for all of them. It was a transformation from a place of sectional division to one of national unity.

At the same time that a universalist interpretation of the park was being developed, the particular space, the land itself, had to be marked and explained to visitors as a site that for a year had been a place of intense suffering for thousands of men. Replicas of shelters and of stockade walls were necessary to give visitors the sense of being at a special place where "history happened."
 

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Part 24:

In the early 1990s plans were developed to open a National POW Museum at Andersonville. Appropriations were rushed so that the dying generations of World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War prisoners could be present at the museum's opening.

As visitors passed through the museum, the audiovisual presentation of prisoner interviews and footage of reunions, along with the introductory film, “Echoes of Captivity,” narrated by General Colin Powell, drove home the point that while the uniforms and technology changed from war to war, the emotional and physical challenges that prisoners of war faced maintained an unfortunate consistency. The juxtaposition of artifacts from the various wars also reinforced the overall interpretation. In the “Living Conditions” exhibit, canteens and utensils from Andersonville prisoners rested alongside the canteens and utensils of World War II and Korea POWs.35 Lying side by side, these relics poignantly reminded viewers that the mutual suffering of all prisoners of war crossed historical boundaries. No matter when or where imprisonment occurred, deprivation invariably followed.
 

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Part 25:

Cloyd is critical of the approach taken by the museum. By taking a "long view" of POWs across America's wars, it stresses patriotic loyalty of prisoners and their suffering rather than questions of who was to blame for that suffering. This, he writes, leaves out the fact that the suffering of Civil War prisoners was caused by other Americans. "By conflating all modern wars," Cloyd argues, "the NPS again excuses, or at least distracts attention from, the tortured morality of the deliberate nature of the policy choices made by, and thus the responsibility shared for, the Union and Confederacy in the tragedy of Civil War prisons."

Cloyd also wonders about the impact over the coming years of the decline in the number of veterans with POW experiences. Almost no United States military personnel have been held as prisoners of war since 1973. Once the steadily declining number of prison survivors dies out, will that impact visitation to the museum and to andersonville?
 

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#34
Conclusion:

This is not a good "first book" for someone to read on Civil War prisons. It will, howver, be appreciated by those who have read up on Elimira or Andersoncille and who have asked themselves why the prisoner of war historiography seems so different from the tragectory of other aspects of the study of the Civil War. It will also be a book appreciated by students of Civil War memory studies.
 

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