Impact of Prison Atrocity Reports: Andersonville, Elmira and Elsewhere

Pat Young

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Featured Book Reviewer
Joined
Jan 7, 2013
Location
Long Island, NY
I have a new article on the scholarly site Emerging Civil War. As the Civil War was ending, stories of atrocities filled the newspapers in the North and South. After the war, prisoner accounts of time spent in the camps became a genre in book publishing.
https://emergingcivilwar.com/2021/0...-prison-camps-increased-post-war-antagonisms/

Do you have a link or reference to the order per your article in regards to "the decision by Union authorities to reduce rations at Elmira prison and elsewhere to match what was given to Union soldiers at Andersonville"? I have seen this charge made a number of times over the years But have never seen an order produced from Stanton or anyone else that ordered such reduction.

Colonel William H. Hoffman, the Federal Commissary General of Prisons, made a recommendation to Secretary of War Stanton that prisoner's rations be reduced but without "depriving them of the food necessary to keep them in health" that eventually morphed into the same "ration to that issued by the rebel Government to their own troops."


"Washington, D. C., May 19, 1864.
Honorable E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War, Washington, D.C.:
SIR: I have the honor to suggest that the ration as now issued to prisoners of war may be considerably reduced without depriving them of the food necessary to keep them in health, and I respectfully recommend that hereafter the ration be composed as follows, viz: Hard bread, 14 ounces, or 16 ounces soft bread; corn-meal, 16 ounces; beef, 14 ounces; pork or bacon, 10 ounces; beans, 6 quarts per 100 men, or rice, 8 pounds per 100 men; sugar, 12 pounds per 100 men; coffee, 5 pounds ground or 7 pounds raw per 100 men, or tea, 1 pound per 100 men; soap, 4 pounds per 100 men; salt, 2 quarts per 100 men; vinegar, 3 quarts per men; molasses, 1 quart per 100 men; potatoes, 15 pounds per 100 men. I also recommend that ration of sugar and coffee, as above fixed, be issued only every other day.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. HOFFMAN, Colonel Third Infantry and Commissary-General of Prisoners"
O.R., Series II, Vol VII, Part 1 pp. 150-151


General Halleck, who had received a copy of Hoffman's request to Stanton, also made suggestion to "dispense with tea, coffee, and sugar and reduce the ration to that issued by the rebel Government to their own troops."
Halleck's request was agreed to by both the federal officer in charge of subsistance and the Secretary of War, Stanton:

"MAY 19, 1864.
Respectfully referred as above directed. Why not dispense with tea, coffee, and sugar and reduce the ration to that issued by the rebel Government to their own troops?
H. W. HALLECK,
Major-General and Chief of Staff. "
Ibid., p.151


The acting Surgeon-General concurred with Halleck on the reduced rations for healthy prisoners but objected to it applying to sick or wounded prisoners. Halleck approved the modification of the ration order to include "tea, coffee, and sugar" for those prisoners:

"I concur with the views expressed by Major-General Halleck.
J. P. TAYLOR,
Commissary-General of Subsistence.
_________________________

I respectfully approve of the reduction of the ration as suggested by Major-General Halleck.
W. HOFFMAN,
Colonel Third Infantry and Commissary-General of Prisoners.
_________________________________

SURGEON-GENERAL'S OFFICE, May 19, 1864.

The reduction proposed by Major-General Halleck could be carried out with the exception of the ration for the sick and wounded, who would require that proposed by Colonel Hoffman or more than its equivalent in medicine and hospital items.
Very respectfully,
J. K. BARNES,
Acting Surgeon-General.
_________________________

MAY 27, 1864.
Proposed ration, except that sick and wounded are to have tea, coffee, and sugar, approved.
H. W. HALLECK,
Major-General and Chief of Staff.
________________________________

The ration approved by the Chief of Staff and Surgeon-General approved.
EDWIN M. STANTON,
Secretary of War. "
Ibid., p.151
 
Joined
Aug 2, 2019
Well done, sir.

There were actually surprisingly few prisoner memoirs to come out of Andersonville in the years immediately following the war; only about a dozen or so were published between 1865 and 1870, and almost all of those disappeared from public eye with nary a ripple, with the exception of Robert Kellogg's book. Except for his, they all went out of print fairly quickly and I don't think there were any published at all between 1871 and 1878. Then John McElroy's book, for better or worse, became a best seller when it was published in 1879, and opened up a whole glut of "memoirs" by prisoners (and in some cases, men pretending to be former prisoners) that drew heavily on McElroy's frequently fabricated accounts.

Andersonville National Historic Site and the NPS are currently trying to get "woke" and include information on both the African American POWs and the African American community in the surrounding neighborhood in their presentation and signage. There was actually a freedman's school at the prison site not long after the War ended. They're currently in the process of redoing their signage, which is a good thing. There were just over 100 black POWs at Camp Sumter, and only a single mention of a black Civil War POW in the exhibits at the Museum, and that particular guy was not at Andersonville, and his ultimate fate is unknown (see photo).

@Copperhead-mi, I came across this Masters' thesis on Hoffman and it firmly blames him for most of the deaths at Elmira. Here's the thesis, as stated on page 10:


The thesis of this treatise is that William Hoffman changed in his actions toward the
Confederate prisoners during the last year of the war. It is the effect of these actions that caused
significant problems for the Confederate captives, especially those located at Elmira. It will be
shown that Hoffman’s actions did affect the death toll at Elmira and that its reputation as
“Hellmira” is at least in part due to Hoffman. Using The War Of The Rebellion: A Compilation
Of The Official Records Of The Union And Confederate Armies, this thesis will show that certain
decisions regarding Elmira were Hoffman’s alone and that those decisions contributed to nearly
3,000 deaths in twelve months

https://dc.etsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2174&context=etd

20210710_160054.jpg
 
@Copperhead-mi, I came across this Masters' thesis on Hoffman and it firmly blames him for most of the deaths at Elmira. Here's the thesis, as stated on page 10:


The thesis of this treatise is that William Hoffman changed in his actions toward the
Confederate prisoners during the last year of the war. It is the effect of these actions that caused
significant problems for the Confederate captives, especially those located at Elmira. It will be
shown that Hoffman’s actions did affect the death toll at Elmira and that its reputation as
“Hellmira” is at least in part due to Hoffman. Using The War Of The Rebellion: A Compilation
Of The Official Records Of The Union And Confederate Armies, this thesis will show that certain
decisions regarding Elmira were Hoffman’s alone and that those decisions contributed to nearly
3,000 deaths in twelve months

https://dc.etsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2174&context=etd
Thank you for the link. I will definitely read it in a couple of minutes. I'm not disputing Hoffman's orders but rather the order "by Union authorities to reduce rations at Elmira prison and elsewhere to match what was given to Union soldiers at Andersonville."

This alleged order has been tossed around for a number of years but nobody seems to be able to come up with it. The closest order to that is Halleck's suggestion with Stanton's approval, to reduce the daily ration of Confederate prisoners "to that issued by the rebel Government to their own troops."
 

19thGeorgia

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
1630345456870.png



"It is not known whether Private Wood survived his imprisonment."

It took me about five (5) minutes to find out he did survive. In his service file there was a claim that he had been "assassinated by the rebels" but that turned out not to be true.

Strange with all the resources at hand that the NPS could not find this-

"...he was wounded and captured. Released and returned to company June 13, 65"

Wood, Wilson (19) (3).jpg


Wood, Wilson (19) (1).jpg

Wood, Wilson (19) (2).jpg


 
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