Myth: You Starved Our Prisoners and We Took Care of Yours!

O' Be Joyful

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#1
This thread relates to the ongoing--and neverending--controversy over which side, the Union or the Confederacy, was the more inhumane in its treatment of their respective prisoners of war. The content is from the the N.P.S. gov website. I will break the article content into separate posts, so as to make it more easily readable. Anything in bold will be mine for what I see as its importance.

https://www.nps.gov/ande/learn/historyculture/debateoverprisonsupplies.htm

Sumter-Republican-July-30-1864_1.jpg


The July 30, 1864 local newspaper listing the mandatory government prices for supplies at Andersonville.

Lake Blackshear Regional Library
Before the Civil War was even over, people from both sides began to justify their own treatment of prisoners and leveled accusations of intentional negligence at the opposing prison system. People on both sides sought to find simple answers as to why prisons on both sides were bad, and these basic arguments emerged: Southerners believed that they did the best they could under the circumstances and that northerners had been intentionally negligent in retaliation. Northerners believed they had held captives humanely and that Confederate prisons were being run as death camps. Both sides oversimplified what was happening in the Civil War prisons, and the causes of suffering were far more complicated than simple vengeance or short supplies. Although both sides managed prisons very differently, they each suffered from the same core deficiency: a reliance on non-governmental sources for supplies. This can be illustrated by examining the two prisons with the highest death rates: Elmira & Andersonville.
 

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O' Be Joyful

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#2
Many people look at the death rate at Elmira and conclude that Confederate prisoners "starved in a land of plenty." This line even appears in several post war memoirs. However, there are several issues with this understanding. First, relatively few Confederate prisoners died from diseases or complications related to starvation. Most deaths at Elmira occurred as a result of pneumonia, smallpox, typhoid, and dysentery. Flooding in the spring of 1865 resulted in several dozen deaths, and almost fifty more died in a train wreck en route to the prison. The second issue with this understanding of Federal prisons is that the north was a "land of plenty" and the role this played in prison management. It's certainly true that the north was in much better shape logistically than the south. However, the Federal military bureaucracy relied on private vendors for food, clothing, and other supplies in both the armies and in the prisons.

Failures of contractors to fulfill their obligations in a timely manner had a direct effect on the well-being of prisoners. It meant that barracks were built too slowly, and a significant number of prisoners and guards at Elmira were housed in tents well into winter – leading to outbreaks of pneumonia. When the drinking supply became polluted, prison officials began efforts to dig a drainage channel, but outside contractors were slow in procuring supplies and the project
stalled until it was too late and the ground was frozen, which led to outbreaks of typhoid and dysentery. The Federal military prison system was a slow bureaucracy that often responded to problems, but because of a reliance on outside contractors for materials and labor, did so too slowly. The problems at Elmira and all of the other Federal military prisons were far more complicated than simple callousness, revenge, or intentional negligence.

 
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O' Be Joyful

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#3
Like Elmira, Andersonville relied on outside sources for food and supplies. One of the reasons Andersonville was selected as a prison site was because of its proximity to agricultural production. The food shortages in Richmond and in the army in Virginia would be avoided by placing the prison in the middle of the breadbasket of the Confederacy. In theory, this would protect the prison from being cut off from the rest of the country if rail lines were destroyed. However, this failed in practice because the Confederate military relied on local farmers and companies that were less than willing to do business with the Confederacy. Simply put, area farmers did not want to sell their crops to the military at fixed government prices in Confederate currency. Further complicating this was that many of the large planters in Georgia refused to produce foodstuffs and insisted on continuing to grow cotton, which only drove prices for food higher. In an effort to alleviate this and to feed the prison, a "tithe" was placed on all food production, and area farmers were required to give 10% of their food crop to the Confederate military.

This was seen by many as an overreach by a government that claimed to carry the mantle of states' rights, and further alienated area farmers. By mid-1864 it was virtually impossible for the Confederate army at Andersonville to acquire anything, even if it was readily available. The challenge of purchasing food for the prison was exacerbated by the Confederacy's decision to centralize prisoners into one location – nearly one million pounds of cornmeal were required at Andersonville in August 1864 alone. These issues extended beyond food. Efforts to purchase lumber to build barracks and a dam across the creek were stifled when the shipyards in Columbus, GA could pay higher rates than the army could, which was constrained by a fixed pricing system. There was enough food and lumber in the area around Andersonville to greatly improve conditions, but because none of it was nationalized, the Confederate government could not get access to it. Accounts from some civilians and soldiers in the area describe warehouses of food that the owners wouldn't sell for anything except gold or greenbacks, leaving prisoners hungry, and forcing guards to purchase necessary supplies on their own.​
 
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O' Be Joyful

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#4
Both sides were wrong in arguing that they provided the best care that they could while criticizing the other for inadequate treatment. Both sides could have improved on their management techniques – Federal officials already nationalized some industries and could have further done so to eliminate some of the prison bureaucracy. The Confederate government could have allowed flexibility from its rigid pricing system, which would have greatly alleviated hunger in the prison and facilitated the construction of shelters for the prisoners and a dam across the creek. However, even today almost 150 years later, arguments continue as people defend some prisons and level charges of negligence at others. The truth is that prison management in the Civil War was incredibly complicated and subject to many outside forces. Any effort to distill it down to simple negligence or cruelty is simply inaccurate.

https://www.nps.gov/ande/learn/historyculture/debateoverprisonsupplies.htm
 
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#5
This is a moral equivalency argument that is invalid. The Confederacy was dissolving as of August 1864. The government in Richmond never admitted it, but they never admitted that they had been fairly defeated, either. By November 1864 individual people in the South would no longer enforce POW confinement and by March of 1864 neither were individual commanders.
 

Northern Light

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#6
It seems that POW camps have a tendency to bring out the worst in those who are assigned to them as staff. From what I have read about the federal Camp Douglas, treatment of the prisoners was unnecessarily pretty bad. I have often wondered if this is/was because those men were angry at being assigned to this duty, instead of to the fighting, or were soldiers who were not really good in their own regiments, as I have heard my husband say, a "waste of rations", or if the ability to have power for good or bad over the lives of others rises to the surface in these situations. There seems to be a certain loss of basic humanity in the camps, on both sides, Union and Confederate, and staff and prisoners.
 

O' Be Joyful

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#7
The Confederacy was dissolving as of August 1864. The government in Richmond never admitted it, but they never admitted that they had been fairly defeated, either.
I can not argue against your point that the Confederacy was dissolving at that time. But, one must allow that crystal ball technology was in its infancy in 1864, and can not be compared to what we possess today.
 

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#8
As further information; a list of links to other articles that can be found on the NPS. gov site that pertain to other myths about Civil War prison camps, but the vast majority relate to Andersonville.

Main page: https://www.nps.gov/ande/learn/historyculture/cwprison-myths.htm



The military prisons of the Civil War, especially the most famous one, have long been the subject of mythology and misconception, beginning in the years immediately following the end of the war.

The following pages will present a common myth or assumption about Andersonville & other Civil War prisons, and then explore its origin and accuracy. Many of these posts will challenge what you've always read, been told, assumed, or believed about Civil War prisons.

Myth: The first prisoners arrive at Andersonville on February 25, 1864
Myth: Prisoners at Andersonville called their shelters 'Shebangs.'
Myth: Andersonville is the only prison that is preserved or discussed.
Myth: Henry Wirz was the only person convicted or executed by the US government during the Civil War
Myth: Union prisoners didn't galvanize and join the Confederate service.
Myth: The deadline was unique to Andersonville.
Myth: The Raiders were a dominant force throughout the history of the prison.
Myth: General Grant stopped the exchanges.
Myth: "My ancestor escaped from Andersonville."
Myth: It's Always August at Andersonville.
Myth: The guards died at the same rate as the prisoners.
Myth: Clara Barton established the National Cemetery and led the expedition to identify the graves.
Myth: General Sherman's March to the Sea destroyed the supplies needed by prisoners at Andersonville, and he could have liberated 30,000 prisoners if he marched south instead of to Savannah.
Myth: The Mystery of Felix de la Baume
Myth: You Starved Our Prisoners and We Took Care of Yours
Who Are These Men? The Andersonville Prisoner Photographs
 

Northern Light

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#9
As further information; a list of links to other articles that can be found on the NPS. gov site that pertain to other myths about Civil War prison camps, but the vast majority relate to Andersonville.

Main page: https://www.nps.gov/ande/learn/historyculture/cwprison-myths.htm



The military prisons of the Civil War, especially the most famous one, have long been the subject of mythology and misconception, beginning in the years immediately following the end of the war.

This is very interesting. I knew some of this, but not all. Thanks for posting.

The following pages will present a common myth or assumption about Andersonville & other Civil War prisons, and then explore its origin and accuracy. Many of these posts will challenge what you've always read, been told, assumed, or believed about Civil War prisons.

Myth: The first prisoners arrive at Andersonville on February 25, 1864
Myth: Prisoners at Andersonville called their shelters 'Shebangs.'
Myth: Andersonville is the only prison that is preserved or discussed.
Myth: Henry Wirz was the only person convicted or executed by the US government during the Civil War
Myth: Union prisoners didn't galvanize and join the Confederate service.
Myth: The deadline was unique to Andersonville.
Myth: The Raiders were a dominant force throughout the history of the prison.
Myth: General Grant stopped the exchanges.
Myth: "My ancestor escaped from Andersonville."
Myth: It's Always August at Andersonville.
Myth: The guards died at the same rate as the prisoners.
Myth: Clara Barton established the National Cemetery and led the expedition to identify the graves.
Myth: General Sherman's March to the Sea destroyed the supplies needed by prisoners at Andersonville, and he could have liberated 30,000 prisoners if he marched south instead of to Savannah.
Myth: The Mystery of Felix de la Baume
Myth: You Starved Our Prisoners and We Took Care of Yours
Who Are These Men? The Andersonville Prisoner Photographs
This is very interesting . I knew some of this, but not all. Thanks for posting!
 

SWMODave

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#10
I don't know enough about your topic of comparison to comment properly O Be - but I recently finished a book on the 3rd thru 11th reunions of the 1st Maine Cavalry. I found it interesting that the only bitterness that remained among any of these men after all those years, in this book anyway, were expressed by those who spent time in prison of war camps.
 

archieclement

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#11
I always thought while some may have died from shortages, they weren't the same shortages

Rock Island for example, large numbers died from pneumonia and exposure, not starvation. But would think failure to provide adequate winter shelter and clothing would be about the same as failure to provide adequate food/diet as far as mistreatment/mismanagement goes
 

archieclement

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#12
And honestly the logistical nightmares for both sides for differing reasons I would have thought had to be tremendous....

The South trying to move large numbers of prisoners and the tonnage of food that would be required on a limited fragile rail net that constantly was becoming more and more limited and fragile all the time comes to mind first......

But the for the North I would assume the barracks were somewhat cheaply made, just the tonnage of heating fuel for a harsh winter would have been staggering to keep adequate..........If one used firewood, imagine the firewood a camp of 10,000 would require daily............and how much deforestation would be occurring if it was a local supply.........I never thought to ask when I at rock island years ago what they used for source of heat. Does anyone know offhand?
 

WJC

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#14
As further information; a list of links to other articles that can be found on the NPS. gov site that pertain to other myths about Civil War prison camps, but the vast majority relate to Andersonville.
Main page: https://www.nps.gov/ande/learn/historyculture/cwprison-myths.htm

The military prisons of the Civil War, especially the most famous one, have long been the subject of mythology and misconception, beginning in the years immediately following the end of the war.

The following pages will present a common myth or assumption about Andersonville & other Civil War prisons, and then explore its origin and accuracy. Many of these posts will challenge what you've always read, been told, assumed, or believed about Civil War prisons.

Myth: The first prisoners arrive at Andersonville on February 25, 1864
Myth: Prisoners at Andersonville called their shelters 'Shebangs.'
Myth: Andersonville is the only prison that is preserved or discussed.
Myth: Henry Wirz was the only person convicted or executed by the US government during the Civil War
Myth: Union prisoners didn't galvanize and join the Confederate service.
Myth: The deadline was unique to Andersonville.
Myth: The Raiders were a dominant force throughout the history of the prison.
Myth: General Grant stopped the exchanges.
Myth: "My ancestor escaped from Andersonville."
Myth: It's Always August at Andersonville.
Myth: The guards died at the same rate as the prisoners.
Myth: Clara Barton established the National Cemetery and led the expedition to identify the graves.
Myth: General Sherman's March to the Sea destroyed the supplies needed by prisoners at Andersonville, and he could have liberated 30,000 prisoners if he marched south instead of to Savannah.
Myth: The Mystery of Felix de la Baume
Myth: You Starved Our Prisoners and We Took Care of Yours
Who Are These Men? The Andersonville Prisoner Photographs
Thanks for posting these links and your efforts to help us separate fact from myth, here and elsewhere....
 
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chucksr

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#15
"Shoddy" as in defective clothing, ammunition, shot and shell, horses, shoes, wagons, food, etc. by the hands of private contractors in the North probably killed as many active soldiers as did shoddy provisions for Confederate prisoners of war. Unfortunately there are always those who profit from conflict and the Civil War was no exception. Though I have no real knowledge, it seems to me that these private contractors largely managed to escape any punishment for their substandard products and services, often working with corrupt military officers and men this system of graft ruined many lives when it is all said and done.
 



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