Civil War Prison Camps

The reason for 56,000 deaths

What is a Civil War Prison Camp? And which Prison Camps were better? North or South?

A civil war prison camp was a place that POWs (prisoners of war) were held captive. A prison camp did not have to take place in a prison. They could be local jails, former forts, Hospitals, old buildings, barracks enclosed by high fences, warehouses, barns. However when the number of prisoners started to increase prisons started to be specifically made for POWs. To name a few Florence, Millen and Andersonville. Prison camps started out a lot better in the beginning of war than they were towards the end. This is because the number of prisoners started to increases. The prisons were not prepared for the number of POWs. Due to this poor planning, the prisons were low on food,overcrowded and filled with disease. The truth is, prison camps on both sides were ran poorly, terribly overcrowded, and filled with disease. According to the article, U.S. Civil War Prison Camps Claimed Thousands "12% of captives held in northern camps died and 15.5% of captives died in southern camps." About, 30,000 soldiers in Confederate prisons died and 26,000 soldiers in Union prisons died. As you can see the death rate was higher in southern prisons. And even though both the north and the south's prisons were far from decent most northern prisons were still better than southern ones. Since the southern prisons were treating the union soldiers worse than the northern prisons were treating the confederate soldiers there was even more tension between the north and south. The north wanted the people in charge of the northern prisons to stoop down to the souths prisons level and treat the confederate soldiers badly.

What is a POW and what was life like in prison.

A prisoner of war is a soldier that was captured during the civil war and held captive at a prison camp. If you were a POW you were either starving, suffering from depression, or suffering from diseases like smallpox, typhoid, dysentery, cholera, and malaria. A POWs diet mostly contained pickled beef, salt pork, corn meal, rice, or bean soup. There were often outbreaks of scurvy and other diseases because the prisoners diets lacked fruits and vegetables. Some prisoners would play chess, cards, and backgammon to pass the time. But most prisoners just spent their days wondering when they will be released or coming up with a plan to escape. Prisoners would often fake a severe sickness or sometimes death hoping that they would be carried outside the stockade walls and would be left to die. Once outside, prisoners would just walk away. But most prisoners did not try to escape, they knew their punishment would be brutal. According to the article Civil War Prison Camps "The Confederacy refused to acknowledge black Union soldiers and their white commanders as prisoners of war, calling the black men “rebel slaves."Black POWs were often faced with harsh punishment and even execution.But Lincoln declared that he would execute a Confederate POW, for every Union prisoner executed. Because of the tensions between Lincoln and the confederates, black POWs mostly stopped being executed.

What was the Prisoner Exchange?

The prisoner Exchange was where one side could trade/give back a soldier/soldiers that they captured in exchange for the specific soldier/soldiers they want. For example, if the north wanted to free one of their soldiers they would have to give the south back one of their soldiers. Some soldiers had different ranks or were more valuable than other soldiers. So you would sometimes exchange multiple lower soldiers for a soldier with a higher rank. The South refused to exchange black soldiers in return for Confederate soldiers. But according to the article Civil War Prison Camps "In 1864, Grant refused to exchange any more prisoners until black and white soldiers were treated equally."This conflict affected black soldiers because it helped them not get treated as badly . At the beginning of the war exchanging and releasing prisoners was common. However, as the war progressed there were not as many prisoners exchanged.The slowing down and eventual stop of the prisoner exchange meant that the prison camps in the North and South would be very overcrowded.

The Biography of Henry Wirz

Henry Wirz was born on November 25, 1823, in Zurich, Switzerland. Wirz married Emilie Oschwald which he had two children with.Wirz took out a loan that he was unable to pay and was sentenced to a prison term. He was eventually able to be freed from prison but on the condition that he would leave Zurich. Emilie did not want to leave Zurich and Emilie and Wirz eventually got divorced. In 1849, Wirz immigrated to the United States, in Massachusetts, before moving further south. Henry Wirz worked as a doctor's assistant and got remarried in 1854 to Elizabeth Wolf. After working in many civil war prisons he finally was selected in 1864 to oversee at Camp Sumter, Georgia. Wirz was harsh to the prisoners. However, it is debatable that Wirz was responsible for all of the terrible things that occurred at camp Sumter. But the American public was so upset when they learned about the horrible things that happened at camp Sumter and they needed to blame it on somebody for what happened at camp Sumter. So they held Wirz accountable.Wirz was put on trial for his role at Andersonville. he was on trial for two months. According to the article Henry Wirz Biography, "Wirz was found guilty on all counts, including one count for conspiring with Jefferson Davis to "injure the health and destroy the lives of soldiers in the military service of the United States." Wirz received a death sentence and was hung. Because of the conflict between the soldiers and the overseers and other people working at the prison, Henry Wirz was blamed and hung. He was one of the only men in both the north and south that was executed for the all of the horrific events that went on in prison camps.


As you can see there were many tensions and conflicts about prisons during the civil war. There were tensions between the prisoners and the people running the prisons.There were tensions between different confederate and union leaders. And tensions between the people on the confederate and union sides. A lot of these tensions led to black soldiers starting to be treated equal to whites. Some tensions caused the people to get even more mad at the other side. And the tension between the union people and the people running the prisons led to Henry Wirz's Execution. But the most important tension was the one between the north and the south because that is the cause of all of these prisons and the impact of that tension was that 56,000 soldiers died.


"U.S. Civil War Prison Camps Claimed Thousands." National Geographic. National Geographic Society, n.d. Web. 25 May 2016.

"Civil War Prison Camps - Civil War Academy - American Civil War." Civil War Academy American Civil War. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2016.

Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, n.d. Web. 25 May 2016.

"Henry Wirz." A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 25 May 2016.