Monday, November 10, 2008

The Execution of Henry Wirz

On this date in 1865, Captain Henrich "Henry" Wirz was executed by hanging. Wirz, a Swiss immigrant and former doctor, had been in charge of the Confederacy's Camp Sumter and the Andersonville prison camp during the American Civil War. He was the only person to be tried, convicted and executed for war crimes committed during the war.

Of the P.O.W. camps set up by either the Confederates or Union, Andersonville became the most notorious. Lack of food and unsanitary conditions were the primary cause of death for nearly 13,000 Union soldiers who died while imprisoned there. The stories of life as a prisoner in Andersonville are ones of misery and horror, however, Andersonville was far from the exclusive cause of death and misery for POWs during the Civil War.

Both Confederate and Union prisoner camps suffered deaths in the thousands with the same causes (exposure, starvation, contaminated drinking water, etc.) during the war. Food supplies were short and many prisons were over-crowded. With a few exceptions, most prison camps of that time lost roughly 10-25% of their prisoner population. Andersonville had a prisoner population that was quite high compared to others (45,000 prisoners). It lost nearly 30% of its prisoners. With increased crowding and the food supplies even worse for the South near the end of the war than for the North, it is perhaps remarkable that the deaths weren't even higher.

Following the war, Henry Wirz brought to Washington D.C. and put on trial. Wirz presented evidence that he'd requested more supplies and a means to improve prison conditions. Ultimately he was found guilty of conspiracy and murder and executed on November 10, 1865. As time has passed and knowledge of the other P.O.W. camps has spread, the death of Wirz is seen as unfair by some. However, the stories of Andersonville and the large number of deaths had outraged the public. In the public eye, someone had to answer for what had happened. Henry Wirz was it.

Camp Sumter has become the Andersonville National Historic Site in the time since. It is said that ghosts of the prisoners who died lingering, horrible deaths still roam the former prison grounds.

Pay a visit to Andersonville National Historic Site.

-Tom G

1 comment:

judygraham said...

A moment frozen in time, long past, so very tragic. This photo really helps bring us back to that time. I'm glad you included it. Whether he "tried" or not, he was the guy in charge, and his side lost. I'm not sure his fate was justice, but it is done. Very interesting post!