On February 27, 1864, the first Federal inmates were brought into Andersonville prison, but the prison was not fully constructed at that time. The name Andersonville was associated with a death trap, since a quarter of the inmates died while in captivity. Henry Wirz ran the camp and, after the war ended, he was executed for brutality and mistreatment of prisoners by those under his command.
The official name of the prison was Camp Sumter. Prior to 1863, Northern and Southern armies had enacted a prisoner exchange syster for those captured. But arguments over the handling of black soldiers caused problems and prison camps had to be hastily constructed by both sides. Andersonville was built with slave labor and was located in the Georgia woods close to a railroad but away from front battle lines. On 16 acres of land, the prison was supposed to include a barracks constructed of wood, but due to inflated lumber prices, Union prisoners were forced to live under open skies, with only makeshift shanties named “shebangs” made of wood scraps and blankets, for shelter. A stream supplied fresh water in the beginning, but it soon grew contaminated with human waste.
The prison was supposed to hold 10,000 men, but after six months, three times that number were imprisoned there. The contaminated creek eroded, becoming a swamp. It took up a great portion of the compound. The prisoners received inadequate rations and most of the time, half of the population were ill. Guards often brutalized inmates and violence existed between prisoners.
Andersonville proved to be the worst among both Union and Confederate prisons.
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