Civil War Prisons
Civil War Prisons
The American Civil War left behind it a long list of controversies. For decades after Appomattox old soldiers defended their personal honor and did verbal battle in repelling asperities upon the valor of their regiments. Officers sought reversals of decisions of courts martial, begged redress from Congress, or carried their demands for vindication to the sovereign people assembled at polling places. The right of secession, the military competence of George B. McClellan and Braxton Bragg, the behavior of Benjamin F. Butler in New Orleans, at Bermuda Hundred and Wilmington, Dahlgren's Raid and Fort Pillow, the personal judgment and the administrative wisdom of Jefferson Davis, all received full airing and enlisted bitter partisans and valiant foemen. Even after a century, some of the ancient controversies stir emotions and provoke debate.
Yet no controversy ever evoked such emotions as the mutual recriminations between Northern and Southern partisans over the treatment of prisoners of war. Hardly had the war begun when the first prisoners alleged that their captors mistreated them. Throughout the war the complaints, the charges and counter-charges, and the assertions of criminal intent fed the raging fires of propaganda. To the end of their lives exprisoners wrote books or letters-to-the-editor, told their stories to country-store gatherings, appeared before congressional committees, or addressed conventions of veterans to recount their adversities and to point accusing fingers at their cruel and conspiratorial enemy. Eventually quick-change journalists reprinted the alleged reminiscences of prisoners ; novelists of varying repute found gory and pornographic material in the prisons; and neophyte historians wrote extended term-papers, dripping with footnotes, to support one or another contender in the undying quarrel.
The serious student who would assay the evidence on the administration of prisons and the treatment of prisoners of war faces serious critical . . .