Andersonvilles of the North: The Myths and Realities of Northern Treatment of Civil War Confederate Prisoners

Andersonvilles of the North: The Myths and Realities of Northern Treatment of Civil War Confederate Prisoners

Andersonvilles of the North: The Myths and Realities of Northern Treatment of Civil War Confederate Prisoners

Andersonvilles of the North: The Myths and Realities of Northern Treatment of Civil War Confederate Prisoners

Synopsis

This study argues that the image of Union prison officials as negligent and cruel to Confederate prisoners is severely flawed. It explains how Confederate prisoners' suffering and death were due to a number of factors, but it would seem that Yankee apathy and malice were rarely among them.

Excerpt

In 1998, JAMES MCPHERSON OBSERVED in Writing the Civil Werthat while the Civil War has been and continues to be the most written-about event in American history, a remarkably small percentage of the literature has focused on the prisoner of war issue. Since that time, about a dozen books on this topic have been published, though rarely by academic presses. This relative dearth of writing on the subject may reflect the belief that William Best Hesseltine’s seminal work, Civil War Frisons: A Study in War Psychology (1930), set such a high standard that there was little meaningful to add. More likely it reflects an understandable reluctance to tackle a subject that remains highly controversial nearly 150 years after the war ended. Whatever the reason, writing on this topic, whether by lay historians or Ph.D-holding scholars, has rarely shed new light on it or attempted to offer a new interpretation of prisoner of war policies and life inside the war’s camps. My intention is to offer a book that does offer a new perspective on Northern POW policies and how Federal officials treated Confederate captives during the Civil War.

From the end of the war until Hesseltine’s book appeared, Union officials had been characterized as horribly inhumane when it came to their treatment of Confederate prisoners. Because of a basic lack of Christian compassion in Yankee DNA, postwar Southerners argued, conditions in Federal prisons were excessively harsh and deadly. According to writers from the Lost Cause era, Confederate prisoners were thrust into crowded and filthy pens where they were systematically denied adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. Since Union officials had the resources to provide all of these things but cruelly chose not to, Southern prisoners suffered and died in huge numbers.

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