Saturday, May 25, 2019

"The Prisoners at Andersonville"

The above little story ran in the August 20, 1864, issue of the Richmond Daily Dispatch. During the Petersburg Campaign, many captured Union soldiers were sent to prisoner of war camps at Andersonville, Georgia, Salisbury, North Carolina, and Florence, South Carolina.

As this article shows, the thousands of captures around Petersburg and Richmond during the first three or four of Grant's offensives swelled the POW populations, particularly at Andersonville. More were added daily. The estimated 30,000 Union inmates deep in Confederate territory raised concerns not only about the large numbers of Confederates it took to guard them, but also the expense of feeding such a large incarcerated population.

I recently bought William Marvel's Andersonville: The Last Depot in hopes of perhaps finding some good primary sources about Petersburg Campaign captures to examine. I also hope to learn more about this notorious POW camp. Another book, one that I read not so long ago and that promises some primary accounts is Lorien Foote's Yankee Plague: Escaped Union Prisoners and the Collapse of the Confederacy. I think I remember her mentioning some Petersburg Campaign prisoners in it, but I wasn't focused on this specific research topic at the time and could be wrong. I have it in my library and will be re-browsing it, if not rereading it. 

It would have been interesting for the editor or author of the Daily Dispatch article to have given their recommendation on what to do with the situation. If I am not mistaken, at this time the prisoner of war exchange system was in abeyance due to the Confederacy's unwillingness to recognize African American men as legitimate soldiers, thus not willing to trade United States Colored Troops soldiers equally for white Confederate soldiers. It seems to me that building additional prisoner of war camps would have been time consuming, expensive, and would also have required guards to man them. Unless the exchange system could get moving again, there was little hope of relieving the pressure on resources caused by Union prisoners of war. 

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