Facts about The prisons
There were more than half a million Americans imprisoned during the Civil War. The prison camps were death traps.
Over 56,000 inmates died due to malnutrition and extremely poor sanitation, not to mention the cruel punishments and harsh work. There were even shortages of food clothing and water.
Over 150 war prisons were established during this war, often with makeshift, abandoned buildings, all of which were filled far beyond their capacity.
The diet typically consisted of pickled beef, salt pork, corn meal, rice, and bean soup. The lack of fruits and vegetables led to scurvy and other serious diseases as well. Some inmates would even hunt down rats for food, and a little for sport and entertainment too. The conditions of food and sanitation led to diseases like smallpox, typhoid, dysentery, cholera, and malaria.
Prisoners of war would often create clubs or ethnic groups for pass-time activities. Sometimes when there was snow, they would have snowball fights. The prisoners would play chess, cards, and backgammon; even publish newspapers and libraries.
The name Andersonville became synonymous with the horrors of civil war prison camps.
Facts about Andersonville
Andersonville prison was one of the most famous war prisons of the Civil War. It covered 26.5 acres and housed 33,000 prisoners at its peak. The building was constructed with whatever materials they could find at the time and no sewage or sanitation facilities what so ever.
Andersonville Prison, also known originally as Camp Sumter, was a Confederate military prison that existed for 14 months during the American Civil War. It opened in February, 1864 near Andersonville, Georgia, and originally covered roughly 16.5 acres of land. By June of the same year the prison had grown to 26.5 acres.
The population inside Andersonville Prison's walls in April, 1864 was 7,160. By the end of August the same year the population had risen to 31,693.
19 feet inside the wall of Andersonville Prison there was a fence built, often referred to as 'the dead line', which meant that any prisoner who touched the dead line was shot by guards.
Of the 45,000 Union soldiers held at Andersonville Prison during the Civil War, 13,000 died.
Did some prisoners escape? If so, how did they?
Well, the most common source of enjoyment for the prisoners came from the sport and joy of escaping. Just the thought of it was enough to temp them to escape.
People would often fake illness in hopes of being carried outside of the gates and left for dead, at which point they would simply walk away. Some inmates even darkened their skin with charcoal and left with the black slaves. This was attempted so many times, with such a high success rate, that African American labor was banned in prisons. Even now, one of the most common forms of escape from prisons is tunneling, and it was the most common then as well.
But if the prisoners got caught, they would get recaptured, and there would be harsh punishments such as brutal work and sometimes they would be hung from their thumbs as torture.
Many members of the 128th Ohio, also known as Hoffman’s Battalion, had no prior military experience, and few among them probably craved such an opportunity. An assignment to guard duty at Johnson’s Island, while monotonous, likely spared most garrison members from serving at the battlefront.
The guards had to take good watch and make sure no prisoners escaped. Of course!
What about the Blacks
U.S. Colored Troops records and have found 2,182 black prisoners (2078 soldiers and 104 black sailors). An amazing 79 percent of those black POW's survived their incarceration.
African Americans from the north and the south came forward to enlist in the Union cause. Before the war ended approximately 180,000 African Americans enrolled in the United States military.
When the first Black prisoners arrived at Andersonville how would they be treated was an open question. Colonel Persons testified after the arrival of the first "negroes" he communicated with General Winder and Winder's reply as best he could remember was "until further orders treat them as prisoners of war."