Wirz Appeal to President Johnson

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Wirz appeal to President Johnson
by Henry Wirz
A letter appealing the death sentence of Confederate States of America officer Henry Wirz, who was hanged for his role in running the Andersonville Prisoner of War Camp.

November 6, 1865

To the President of the United States. Mr. President: With a trembling hand, with a heart filled with the most conflicting emotions, and with a spirit hopeful one moment and despairing the next, I have taken the liberty of addressing you. When I consider your exalted position; when I think for a moment that in your hands rests the weal and woe of millions - yea, the peace of the world - well may I pause to call to my aid courage enough to lay before you my humble petition. I have heard you spoken of as a man ready and willing at all times and under all circumstances to do justice, and that no man, however humble he may be, need fear to approach you: and, therefore, have come to the conclusion that you will allow me the same privilege as extended to hundreds and thousands of others. It is not my desire to enter into an argument as to the merits of my case. In your hands, if I am rightfully informed, are all the records and evidences bearing upon this point, and it would be presumption on my part to say one word about it. There is only one thing that I ask, and it is expressed in few words: Pass your sentence.

For six weary months I have been a prisoner; for six months my name has been in the mouth of every one; by thousands I am considered a monster of cruelty, a wretch that ought not to pollute the earth any longer. Truly, when I pass in my mind over the testimony given, I sometimes almost doubt my own existence. I doubt that I am the Captain Wirz spoken of. I am inclined to call on the mountains to fall upon and bury me and my shame. But oh, sir, while I wring my hands in mute and hopeless dispair, there speaks a small but unmistakable voice within me that says: 'Console thyself, thou knowest thy innocence. Fear not; if men hold thee guilty, God does not, and a new life will pervade your being.' Such has been the state of my mind for weeks and months, and no punishment that human ingenuity can inflict could increases my distress.

GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME DEATH

The pangs of death are short, and therefore I humbly pray that you will pass your sentence without delay. Give me death of liberty. The one I do not fear; the other I crave. If you believe me guilty of the terrible charges that have been heaped upon me, deliver me to the executioner. If not guilty, in your estimation, restore me to liberty and life. A life such as I am now living is no life. I breathe, sleep, eat, but it is only the mechanical functions I perform, and nothing more. Whatever you decide I shall accept. If restored to liberty, I will thank and bless you for it.

I would not convey the idea to your mind, Mr. President, that I court death. Life is sweet; however lowly or humble man's station may be, he clings to life. His soul is filled with awe when he contemplates the future, the unknown land which the judgment is before which he will have to give an account of his words, thought, and deeds. Well may I remember, too, that I have erred like all other human beings. But of those things for which I may perhaps suffer a violent death, I am not guilty; and God judge me. I have said all that I wished to say. Excuse my boldness in addressing you, but I could not help it. I cannot bear this suspense much longer. May God bless you, and be with you; your task is a great and fearful one. In life or death I shall pray for you, and for the prosperity of the country in which I have passed some of my happiest as well as darkest days.

Respectfully, H. Wirz.