Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/March/Editorial Comments
It appears, then, from the foregoing statements that the prison at Andersonville was established with a view to healthfulness of location, and that the great mortality which ensued resulted chiefly from the crowded condition of the stockade, the use of corn bread, to which the prisoners had not been accustomed, the want of variety in the rations furnished, and the want of medicines and hospital stores to enable our surgeons properly to treat the sick. As to the first point, the reply is at hand. The stockade at Andersonville was originally designed for a much smaller number of prisoners than were afterwards crowded into it. But prisoners accumulated—after the stoppage of exchange—in Richmond and at other points; the Dahlgren raid—which had for its avowed object the liberation of the prisoners, the assassination of President Davis and his Cabinet, and the sacking of Richmond—warned our authorities against allowing large numbers of prisoners to remain in Richmond, even if the difficulty of feeding them there was removed; and the only alternative was to rush them down to Andersonville, as enough men to guard them elsewhere could not be spared from the ranks of our armies, which were now everywhere fighting overwhelming odds. We have a statement from an entirely trustworthy source that the reason prisoners were not detailed to cut timber with which to enlarge the stockade and build shelters, is, that this privilege was granted to a large number of them when the prison was first established, they giving their parole of honor not to attempt to escape; and that they violated their paroles, threw away their axes, and spread dismay throughout that whole region by creating the impression that all of the prisoners had broken loose. This experiment could not, of course, be repeated, and the rest had to suffer for the bad faith of these, who not only prevented the detail of any numbers of other prisoners for this work but made way with axes which could not be replaced. In reference to feeding the prisoners on corn bread, there has been the loudest complaints and the bitterest denunciations. They had not been accustomed to such hard fare as "hog and hominy," and the poor fellows did suffer fearfully from it. But the Confederate soldiers had the same rations. Our soldiers had the advantage of buying supplies and of receiving occasional boxes from home, which the prisoners at Andersonville could have enjoyed to an even greater extent had the United States authorities been willing to accept the humane proposition of our Commissioner of Exchange—to allow each side to send supplies to their prisoners. But why did not the Confederacy furnish better rations to both our own soldiers and our prisoners? and why were the prisoners at Andersonville not supplied with wheat bread instead of corn bread? Answers to these questions may be abundantly found by referring to the orders of Major-General John Pope, directing his men "to live on the country;" the orders of General Sherman, in fulfilling his avowed purpose to "make Georgia howl" as he "smashed things generally" in that "great march," which left smoking and blackened ruins and desolated fields to mark his progress; the orders of General Grant to his Lieutenant, to desolate the rich wheat-growing Valley of Virginia; or the reports of General Sheridan, boasting of the numbers of barns he had burned, the mills he had destroyed, and the large amount of wheat he had given to the flames, until there was really more truth than poetry in the boast that he had made the Shenandoah Valley "such a waste that even a crow flying over would be compelled to carry his own rations." We have these and other similar orders of Federal Generals in our archives (we propose to give hereafter a few choice extracts from them), and we respectfully submit that, for the South to be abused for not furnishing Federal prisoners with better rations, when our own soldiers and people had been brought painfully near the starvation point by the mode of warfare which the Federal Government adopted, is even more unreasonable than the course of the old Egyptian task-masters, who required their captives to "make brick without straw." And to the complaints that the sick did not have proper medical attention, we reply that the hospital at Andersonville was placed on precisely the same footing as the hospitals for the treatment of our own soldiers. We have the law of the Confederate Congress enjoining this, and the orders of the Surgeon-General enforcing it. Besides, we have in our archives a large budget of original orders, telegrams, letters, &c., which passed between the officers on duty at Andersonville and their superiors. We have carefully looked through this large mass of papers, and we have been unable to discover a single sentence indicating that the prisoners were to be treated otherwise than kindly, or that the hospital was to receive a smaller supply of medicines or stores than the hospitals for Confederate soldiers. On the contrary, the whole of these papers go to show that the prison hospital at Andersonville was on the same footing precisely with every hospital for sick or wounded Confederates, and that the scarcity of medicines and hospital stores, of which there was such constant complaint, proceeded from causes which our authorities could not control.
But we can make the case still stronger. Whose fault was it that the Confederacy was utterly unable to supply medicines for the hospitals of either friend or foe? Most unquestionably the responsibility rests with the Federal authorities. They not only declared medicines "contraband of war"—even arresting ladies coming South for concealing a little quinine under their skirts—but they sanctioned the custom of their soldiers to sack every drug store in the Confederacy which they could reach, and to destroy even the little stock of medicines which the private physician might chance to have on hand.