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"Myth: You Starved Our Prisoners and We Took Care of Yours" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP26 Sep 2021 4:50 p.m. PST

"Before the Civil War was even over, people from both sides began to justify their own treatment of prisoners and leveled accusations of intentional negligence at the opposing prison system. People on both sides sought to find simple answers as to why prisons on both sides were bad, and these basic arguments emerged: Southerners believed that they did the best they could under the circumstances and that northerners had been intentionally negligent in retaliation. Northerners believed they had held captives humanely and that Confederate prisons were being run as death camps. Both sides oversimplified what was happening in the Civil War prisons, and the causes of suffering were far more complicated than simple vengeance or short supplies. Although both sides managed prisons very differently, they each suffered from the same core deficiency: a reliance on non-governmental sources for supplies. This can be illustrated by examining the two prisons with the highest death rates: Elmira & Andersonville.

Many people look at the death rate at Elmira and conclude that Confederate prisoners "starved in a land of plenty." This line even appears in several post war memoirs. However, there are several issues with this understanding. First, relatively few Confederate prisoners died from diseases or complications related to starvation. Most deaths at Elmira occurred as a result of pneumonia, smallpox, typhoid, and dysentery. Flooding in the spring of 1865 resulted in several dozen deaths, and almost fifty more died in a train wreck en route to the prison. The second issue with this understanding of Federal prisons is that the north was a "land of plenty" and the role this played in prison management. It's certainly true that the north was in much better shape logistically than the south. However, the Federal military bureaucracy relied on private vendors for food, clothing, and other supplies in both the armies and in the prisons. Failures of contractors to fulfill their obligations in a timely manner had a direct effect on the well-being of prisoners. It meant that barracks were built too slowly, and a significant number of prisoners and guards at Elmira were housed in tents well into winter leading to outbreaks of pneumonia. When the drinking supply became polluted, prison officials began efforts to dig a drainage channel, but outside contractors were slow in procuring supplies and the project stalled until it was too late and the ground was frozen, which led to outbreaks of typhoid and dysentery. The Federal military prison system was a slow bureaucracy that often responded to problems, but because of a reliance on outside contractors for materials and labor, did so too slowly. The problems at Elmira and all of the other Federal military prisons were far more complicated than simple callousness, revenge, or intentional negligence…"
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Blutarski26 Sep 2021 5:23 p.m. PST

Whenever you have a spare moment or two, take a look into the 16,000 opposition Northern politicians, newspapermen and political activists thrown into prison for the duration of the war by the Union government after Lincoln suspended "Habeas Corpus".

There are no "White Hats", Armand.


Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP26 Sep 2021 8:11 p.m. PST

The death rate at Camp Douglas was almost as high as at Andersonville, with far far less excuse.

Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP26 Sep 2021 8:12 p.m. PST

Btw, if anyone is ever in Tyler, Texas, be sure to visit Camp Ford, a POW camp that has been well restored and interpreted.

Camp Ford was the largest Confederate Prisoner of War Camp west of the Mississippi River during the American Civil War. Established in August of 1863, the camp was not closed until May 19, 1865. At its peak in July 1864, over 5,300 prisoners were detained there.

The site of the Camp stockade is now a public park, owned by Smith County, Texas, and managed by the Smith County Historical Society.

The park features a kiosk with extensive graphics detailing the history of the camp, a walking trail with more interpretive signage, and a picnic area.

The Camp Ford Historic Park is located at 6500 US Highway 271, 0.8 miles outside Loop 323 in Tyler, Texas. It is open daily from dawn until dusk and admission is free.

Dn Jackson Supporting Member of TMP26 Sep 2021 9:27 p.m. PST

The thesis of the article is: The Federal government hired contractors who didn't do the work they were hired to do, so its not the government's fault. Southern farmers and other private citizens refused to sell supplies and food to the Confederate government because its money was almost worthless so it is that government's fault. A very poor argument.

The commander at Elmira was proud of the fact that he didn't use all the money budgeted for the camp and refunded money to the treasury. While prisoners perished in sub zero temperatures without adequate blankets.

dapeters27 Sep 2021 1:07 p.m. PST

The Federal government hired contractors who didn't do the work they were hired to do" yes we been here before.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP27 Sep 2021 3:22 p.m. PST



Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP27 Sep 2021 5:59 p.m. PST

I disagree doc. The death rate at Andersonville approached 13,000, while Camp Douglas, was 4000, might have been as high as 6000 by some estimates. Elmira where 3000 perished, was apparently in worse shape than Douglas. Both sides ran a number of prisons and they were all bad by any standard.

Its not a competition. There is enough shame for all in this.

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