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Andersonville Prison and Captain Wirz

author: Capt. H. R. Hubbard
published by: Mendon Dispatch, circa 1904
synopses: Personal accounts of Andersonville Prison by Capt. Hubbard
personal subject: Prison authorities and conditions that led to death

I do not desire to tell all that I know and remember of life and death in Andersonville. For many years I have tried to forget and cannot. I cheerfully record the fact that there was one man of gentlemanly instincts among those who called the roll and had charge of us in the prison. His name was Safford. I remember him kindly; not that there was much that he could do to ameliorate our condition, but that he forebore [sic] to do anything unnecessarily to aggravate our situation.

Dr. Collins, of the surgical corps., also, was a gentleman, and treated me with courtesy and considerable kindness.

But as to "Wry Neck Smith," I have not forgiven him yet; not that he ever did anything to me, but on general principles. He was a brutal bully who delighted to exercise his authority, and would beat and abuse sick men without provocation.

Capt. Wirz. commander of the prison, was a foreigner, able and ingenious in devising means for tormenting and irritating the prisoners, utterly heartless, and a fit tool and agent for carrying out plans of those higher in a authority, who should have been hung, as he was, for brutal murder. Then there was a host of thieves, assassins and spies under Wirz and Duncan, commissary and quartermaster, who fattened on the sufferings of the helpless prisoners. Gen Winder, commander of the post and guards, was a degenerate son of degenerate sires. His grandfather abandoned Baltimore to the British in the war of 1812. Cowardice and brutality ran in the family as part of his heredity. Similar characters naturally get together, and associate with one another. It was no place for a genileman or humane person. The atmosphere was not congenial. The Christian virtues did not flourish there, unless they were inside the stockade.

[ed., note: Capt. Wirz was eventually hung in Washington D.C. Nov, 10. 1865. Photos: Reading of Death Warrant, Adjusting the Rope, Hooded Body]

While Andersonville prison was a hard place to die in, men with all the symptoms of immediate dissolution would linger for days speechless, motionless and apparently unconscious. And when their limbs were cold and rigid, their circulation almost stopped, their eyes set and the death rattle in their throats, it would frequently be hours before death came to their relief. Not because of any desire to live or fear of death, but from sheer lack of strength to "shuffle off this mortal coil."

During the month of June, 1864, there were twenty-two days of rain, from which no shelter was provided by the prison authorities. Thousands of prisoners died of pneumonia, dysentery, malaria, scurvy and all other diseases, not induced by high living. Then came the scorching heats of summer, when the blood dried up in our veins, when almost disembodied spirits walked with a creaking joints and rattling bones, when hundreds became insane, or idiotic, and many others, who feared insanity, deliberately crossed the dead line and sat down awaiting their turn to be shot. (The guards on the stockade were armed with muzzle loading guns, and however willing, could not do much in the way of rapid firing.

And during all this time "no man cared for our souls," with one notable exception. Father Hamilton, a local Catholic priest, came along daily into the stockade and spent hours ministering to the dying—of whom their was never any lack. He was tall, spare man, middle aged and always scrupulously neat and clean when he came in but always covered with body lice when he went out. He could not avoid that; kneeling on the ground beside a dying man, in two minutes the "greybacks" would be swarming over his Cossack. I am sure he did not enjoy that. I think there was no extra pay or glory for him in this world on that account, and yet he never shrank from his duty as he saw it. In spite of my inherited "Pilgrim prejudices" against Catholics, I say God bless Father Hamilton for a man and a Christian. Would that there were more like him.

About the H. R. Writings

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#1 photo of H. R. Hubbard (shown)

#2 photo of H. R. Hubbard