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Andersonville Prison

Created by:
Greg Goodwin
Greater Egg Harbor Regional HS District

William Amend
Greater Egg Harbor Regional HS District

Civil War/Reconstruction

Grade Level:
9 to 12


Civil War prisons became a major problem for both the Union and the Confederacy during the war. With each side suffering from a lack of war materials and food,caring for prisoners of war became a minor issue. This was especially true for the Confederacy,which also suffered from a lack of manpower.

Toward the end of the war, both sides stopped prisoner of war exchanges. This caused a surplus of enemy prisoners on both sides.New prisoner of war camps were established and conditions were lacking in all aspects of tolerable human conditions.Probably the most notorious prison camp was under Confederate control located in Georgia, known as Andersonville.Conditions at this facility was so terrible that the prisons commanding officer was the only man convicted of war crimes. In fact, Henry Wirtz was executed following the war.

Student activities covering Andersonville will compare and contrast different readings,photos,and maps to understand the problems atthis facilty. We will also look at the Wirtz Trial and see if he was given due process during his proceedings.

Historical Context

When the Southern states first considered secession, most people believed that if war came, it would be brief. They did not envision four years of fighting that would lead to cruel deaths and the thousands that were captured as prisoners of war. In 1862 a system of parole and exchange was informally adopted by the Union and Confederate governments. A "paroled" prisoner pledged not to participate in the war or assist his allies. He would often be released on the spot to proceed to a camp where paroled soldiers were concentrated until the two governments officially exchanged prisoners. He could then return to the military. In the fall of 1863, the U.S. government suspended exchanges. The growing number of captured soldiers soon began filling Union and Confederate prisons.

Although conditions were bad in both Southern and Northern prison camps, the large number of prisoner deaths at Georgia's Andersonville Prison, or Camp Sumter as it was officially known, combined with the defeat of the Confederate states resulted in national attention and public outrage on the treatment of Union prisoners there.


war, prison conditions, cultural differences, sectionalism, crime and punishment, class, values

Goals and Objectives:

At the end of this activity, students will be able to:

1. To describe living conditions in a Civil War prison camp and the causes of these conditions.

2. To discuss methods used by prisoners to cope with the prison environment and conditions.

3. To explain how value systems influence attitudes and behavior of prisoners of war.

4. To examine Andersonville's emotional impact on the nation during the post-war months.

5. To identify the location of prisoner of war camps in their community or region.


STANDARD 6.1 (Social Studies Skills) All students will utilize historical thinking, problem solving, and research skills to maximize their understandings of civics, history,geography, and economics.

STANDARD 6.2 (Civics) All students will know, understand and appreciate the values and principals of American democracy and the rights, responsibilities, and roles of a citizens in the nation and the world.

Equipment, materials and other technology needed:

Computer with Internet access

CD Player

Overhead Projector

Details of Activity

Part 1: Understanding Prison Life (20 min.)

Distribute Appendix A1 and A2 to the students. Have the students read and answer the questions that follow each reading. Disscuss the answers as a group. Identify the greatest hardships faced by the prisoners.

Part 2: Analyzing Maps (10 min.)

Distribute Maps 1 and 2 to the students. Have the students study the maps and answer the questions that follow the maps. Share the answers with each other. Ascertain why the prison camps were located where they were.

Part 3: Andersonville Prison Photos (20 min.)

Distribute Appendix C to the students. Have the students look at the photos and discribe the conditions portrayed in the photos. Compare and contrast to the readings in Part 1 of the lesson.

Part 4: Distribute Appendix D "What was Henry Wirz charged with?"

Have the students read the source. Divide the class into two groups, one group prepare a defense of Henry Wirz and the other group prepare a prosecution. Have the groups share their findings with each other.

Showing of Andersonville Movie- use certain scenes to enhance the horrors of Andersonville.

Practice and Reinforcement

Discuss with the students the conditions of Union prison camps( such as Elmira in New York)and see the differences and similarities in the philosophies of the camps.

With the ending of the war and the beginning of Reconstruction,the publicity of the Wirtz Trial will cause problems for the former Confederate states. This will give the students the reasons that the Radical Republicans gave for punishing the South. This seems to be a good lead in to some of the problems in re-establishing the United States.

With the the former Confederate States under military rule a new problems occured including what to do with former slaves, economic conditions of the South, and the establishment of such groups as the KKK.


Film- The Untold Story of the Civil War, 1996 TNT Film by John Frankenheimer.

Capt. Henry Wirtz and Andersonville Prison: A Reappraisal, Fred Ruhlman, U of Tenn, 2006.

Web Links:
Andersonville Prison

Life as a Prisoner

Civil War Prison

Andersonville, Ga.

Andersonville Photos

Capt. Henry Wirtz Charges

Horrors of Andersonville

Union soldiers views of prison

Confederate view of Andersonville

The Hanging of Henry Wirtz

For more information about the Teaching American History Program click here