It was the most inhumane of all the locations where Confederates housed Union prisoners
of war. It was not much of a camp, just an open field of about 20 acres, worthless
for growing crops, through which flowed a shallow stream called Sweetwater Creek,
about 24 inches wide. Around that field Confederate laborers built a plank wall,
anchored by upright tree trunks imbedded in the ground. Five feet inside the wall
they stretched a rope. That rope was a "dead line", and any prisoner who crossed
the dead line, for whatever reason, was shot to death.
Inside this enclosure tens of thousands of captured Union soldiers were kept. They
were given virtually no food, perhaps an average of 200 calories a day. Their standard
daily ration, when they were able to get it, was one teaspoon of salt, three tablespoons
of beans, and a handful of corn meal. Their only water for drinking and washing
came from the little stream. There were no sanitary facilities, and human wastes,
which were never removed, accumulated and quickly fouled the stream. No competent
medical treatment was provided and no measures were taken to protect the prisoners
from disease-carrying insects, which swarmed all over the site.
No shelter was provided, no blankets, and no wood for fires. Some prisoners retained
their blankets after being captured, and these fortunate few were able to fashion
tent shelters, until their blankets wore away. Prisoners were exposed continually
to the sun and heat in summer, cold in winter, and sometimes violent rainstorms,
with only the remnants of their uniforms for protection.
Escape was prevented by aiming several cannons, each loaded with thousands of iron
bails like giant shotguns, at the gates. Such measures were probably unnecessary,
since prisoners quickly became so weak they were incapable of exertion.
Welfare packages of food, clothing, blankets and medicines were sent by Northern
families to their family members who were prisoners, but these were confiscated
and kept by the guards. Prisoners were supposed to receive the same rations as the
guards, but the guards controlled this distribution. Every day large numbers of
prisoners died, on some days more than a hundred. Some of them survived their experience,
but many did not.
Opened in February, 1864, word of the conditions at Andersonville quickly reached
the North. In August, 1864, during the Battle of Atlanta, General Sherman sent a
strong cavalry force toward Andersonville, to try and save the prisoners there.
The raid was unsuccessful and never reached the prison, but the Confederates, fearing
another raid, began to remove the prisoners. They moved the survivors to other prisons
further away from Federal forces. Although the prisoners weren't freed these new
camps were run much more humanely, and as a result some prisoners survived and eventually