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Andersonville Lithograph Reveals The Horror Of The Civil War



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Andersonville Lithograph Reveals The Horror Of The Civil War

By Jan Howard

Four generations of the Baker family have possessed a possibly rare lithograph of the stockade and hospital section of Andersonville prison in Georgia. It is a copy of actual sketches drawn by a former prisoner of that infamous facility.

The conditions at Andersonville and the cruelties experienced there by Union soldiers were so heinous that they brought about the execution of its commander following the war.

Although never openly displayed by any members of the Baker family because the events depicted are so tragic, the lithograph was handed down from father to son through the generations.

Bradley Burr Baker, a veteran of the Civil War, purchased the lithograph probably late in the 1800s.

“He heard about it from other people and traveled to Chicago to purchase a copy,” his great-grandson, Richard Baker of Newtown, said. The man he purchased it from, according to the lithograph, appears to be the son of the creator of the original sketch.

 Bradley Baker handed it down in 1900 to his son Amsey Baker, who in turn handed it down to his son, Irving Baker, in 1934. In 1972, the lithograph came into the possession of Richard Baker.

“I haven’t looked at it in at least 15 years,” Mr Baker said. “It was the cruelest prison ever known. I remember reading a book on it, and I didn’t want to read about it anymore.”

There may be about ten or 20 of the lithographs in existence, Mr Baker said, though antiques appraisers have told him they had never seen anything like it before.

“Nobody knows how many are out there,” he said.

“The government put a stop to the sale of the lithographs because of the terrible circumstances that happened in Andersonville,” Mr Baker said. “The government wanted to stop its sale because of the tragedy shown in it. I’m not sure how many were produced.”

The original sketches, by former Andersonville prisoner Felix de La Baume, were created from memory. According to Mr Baker, Mr de La Baume also made sketches while in the prison and was able to hide them until he was released and got back home.

The lithograph credits the creator of the sketch as follows: “The only true and correct picture of that horrible slaughter pen, copied from the original pencil sketch made by Felix de La Baume, late sergeant of Company ‘E,’ 39th Regiment, N.Y. Volunteers, who was a prisoner of war at Andersonville from July 9, 1864, to April 19, 1865.”

On the lithograph it reads: “Address all orders to Felix La Baume, Room 7, No. 120 E. Randolph Street, Chicago, Ill.” Though the name is the same, it appears the creator of the sketch had died by the time the lithograph was produced.

The lithograph proclaims “Let us forgive, but not forget” across the top. It shows the location of facilities within the prison hospital and stockade, such as the cook’s tent, provision tent, woodcutter’s and assistant cook’s tents, cast iron kettles, in which they cooked mush and soup for 1,500 sick prisoners, and bakery and cook house for the stockade. It shows bunkers outside the prison walls.

It lists the names of several men imprisoned there and what happened to them there or following their release. Robert H. Kellogg of Hartford, sergeant major of the 16th Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, listed as a prisoner, later authored Life and Death in Rebel Prisons.

In the sketch, the prison doctor, Dr John C. Bates, is shown giving beef bones to cripples.

It also shows several prisoners in various stages of illness, others in their dying agonies, and the bodies of dead prisoners.

John W. Case, of the 47th Regiment N.Y. Volunteers, is shown crippled by scurvy and wounds. He was later one of the witnesses at the murder trial of Capt Henry Wirz, the commander of the prison.

“There were dogs in there. They attacked the prisoners, and they allowed it,” Mr Baker said. One small sketch in the lithograph shows a prisoner being attacked by a bloodhound while a guard watches. According to the sketch, the date was June 20, 1864. The number of the man’s grave was given as 2209.

Another part of the sketch shows a black soldier of the 7th Regiment Colored US Volunteers, who had lost an arm by grapeshot, and been captured in the battle of Olustee, Fla. According to the sketch, the Rebels had cut off his nose and both ears and taken all his clothing. The sketch indicates he died in March 1865 from exposure and starvation.

An unnamed insane prisoner of war is shown chained to a 50-pound ball. He was said to imagine himself to be Sampson. Though a witness for the defense at Capt Wirz’ trial testified he had never seen prisoners tied up by their thumbs on a fence, the sketch indicates that punishment did take place.

The sketch also notes that one Andersonville prisoner weighed only 45 pounds when he was received at a hospital in Wilmington, N.C.

A small sketch shows Capt Wirz stamping to death a soldier from Company 1, 4th Vermont Artillery. The number of his grave is given as 12,283. Capt Wirz is also depicted as threatening to shoot a one-armed prisoner, who is imploring him to release him from a chain gang.

Despite these cruelties, there was some compassion shown to the prisoners and the Union dead at Andersonville. The lithograph notes that Ambrose Spence, a philanthropic southern planter, was a good Samaritan to the prisoners. It is also said that southern women living nearby placed flowers on the Union soldiers’ graves.

Andersonville Prison

Andersonville, a prison for enlisted soldiers only, was located near Andersonville, Americus, and Plains, Ga. Nearly 50,000 prisoners were detained there between 1864 and 1865; almost 14,000 would die there.

The deep-south location, availability of fresh water, and its proximity to the Southwestern Railroad made Andersonville a favorable prison location.

The prison pen, which was constructed by slaves, initially covered 16½ acres, but was later enlarged to 26½ acres, using prisoners as laborers. When the prison population swelled to almost 33,000, the space for each man averaged about four-foot square.

The prison was an open stockade with little or no shelter. There was plenty of timber available, but no shelter was furnished, except what the prisoners could make with a few blankets.

Confederate General John H. Winder, under whose direction the stockade was built, was asked to leave a few trees inside, and to erect some sheds for the shelter of the prisoners. However, he was reported to say he wanted to build the pen so as to destroy more Yankees than could be destroyed at the front.

The palisade was of pine logs, 15 feet high, set close together. About 120 feet outside of this was another palisade, and between the two were the guards. The prison guards, usually older men and boys, watched from sentry boxes, which were called “pigeon roosts” by the prisoners, perched atop the stockade.

About 20 feet inside the inner stockade was a slight railing known as the “dead line.” Any prisoner that passed it, or even approached it too closely, was immediately shot.

A small stream flowed through the enclosure, and furnished the prisoners with their only source of water for washing, drinking, and cooking. Cookhouses and the camp of the guards were placed on this stream, above the stockade, and the stream was soon polluted, with its banks a mass of mire and filth.

It was said that a common exclamation of newly arrived prisoners was “Is this hell?”

Rations were often issued uncooked, and the prisoners burrowed in the ground for roots to make a little fire.

Designed to hold 10,000 prisoners, by August 1864, due to the South’s deteriorating resources and the breakdown of prisoner exchange between the Union and Confederate armies, the prison population had swelled to over 32,000.

A cartel for the exchange of prisoners had been in operation in the beginning of the war. However, exchanges had been discontinued when it was found that Confederate authorities would not exchange any black soldiers, or their white officers, captured in battle. The North then refused to exchange at all, being bound to protect equally all the men in its service. Paroling prisoners on the battlefield was also discontinued, because the Confederates could not be trusted to observe parole. Many southern soldiers were captured with weapons in their hands while under parole from a previous capture.

Andersonville soon became infamous in the north for prison conditions and the thousands of prisoners that would die there before the war’s end. Almost 30 percent of the prisoners, 13,700 out of total of 49,500 prisoners, died in confinement at the camp in its 14-month existence.

Inadequate food, impure water, congestion, and filth led to epidemics of scurvy and dysentery because the Confederates lacked adequate facilities, personnel, and medical supplies to combat the disease.

There were also numerous murders. One man was shot for crawling out to secure a small piece of wood near the dead line. The lithograph shows a Rebel soldier shooting at a private in Company B, 30th Regiment, N.Y. Volunteers. Another part of the sketch indicates that a prisoner who had lost a leg by amputation was shot dead by a guard.

There were also those prisoners who deliberately walked up to the dead line for the purpose of being put out of their misery.

Capt Wirz, who served as commander at the Andersonville stockade, was tried and convicted of murder by a United States Military Court on a charge of conspiracy to impair the health and destroy the lives of prisoners. Guarded by four companies of soldiers, he went to the gallows on November 10, 1865, protesting his innocence. About 250 spectators chanted “Remember Andersonville” as Capt Wirz climbed the stairs to the gallows.

Forty years later, Confederate sympathizers erected a monument to his memory, overlooking the 12,884 Union graves at Andersonville.

In a postwar report by the War Department, it was reported that there were 26,436 fatalities among 220,000 Confederate prisoners held by the North. There was a higher ratio of deaths in Union captives in Rebel prisons, with 22,576 deaths among 126,950 captives.

Men who returned from southern prisons were nearly all wasted to skeletons and unfit for further service, while Confederate prisoners returned from the northern prisons well clothed, well fed, and generally in good health. Photographs of the emaciated men from Andersonville were exhibited throughout the north, and caused more horror than descriptions of the battles.

In 1970 Andersonville National Historical Site was designated by the US Congress as a memorial to all POWs in American history. It was Andersonville and the public interest in it that led to worldwide concerns and eventually to the Geneva Convention on treatment of prisoners of war.

Information for this story was found in The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War with narrative by Bruce Catton; Campfires & Battlefields by Rossiter Johnson; and in “Andersonville Prison,” online encyclopedia 2000, http://encarta.msn.com.

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