J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the tag “Henry Wirz”

Haunted Civil War Prisons

Since so much death surrounded Civil War prisons, it only makes sense that unsettled spirits still haunt these places. Thousands died, both North and South, from malnutrition, dysentery, and disease. We only have a few old reminders left, but in some places, there are other, more unworldly reminders as well.

One such place is, of course, Andersonville, Georgia, the site of the infamous prison camp. The suffering that took place within the barracks was immeasurable: men virtually starved to death, or died a slow, rotting death brought on by scurvy. They were forced to live in their own filth, eat raw birds and rats if they were lucky enough to catch any, and tolerate weather and overcrowded conditions. After the prison was finally closed, hauntings in the area began. It is said that some of the prison’s former inmates still wander the grounds, as does the ghost of Henry Wirz, Andersonville’s commandant. Some think that Wirz was wrongly accused and executed, so therefore, he still walks the road in search of retribution.

Another haunted prison is the Old Brick Capitol Prison. The prison was torn down in the 1920’s, and the U.S. Supreme Court building was erected on the site. But the ghosts still remain, although they were more prevalent when the Old Brick Capitol still stood. Ghosts that haunted the place included Henry Wirz, who was executed there, as was Mary Surratt, who some believe was innocent of conspiring in Lincoln’s assassination. She has appeared on the anniversary of her hanging. Moaning, weeping, and sighing echoed within its walls, as well as screams, cries, and phantom footsteps. Laughter and the sound of cell doors slamming, although the doors had been removed, also permeated the building.

Just outside of St. Louis in Alton, Illinois, strange sights and sounds occur where a Confederate penitentiary once stood. As in many prisons of the time, a small pox epidemic spread through the camp, killing thousands. A small portion of the prison’s wall amazingly still remains, as does an old building known as the “Blaske building.” Reportedly, strange things have occurred there, from apparitions appearing to doors slamming to things moving on their own inside the building. An eerie essence surrounds the area. Residual impressions have been seen by locals that resemble tattered Confederate prisoners.

Point Lookout, Maryland is also a famous prison that is said to be haunted. By the end of the war, over 4,000 prisoners had died there. Although the location is now a welcoming state park and recreation area, several buildings that housed the prison remain, and ghosts of Confederate soldiers still frequent it. Many visitors to the park have witnessed apparitions, as have the park rangers. Sounds of ghostly footsteps, slamming doors, and even snoring have been heard. Creepy voices have been recorded within the park, and it is a favorite place for seances and ghost hunters, because strange phenomena happens so frequently. Remarkably, the rangers keep a record of all the bizarre happenings that take place in the park, and hold a ghost tour every October.

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Andersonville Living History Weekend

This weekend, a living history re-enactment will take place at the Andersonville National Historic Site in Georgia. The event will feature prisoners, guards, and the grim living conditions that took place at what was originally known as “Camp Sumter.” Two authors are also slated to attend. A candlelight tour of the cemetery is planned for Saturday evening. There is no admission fee, but reservations are recommended. More information is available at www.andersonvillegeorgia.com.

Andersonville has acquired the most notorious reputation of all Civil War POW camps, although such atrocious camps existed in the north as well. Prisons on both sides combined totaled three dozen, ranging from Texas to New York. Andersonville was built to hold 6,000 men, but swelled to over 45,000. Prisoners had to endure rancid conditions in all kinds of weather. The prison was plagued with disease, vermin, contaminated water, and attacks by fellow inmates who called themselves “Raiders.” Over 13,000 perished, and during the summer of 1864, 100 prisoners died every day. Andersonville’s commandant, Captain Henry Wirz, was the only Confederate to be tried and hanged for war crimes on November 10, 1865. 

The site is located on Georgia Highway 49, approximately 10 miles northeast of Americus and 10 miles south of Oglethorpe. Andersonville National Historic Site is a unit of the National Park System. It includes a reconstructed section of the prison, many monuments, (among trees with cavities dug at their roots by POW’s for water or escape) and a museum which houses artifacts and is sectioned off to display and honor POW’s from other American wars. Andersonville is not an easy place to visit, but is a standing reminder of the horrible conditions that prisoners of war were forced to endure.

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