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Chapter 81

CAPTAIN WIRZ THE ONLY ONE OF THE PRISON-KEEPERS PUNISHED--HIS ARREST,
TRIAL AND EXECUTION.

Of all those more or less concerned in the barbarities practiced upon our
prisoners, but one--Captain Henry Wirz--was punished. The Turners, at
Richmond; Lieutenant Boisseux, of Belle Isle; Major Gee, of Salisbury;
Colonel Iverson and Lieutenant Barrett, of Florence; and the many brutal
miscreants about Andersonville, escaped scot free. What became of them
no one knows; they were never heard of after the close of the war. They
had sense enough to retire into obscurity, and stay there, and this saved
their lives, for each one of them had made deadly enemies among those
whom they had maltreated, who, had they known where they were, would have
walked every step of the way thither to kill them.

When the Confederacy went to pieces in April, 1865, Wirz was still at
Andersonville. General Wilson, commanding our cavalry forces, and who
had established his headquarters at Macon, Ga., learned of this, and sent
one of his staff--Captain H. E. Noyes, of the Fourth Regular Cavalry
--with a squad. of men, to arrest him. This was done on the 7th of May.
Wirz protested against his arrest, claiming that he was protected by the
terms of Johnson's surrender, and, addressed the following letter to
General Wilson:

ANDERSONVILLE, GA., May 7, 1865.

GENERAL:--It is with great reluctance that I address you these lines,
being fully aware how little time is left you to attend to such matters
as I now have the honor to lay before you, and if I could see any other
way to accomplish my object I would not intrude upon you. I am a native
of Switzerland, and was before the war a citizen of Louisiana, and by
profession a physician. Like hundreds and thousands of others, I was
carried away by the maelstrom of excitement and joined the Southern army.
I was very severely wounded at the battle of "Seven Pines," near
Richmond, Va., and have nearly lost the use of my right arm. Unfit for
field duty, I was ordered to report to Brevet Major General John H.
Winder, in charge of the Federal prisoners of war, who ordered me to take
charge of a prison in Tuscaloosa, Ala. My health failing me, I applied
for a furlough and went to Europe, from whence I returned in February,
1864. I was then ordered to report to the commandant of the military
prison at Andersonville, Ga., who assigned me to the command of the
interior of the prison. The duties I had to perform were arduous and
unpleasant, and I am satisfied that no man can or will justly blame me
for things that happened here, and which were beyond my power to control.
I do not think that I ought to be held responsible for the shortness of
rations, for the overcrowded state of the prison, (which was of itself a
prolific source of fearful mortality), for the inadequate supply of
clothing, want of shelter, etc., etc. Still I now bear the odium, and
men who were prisoners have seemed disposed to wreak their vengeance upon
me for what they have suffered--I, who was only the medium, or, I may
better say, the tool in the hands of my superiors. This is my condition.
I am a man with a family. I lost all my property when the Federal army
besieged Vicksburg. I have no money at present to go to any place, and,
even if I had, I know of no place where I can go. My life is in danger,
and I most respectfully ask of you help and relief. If you will be so
generous as to give me some sort of a safe conduct, or, what I should
greatly prefer, a guard to protect myself and family against violence,
I should be thankful to you, and you may rest assured that your
protection will not be given to one who is unworthy of it. My intention
is to return with my family to Europe, as soon as I can make the
arrangements. In the meantime I have the honor General, to remain, very
respectfully, your obedient servant,

Hy. WIRZ, Captain C. S. A.
Major General T. H. WILSON,
Commanding, Macon. Ga.


He was kept at Macon, under guard, until May 20, when Captain Noyes was
ordered to take him, and the hospital records of Andersonville, to
Washington. Between Macon and Cincinnati the journey was a perfect
gauntlet.

Our men were stationed all along the road, and among them everywhere were
ex-prisoners, who recognized Wirz, and made such determined efforts to
kill him that it was all that Captain Noyes, backed by a strong guard,
could do to frustrate them. At Chattanooga and Nashville the struggle
between his guards and his would-be slayers, was quite sharp.

At Louisville, Noyes had Wirz clean-shaved, and dressed in a complete
suit of black, with a beaver hat, which so altered his appearance that no
one recognized him after that, and the rest of the journey was made
unmolested.

The authorities at Washington ordered that he be tried immediately, by a
court martial composed of Generals Lewis Wallace, Mott, Geary, L. Thomas,
Fessenden, Bragg and Baller, Colonel Allcock, and Lieutenant-Colonel
Stibbs. Colonel Chipman was Judge Advocate, and the trial began
August 23.

The prisoner was arraigned on a formidable list of charges and
specifications, which accused him of "combining, confederating, and
conspiring together with John H. Winder, Richard B. Winder, Isaiah II.
White, W. S. Winder, R. R. Stevenson and others unknown, to injure the
health and destroy the lives of soldiers in the military service of the
United States, there held, and being prisoners of war within the lines of
the so-called Confederate States, and in the military prisons thereof, to
the end that the armies of the United States might be weakened and
impaired, in violation of the laws and customs of war." The main facts
of the dense over-crowding, the lack of sufficient shelter, the hideous
mortality were cited, and to these added a long list of specific acts of
brutality, such as hunting men down with hounds, tearing them with dogs,
robbing them, confining them in the stocks, cruelly beating and murdering
them, of which Wirz was personally guilty.

When the defendant was called upon to plead he claimed that his case was
covered by the terms of Johnston's surrender, and furthermore, that the
country now being at peace, he could not be lawfully tried by a
court-martial. These objections being overruled, he entered a plea of
not guilty to all the charges and specifications. He had two lawyers
for counsel.

The prosecution called Captain Noyes first, who detailed the
circumstances of Wirz's arrest, and denied that he had given any promises
of protection.

The next witness was Colonel George C. Gibbs, who commanded the troops of
the post at Andersonville. He testified that Wirz was the commandant of
the prison, and had sole authority under Winder over all the prisoners;
that there was a Dead Line there, and orders to shoot any one who crossed
it; that dogs were kept to hunt down escaping prisoners; the dogs were
the ordinary plantation dogs, mixture of hound and cur.

Dr. J. C. Bates, who was a Surgeon of the Prison Hospital, (a Rebel),
testified that the condition of things in his division was horrible.
Nearly naked men, covered with lice, were dying on all sides. Many were
lying in the filthy sand and mud.

He went on and described the terrible condition of men--dying from
scurvy, diarrhea, gangrenous sores, and lice. He wanted to carry in
fresh vegetables for the sick, but did not dare, the orders being very
strict against such thing. He thought the prison authorities might
easily have sent in enough green corn to have stopped the scurvy; the
miasmatic effluvia from the prison was exceedingly offensive and
poisonous, so much so that when the surgeons received a slight scratch on
their persons, they carefully covered it up with court plaster, before
venturing near the prison.

A number of other Rebel Surgeons testified to substantially the same
facts. Several residents of that section of the State testified to the
plentifulness of the crops there in 1864.

In addition to these, about one hundred and fifty Union prisoners were
examined, who testified to all manner of barbarities which had come under
their personal observation. They had all seen Wirz shoot men, had seen
him knock sick and crippled men down and stamp upon them, had been run
down by him with hounds, etc. Their testimony occupies about two
thousand pages of manuscript, and is, without doubt, the most, terrible
record of crime ever laid to the account of any man.

The taking of this testimony occupied until October 18, when the
Government decided to close the case, as any further evidence would be
simply cumulative.

The prisoner presented a statement in which he denied that there had been
an accomplice in a conspiracy of John H. Winder and others, to destroy
the lives of United States soldiers; he also denied that there had been
such a conspiracy, but made the pertinent inquiry why he alone, of all
those who were charged with the conspiracy, was brought to trial. He
said that Winder has gone to the great judgment seat, to answer for all
his thoughts, words and deeds, "and surely I am not to be held culpable
for them. General Howell Cobb has received the pardon of the President
of the United States." He further claimed that there was no principle of
law which would sanction the holding of him--a mere subordinate
--guilty, for simply obeying, as literally as possible, the orders
of his superiors.

He denied all the specific acts of cruelty alleged against him, such as
maltreating and killing prisoners with his own hands. The prisoners
killed for crossing the Dead Line, he claimed, should not be charged
against him, since they were simply punished for the violation of a known
order which formed part of the discipline, he believed, of all military
prisons. The statement that soldiers were given a furlough for killing a
Yankee prisoner, was declared to be "a mere idle, absurd camp rumor."
As to the lack of shelter, room and rations for so many prisoners,
he claimed that the sole responsibility rested upon the Confederate
Government. There never were but two prisoners whipped by his order,
and these were for sufficient cause. He asked the Court to consider
favorably two important items in his defense: first, that he had of his
own accord taken the drummer boys from the Stockade, and placed them
where they could get purer air and better food. Second, that no property
taken from prisoners was retained by him, but was turned over to the
Prison Quartermaster.

The Court, after due deliberation, declared the prisoner guilty on all
the charges and specifications save two unimportant ones, and sentenced
him to be hanged by the neck until dead, at such time and place as the
President of the United States should direct.

November 3 President Johnson approved of the sentence, and ordered Major
General C. C. Augur to carry the same into effect on Friday, November 10,
which was done. The prisoner made frantic appeals against the sentence;
he wrote imploring letters to President Johnson, and lying ones to the
New York News, a Rebel paper. It is said that his wife attempted to
convey poison to him, that he might commit suicide and avoid the ignomy
of being hanged. When all hope was gone he nerved himself up to meet his
fate, and died, as thousands of other scoundrels have, with calmness.
His body was buried in the grounds of the Old Capitol Prison, alongside
of that of Azterodt, one of the accomplices in the assassination of
President Lincoln.

John McElroy