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Andersonvilles of the North

The Myths and Realities of Northern Treatment of Civil War Confederate Prisoners

James M. Gillispie

Publication Year: 2008

Soon after the close of military operations in the American Civil War, another war began over how it would be remembered by future generations. The prisoner-of-war issue has figured prominently in Northern and Southern writing about the conflict. Northerners used tales of Andersonville to demonize the Confederacy, while Southerners vilified Northern prison policies to show the depths to which Yankees had sunk to attain victory. Over the years the postwar Northern portrayal of Andersonville as fiendishly designed to kill prisoners in mass quantities has largely been dismissed. The Lost Cause characterization of Union prison policies as criminally negligent and inhumane, however, has shown remarkable durability. Northern officials have been portrayed as turning their military prisons into concentration camps where Southern prisoners were poorly fed, clothed, and sheltered, resulting in inexcusably high numbers of deaths. Andersonvilles of the North, by James M. Gillispie, represents the first broad study to argue that the image of Union prison officials as negligent and cruel to Confederate prisoners is severely flawed. This study is not an attempt to “whitewash” Union prison policies or make light of Confederate prisoner mortality. But once the careful reader disregards unreliable postwar polemics, and focuses exclusively on the more reliable wartime records and documents from both Northern and Southern sources, then a much different, less negative, picture of Northern prison life emerges. While life in Northern prisons was difficult and potentially deadly, no evidence exists of a conspiracy to neglect or mistreat Southern captives. Confederate prisoners’ suffering and death were due to a number of factors, but it would seem that Yankee apathy and malice were rarely among them. In fact, likely the most significant single factor in Confederate (and all) prisoner mortality during the Civil War was the halting of the prisoner exchange cartel in the late spring of 1863. Though Northern officials have long been condemned for coldly calculating that doing so aided their war effort, the evidence convincingly suggests that the South’s staunch refusal to exchange black Union prisoners was actually the key sticking point in negotiations to resume exchanges from mid-1863 to 1865. Ultimately Gillispie concludes that Northern prisoner-of-war policies were far more humane and reasonable than generally depicted. His careful analysis will be welcomed by historians of the Civil War, the South, and of American history.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Half Title

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Title Page

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p. v

List of Illustrations

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p. vi

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p. vii

No academic work is ever the sole creation of the author. That may sound clich

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pp. 1-5

...while the Civil War has been and continues to be the most written-about event in American history, a remarkably small percentage of the literature has focused on the prisoner of war issue. Since that time, about a dozen books on this topic have been published, though rarely by academic presses. This relative dearth of writing on the subject may reflect the belief...

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1. Servants of the Devil and Jeff Davis

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pp. 6-26

...surrendered the South’s principle army and best hope for victory to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia and signaled the beginning of the end of the Confederacy. Northerners everywhere were jubilant. The Civil War, which was not supposed to last so long or cost so much in lives and treas-...

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2. The Lost Cause and the Southern Side of the POW Debate

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pp. 27-50

...when Generals Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston surrendered the South’s principle armies to Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T.Sherman respectively. While white Southerners grieved for their lost cause, Northerners celebrated wildly. Their joy came not only from victory and the chance to finally return home to loved ones; it came also from the con-...

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3. Continuity and Change

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pp. 51-70

...stage in the first third of the twentieth century, fewer people were willing to deal with the controversial issue of prisoners of war. Many probably thought there was little left to say on the topic given the rather large amount of material Northern and Southern writers produced in the half century after the war’s conclusion. Some were probably reluctant to reopen...

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4. Union Policies Regarding Prisoners of War

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pp. 71-108

...present, the evidence against Northern officials regarding how they treated Confederate prisoners during the Civil War appears to be pretty damning. Ex-prisoners and modern writers have agreed, with some very limited, very recent exceptions, that the Federal government could have done considerably more than it actually did to mitigate Southern prisoners’ suffering and...

Image Plates

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5. Federal Policies at the Four Major Prisons in Illinois and Indiana

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pp. 109-152

...that Union officials enacted policies that cannot accurately be termed negligent or abusive. Their policies towards captured Confederate soldiers and officers were well within the boundaries of the rules of war as defined and accepted by both sides during the Civil War. Yankee regulations were designed to provide prisoners with the...

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6. Federal Policies at the Major Ohio Prisons

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pp. 153-177

Johnson’s Island opened as an officers’ prison in 1863 and operated as such for the rest of the war. Located in Sandusky Bay in Lake Erie, this facility was described in terrible terms after the war by ex-prisoners. In February1904, James F. Crocker spoke of his experiences at Johnson’s Island before a United Confederate Veterans meeting in Virginia. “My God,” he...

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7. Point Lookout, Fort Delaware, and Elmira

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pp. 178-216

...In all likelihood the writer did not intend to single out Point Lookout so much as to use it to represent the hardships Confederate prisoners endured in all Yankee pens because it was easier to rhyme with than Fort Delaware or Alton. Other writers over the last century and a quarter, however, have pointed to that particular prison as especially nasty....

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8. The Omnipresent Specter of Disease

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pp. 217-243

...a decent job of providing Confederate prisoners with adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. Many still question, however, how that could have been so when 12 % of the South’s soldiers died in captivity. The reason many have concluded that such a statistic was excessive is that mortality in Confederate prisons, which operated under severe material...

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pp. 244-246

...policies or living conditions in Yankee prisons during the Civil War. Neither has it sought to portray Union prisons as pleasant places to have been confined. Rather, this study has sought to demonstrate why the predominately negative impression of Union authorities’ policies and actions towards Confederate prisoners as neglectful, apathetic, and deliberately cruel is in...

Appendix A

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pp. 247-248

Appendix B

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pp. 249-250


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pp. 251-272


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pp. 273-278

E-ISBN-13: 9781574413700
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574412550

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 16 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 654599219
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Andersonvilles of the North

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Subject Headings

  • Military prisons -- Northeastern States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Prisoners of war -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Prisoners of war -- Confederate States of America -- History -- 19th century.
  • Prisoners of war -- United States -- Mortality -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Prisoners and prisons
  • United States. Army -- Prisons -- History -- 19th century.
  • Military prisons -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Military prisons -- Middle West -- History -- 19th century.
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