Friday, September 4, 2009

The Monument to Captain Henry Wirz

Often overlooked by visitors to Andersonville National Historic Site is the nearby monument to the prison's Confederate commandant, Henry Wirz.

Although he was only a captain, Wirz was the only man ever tried, convicted and executed for war crimes during the Civil War. The Union accused him of murdering prisoners of war, despite evidence that he pleaded with his superiors for help, and a military tribunal sentenced him to death.

A native of Switzerland, Captain Wirz was a trained doctor who came to the United States and settled in Kentucky following the great European revolutions of 1848. He had a successful medical practice in Louisville before traveling south to Louisiana to join the Confederate war effort at the beginning of the war.

Wounded at Seven Pines, he was assigned to the prison service and eventually promoted to command the new prison of Camp Sumter (Andersonville), Georgia. The stockade was designed for 10,000, but Wirz eventually found himself responsible for more than 30,000 prisoners. By the summer of 1864, more than 100 were dying each day from exposure, sickness, malnutrition and other causes. There was little that Wirz or his soldiers could do to help. Pleas for additional food went up to Richmond but the Confederate government had no assistance to send. The commandant even took thousands of prisoners by train and tried to turn them over to the Union army at Jacksonville, but the Federals themselves refused to accept them.

By the time the war ended, some 13,000 men had died at Andersonville and Captain Henry Wirz was branded a villain. Placed on trial before a military tribunal, he was convicted of war crimes and hanged.

In an effort to redeem his reputation, the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1908 erected a monument to Captain Wirz in Andersonville. To learn more about it and his tragic story, please visit

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