The Photographic History of the Civil War
                  Volume 7 -
Prisons and Hospitals




     The pages of this volume tell little of war's pomp and pageantry. Their subject is, and must be, grim and terrible. Though prisoners of war were not criminals, but often men whose courage was their only fault, and though their detention must not be considered as deserved punishment, but as a military necessity, nevertheless all prisons are unlovely. The groans of men, one moment vigorous, the next shattered and broken, or the sight of strength visibly ebbing away from disease, are awful. It is the dark and cruel side of war that must here be told.

     The reader who finds nothing more than this is, however, careless and superficial, seeing only the object immediately before his eyes, and neglecting relations and perspective. One may hold a dime so that it shuts out the sun. A fact out of its relations to other facts is no better than a lie. Just so far as history enables us to see any particular epoch in its relation to those be- fore, and as the portent of those coming after, to that extent history is true. The failure of the sentimentalist and the social reformer often grows out of myopia. They see only what is near their eyes.

     That men must be judged by the standard of their times is a platitude, but it is well to emphasize platitudes, for the obvious is often forgotten. We are prone to judge the past by the standards of the present, and some of our standards are rising.

     Unpleasant as is the story of the prisons of the Civil War, however great their shortcomings, the treatment of prisoners, taken as a whole, marks a decided advance over the general practice of the world before that time. Instances of theatrical generosity have always been plentiful, but never before had the dictates of humanity so profoundly influenced the action of so many. We must believe that the greatest horrors—for there were horrors— arose from ignorance or apparent necessity, rather than from intention.

     During our own Revolution, the treatment of prisoners is a subject upon which both we and the English must prefer not to dwell. Less than three score years separated the Civil War from the War of 1812 and from the Napoleonic wars, which shook the foundations of Europe. The whole story of the prisoners whom fortune threw at the mercy of the contending forces in the first years of the nineteenth century has not been told—perhaps wisely —though even here it was indifference or low standards rather than deliberate intent which made life in Dartmoor a living death to the French and American captives confined there.

     Never in history were money and effort so lavishly expended upon the cure of disease and the care of the wounded as during the Civil War; and never before was effort so well rewarded. A few years before, great captains had repudiated any obligations to their sick or wounded. These were no more than the dead on the field. Only the man able to carry a musket, a lance, or a saber had their attention. That effort was misdirected during our great contest is true. Only supernatural wisdom and more than mortal strength could have brought the surgeon, the sufferer, and the relief together at precisely the right moment on every occasion, but the effort to accomplish this impossible task was made.

     The echoes of the guns in the Crimea had hardly died away when the Civil War began. Yet during that terrible winter of 1854-55 the mortality from sickness in the English camps, was so great that, had it continued, the whole English army would have been wiped out in less than a year. Compare this record with that of the United States army as told in the following pages and see what advance a few years had brought. While the medical records of the Confederate Armies do not exist, we know that in that service, also, extraordinary results were accomplished.

     The picture which introduces these paragraphs has a significance which cannot be over-emphasized. It is a section of the line of march of the grand review of the armies of the United States, held in Washington May 83-24, 1865. Occupying a place of honor among the marching thousands are ambulances. When before could an army have dared to boast of the pro- vision made for those incapacitated by disease or wounds?

     In the preparation of the prison sections, the author has consulted a large number of the published accounts of experiences, has talked with dozens of one-time prisoners, and has corresponded with many more. The conflicting accounts have been checked by the contemporary documents contained in the eight prison volumes of the "Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies," an invaluable mine of material, heretofore little worked. His earnest effort has been to be absolutely just and impartial.

     Whether or not he has succeeded, the pictures here published, absolutely without change or retouching, must be accepted as truthful. They have come from every section, and there has been no selection to prove a theory. Many Confederate pictures, the very existence of which was unknown, have been unearthed and are here given to the world. Here are the prisoners, their prisons, and their guards, the hospitals, and the surgeons, the whole machinery of relief.

     The list of those who have given their time to answer the almost numberless questions of the author regarding both facts and their interpretation is so long that separate acknowledgment is impracticable. Especial thanks for courtesies are due, however, to George Haven Putnam, Esq., Doctor John A. Wyeth, and Thomas Sturgis, Esq., of New York, John Read, Esq., of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Doctor W. J. W. Kerr, of Corsicana, Texas, and the late Doctor Stanford E. Chaille, of New Orleans. None of these, however, may be held responsible for any sections not specifically quoted on his authority.


July 4, 1911.


pages 14, 16, and 18  in 1911 book

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More Civil War Material:
American Civil War Anecdotes, Incidents and Articles.

This online edition of The Photographic History of the Civil War includes improved images using digital images from the Library of Congress, when available. It also includes additional images that are either cropped from the Library of Congress digital images or are related to the specific topic being discussed in the article or page.

Volume 7 of the History is the first volume I'm publishing online simply because it was the one I was interested in when I decided to publish.

More to come, I hope.


Copyright © 2004 Michael P. Goad  All rights reserved.