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6. Federal Policies at the Major Ohio Prisons

James M. Gillispie University of North Texas Press PDF

–6–

FEDERAL POLICIES AT THE

MAJOR OHIO PRISONS

Johnson’s Island

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 February

1904, James F. Crocker spoke of his experiences at Johnson’s Island before a United Confederate Veterans meeting in Virginia. “My God,” he exclaimed, “it was terrible.” He explained to the gathering that prisoners there were intentionally starved by the Union officials as a matter of policy.

“It was a cruel, bitter treatment,” he said, adding to the postwar argument that the North’s superior resources ought to have made Yankee prisons oases, “and that too, by a hand into which Providence had poured to overflowing its most bounteous gifts.” In 1917 ex-prisoner Henry E. Shepherd recalled life in Johnson’s Island as a “grim and remorseless struggle with starvation . . . .” This was not just his experience; Shepherd claimed that for all prisoners on the Island, “relentless and gnawing hunger was the chronic and normal state.”1

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

James M. Gillispie University of North Texas Press PDF

–2–

THE LOST CAUSE AND THE

SOUTHERN SIDE OF THE

POW DEBATE

1865–1920

IN APRIL 1865 THE CONFEDERACY DIED for all intents and purposes 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 conviction that right had triumphed over wrong. The idea that the Confederate

States of America had been a morally bankrupt society received official and public legitimacy during Andersonville commandant Henry Wirz’s trial and subsequent execution before the year was out.

Ex-Confederates did not want to be remembered as traitors or as members of a degraded society who were defeated by a righteous foe. Many, probably most, white Southerners feared that the victors’ history would become the official version of the Civil War—a concern not without precedent. Jefferson Davis expressed the concern many in his region harbored, warning, “Men live in the estimation of posterity not by their deeds alone, but by their historians also.” To make sure the victors’ history was not the only one that would be available, Davis wrote his massive version of events,

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Appendix B: Leading Killers of Confederate Prisoners of War

James M. Gillispie University of North Texas Press ePub

APPENDIX B

LEADING KILLERS OF CONFEDERATE PRISONERS OF WAR AT THE INDIVIDUAL CAMPS 1

1. Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, Volume I, Part III, 30, 46.

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6. Federal Policies at the Major Ohio Prisons

James M. Gillispie University of North Texas Press ePub

6

FEDERAL POLICIES AT THE MAJOR OHIO PRISONS

Johnson’s Island

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 February 1904, James F. Crocker spoke of his experiences at Johnson’s Island before a United Confederate Veterans meeting in Virginia. “My God,” he exclaimed, “it was terrible.” He explained to the gathering that prisoners there were intentionally starved by the Union officials as a matter of policy. “It was a cruel, bitter treatment,” he said, adding to the postwar argument that the North’s superior resources ought to have made Yankee prisons oases, “and that too, by a hand into which Providence had poured to overflowing its most bounteous gifts.” In 1917 ex-prisoner Henry E. Shepherd recalled life in Johnson’s Island as a “grim and remorseless struggle with starvation. . . .” This was not just his experience; Shepherd claimed that for all prisoners on the Island, “relentless and gnawing hunger was the chronic and normal state.”1

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4. Union Policies, 1861–1865

James M. Gillispie University of North Texas Press ePub

4

UNION POLICIES REGARDING PRISONERS OF WAR

1861–1865

To look at most of the writing done between 1865 and the 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 mortality. Many have contended that the North had everything it wanted, materially speaking, but failed to share its bounty with Southern captives out of a spirit of vindictiveness. Others cite a misguided retaliation policy wherein vital supplies were intentionally kept from prisoners in Northern pens for the supposed misdeeds of the Richmond government. Still others have preferred the lesser charge of simple negligence. Whatever the reasons offered by writers discussing Union treatment of Confederate prisoners, most have stated explicitly or implied strongly that Southern prisoners’ suffering and mortality were excessive.

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