Daily Life at Andersonville Prison

A Virtual Exploration of Camp Sumter in Andersonville, Georgia


Georgia (1861) by Robert Knox SnedenGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Geography of War

Prisoner Robert K. Sneden drew this rendering of Georgia's railroads and installations. Note the proximity of Andersonville to rivers and rail lines. Sneden wrote in the margins that it was "125 miles from Atlanta to Andersonville." 

Andersonville Site Map (2016) by Georgia Public BroadcastingGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Andersonville Map

North Gate Entrance (2015)Georgia Public Broadcasting

One of the largest Confederate military prisons of the Civil War, Andersonville Prison, built in 1864, was officially known as Camp Sumter.

Bird's-eye view of Andersonville Prison from the south-east by J.W. Morton, Jr.Georgia Public Broadcasting

Andersonville Prison was built to hold roughly 10,000 inmates. By the end of the war, nearly three times that number filled the cramped area.

The only source of water was a small river that ran through the center of camp. It was used by the prisoners for bathing, washing, and drinking.

Andersonville Prison: Limited Space and Contaminated Water (2015)Georgia Public Broadcasting

Stockade and Deadline (2015)Georgia Public Broadcasting

Certain areas within the camp's walls were off-limits to prisoners. The outer row of white posts in this photo denotes the edge of the stockade where inmates were kept, while the inner row marks the deadline that prisoners were forbidden to cross.

Stockade and Deadline (2015)Georgia Public Broadcasting

The area between the deadline and the stockade wall was considered "no man's land."

Guards in the sentry boxes were instructed to shoot any prisoner who crossed the deadline.

A Brief History of Andersonville Prison at Camp SumterGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Andersonville Prison, Ga. Bird's eye view (1864-08-17)Georgia Public Broadcasting

A Field of Living Graves

Although Camp Sumter was expanded in size to contain the increasing number of inmates, it was never able to properly accommodate them. The crowded quarters, and the Confederacy's inability to adequately supply the prison, led to dire conditions.  

Andersonville Prison: Issuing Rations (view from main gate) (1864-08-17) by A.J. RiddleGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Left to fend for themselves, prisoners utilized whatever resources were available. They made ramshackle shelters, stole supplies, and attempted to bring in outside money, food, and resources.

Ultimately, inmates became sick, and many died due to starvation and disease.

The Appalling Living Conditions at Andersonville PrisonGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Sergeant S. Foust, Andersonville Prison Diary (p. 34) (1864) by S. FoustGeorgia Public Broadcasting

In a journal entry recorded over several scorching days in July, 1864, a captured sergeant describes his sickness from the heat, threats from prison guards, and the death of a fellow inmate.

He further reports on the horrific lack of rations and the actions taken against fellow inmates who informed on prisoners attempting to escape.

Prisoner Shebangs (2015)Georgia Public Broadcasting

Prisoners were given little to no supplies for making their own shelters inside the stockade.

Soldiers captured away from the battlefield may have had extra clothing or even tents they could use. Those captured during battle had little more than what they were wearing. Many unfortunate inmates dug themselves holes in the ground in an attempt to avoid to elements.

Makeshift Shelters (2015)Georgia Public Broadcasting

Some inmates gathered brush and other materials from their surroundings to make shelters, occasionally called shebangs.

Exposure was a common cause of death for Andersonville prisoners. Literally, exposure means a fatal lack of protection from weather and the environment.

Michael Dougherty, Andersonville Prison Diary (p. 29) (1908) by Michael DoughertyGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Michael Dougherty Journal Entry

Map Made at Andersonville Prison (1864-09) by Robert Know SnedenGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Was Escape Possible?

Although escape from Andersonville Prison was difficult, prisoners still sometimes made the attempt. The hope of escape even led to its own industry. Robert K. Sneden noted in the margins of his drawing that it "was copied from a map which hung in the house of a Rebel farmer, and this piece was cut out of it by one of U.S. prisoners who escaped, but was soon recaptured. Copies of map were sold by R. K. Sneden to those who tried to escape for $5 Confed. money."

Credits: Story

Andersonville National Historic Site
National Park Service
Library of Congress
Virginia Historical Society

Credits: All media
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