Civil War prisons, both North and South, were notorious for their bad conditions and high death rates, but the prison in Andersonville, Georgia was, in its number of victims, the worst. In the fourteen months of its existence, from February 1864 to April 1865, 12,912 prisoners died, of the 41,000 that passed through the gates.
Originally intended to house 10,000 prisoners, the 16.5-acre camp held as many as 32,000 by August 1864. Prisoners were shielded from the drenching spring rains and broiling summer sun of south Georgia by only blankets and other improvised shelters. Many owned little more than the clothes on their backs. Their rations often consisted of little more than a small portion of rancid meat and a piece of cornpone made with ground cob. The stream running through the center of camp quickly became a general washroom and latrine, while the swampy ground surrounding it became a fetid breeding ground for maggots and mosquitoes. Medical care was inadequate or nonexistent, with sick men at times lying unattended in their own filth.
Given the scarcity of even basic necessities for both Confederate troops and civilians, similar shortages at Andersonville were inevitable. Nonetheless, failures in planning and administration, whether deliberate or no, made a bad situation worse.
The diseases of malnutrition and poor sanitation, including scurvy, dysentery and cholera, accordingly claimed most of the camp's victims. Others, including the careless, desperate and mad, were shot by the camp guards for crossing the deadline -- a thin wooden rail set an average of nineteen feet inside the camp wall. Still others were hastened toward death by the thugs among them who beat, robbed and murdered in gangs. In June prisoners rose against the gangs, collectively called the raiders, and with the approval of camp commander Henry Wirz tried, condemned and hanged six of the ringleaders on July 11, 1864.