Capt. Henry Wirz, who is held responsible by many historians for the atrocities at
Andersonville’s Prison Site, will be memorialized at the Site on Nov. 6.
ANDERSONVILLE — Capt. Henry Wirz, one of only two Confederate soldiers tried, convicted and executed for war crimes in the aftermath of this country’s Civil War, is a polarizing figure.
The commandant of the Confederate prisoner of war Camp Sumner at Andersonville, Wirz is held responsible by many historians for the atrocities at the camp, where more than 13,000 Union prisoners died of starvation, disease and exposure to the elements.
Wirz supporters, including members of his family and Southern heritage organizations like the Sons of Confederate Veterans, say the Swiss native was a scapegoat who was convicted at a trial that was little more than a farce. Col. Heinrich Wirz, Henry Wirz’s great grand-nephew who lives in Bern, Switzerland, has spent years of his life and a large sum of money seeking a pardon for his ancestor, who is memorialized with a statue at the present-day historic site of the Andersonville camp.
The SCV’s Alexander H. Stephens Camp 78 in Americus honors Wirz each year with a memorial service at the prison site. This year’s service will be held at Andersonville on Nov. 6.
“The Sons of Confederate Veterans organization in Americus joined with the United Daughters of the Confederacy to host the first memorial service for Capt. Wirz in 1976,” James Gaston, chairman of Camp 78’s Wirz Committee, said. “He was awarded the organization’s Medal of Honor and recognized as a Confederate hero and martyr.
“Capt. Wirz was hanged on Nov. 10, and we always try to hold the memorial service near that date.”
Confederate groups have long decried the trial and execution of Wirz, noting the primary witness against the prison commandant gave a false name and falsely claimed to have witnessed atrocities at Andersonville. Newspaper reports say the witness, who claimed to be Felix de la Baume, a descendent of LaFayette, testified he witnessed Wirz’s direct involvement in the murder of a Union prisoner.
Eleven days after Wirz’s trial, though, de la Baume was discovered to actually be Felix Oeser, a deserter of the 7th New York Volunteers.
“Here’s the kind of man Capt. Wirz was,” Gaston said. “He was offered a pardon the night before his execution if he would make a statement implicating Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders on charges of conspiracy. Even though he could have saved his own life, Capt. Wirz refused to do so.
“Then, after he was executed, barbaric Yankees cut off his head and other body parts and displayed them around various sites up North. It was four years before Capt. Wirz’s attorney was able to force the government to order Wirz’s body parts returned to his family so he could have a proper Christian burial at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington.”
The Sunday afternoon Wirz Memorial service will start at 3 p.m. near the Wirz monument. SCV Commander-in-Chief Michael Givens of Beaufort, S.C., will be the guest speaker. Others expected to attend the service are Military Order of the Stars and Bars Commander Gen. Max Waldrop of Tennessee and SCV Lt. Commander-in-Chief Kelly Barrow of Georgia.
In the event of inclement weather, the service will be held at nearby Andersonville Methodist Church.