ANDERSONVILLE — History is written, it has been said, by the victors, and that may be a reason for Henry Wirz’s shortened life and his tarnished reputation.
Capt. Wirz, a Swiss native, commanded the infamous Union prison camp at Andersonville, initially known as Camp Sumter. That many Northern camps were as bad or worse carried little weight in condemning Wirz for the more than 13,000 Union prisoners dead from starvation, exposure and disease. At the end of the Civil War, Wirz was convicted in a military tribunal then hanged on Nov. 10, 1865. He is one of only two Confederate soldiers executed as war criminals.
On Nov. 4, the Alexander H. Stephens Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans in Americus will sponsor the 37th annual Wirz Memorial Service in Andersonville.
According to James Gaston, a member of the veteran’s group, the nine-person Leesburg musical group “A Joyful Noise” will perform at 2 p.m., followed by the memorial service at 3. The service will take place at the bandstand, in downtown Andersonville. In the event of rain, it will be held in the restored Andersonville Village Hall. Guest speaker for the memorial service is Cassy Gray of Fairfield, Ohio, publisher of “The Stainless Banner,” an online newsletter. To close the ceremony, Andersonville Mayor Marvin Baugh is scheduled to proclaim Nov. 4 “Captain Henry Wirz Day” in Andersonville.
“We already have commitments from people coming from three states (for the memorial service),”Gaston said, “and of course we look forward to a large turnout from all over Georgia.”
Confederate groups have long disputed the findings of Wirz’s trial, pointing to the prosecution’s chief witness, later found to be an impostor. A man calling himself Felix de la Baume, testified he’d witnessed Wirz’s direct involvement in the murder of a Union prisoner.
Eleven days after Wirz was hanged, it was discovered that the man claiming to be de la Baume was actually Felix Oeser from Prussia, a deserter from the 7th New York Volunteers.
According to Gaston, Wirz was offered a pardon the night before his execution on the condition he make a statement implicating Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders on charges of conspiracy. Wirz refused, Gaston said, and was hanged the next morning.
Gaston also claims that following the execution, “barbaric Yankees” severed Wirz’s head and other body parts and displayed them in the North. It was four years, Gaston said, before Wirz’s attorney could force the government to order the parts returned. Wirz was eventually buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington.