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Groups honor Confederate Camp Sumter Commander Henry Wirz

Andersonville prsion camp commander hanged after Civil War for war crimes

ANDERSONVILLE — A memorial service honoring Capt. Henry Wirz, Prisoner of War Camp Commander of the Confederate Camp Sumter here, will be held Sunday starting at 2 p.m.

Period music from the Civil War era will be played by the Lee County band A Joyful Noise, and the memorial service will feature a speech by the Rev. John Weaver of Fitzgerald. The annual service is presented by the Capt. Wirz Memorial Committee and by the Sons of Confederate Veterans Alex H. Stephens Camp in Americus.

Wirz, a Swiss-born soldier who fought with the Confederacy and was later named commander of the POW camp in Andersonville, was charged with war crimes at the conclusion of the Civil War. His charges were based on the more than 12,000 deaths at the notorious camp, most from malnutrition and dysentery. Records from the era show that Wirz, concerned over the lack of food and medication available for Union prisoners, tried to exchange them for Confederate prisoners and eventually offered to release them without exchange if the Union provided transport to take them out of the South.

Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had, however, enacted a nationwide ban on prisoner exchanges and refused all requests to exchange or transport the prisoners.

Wirz was taken to Washington, D.C. after the war, tried and sentenced to death. He was hanged on Nov. 10, 1865.

SCV members and other Southern heritage groups have long decried Wirz’s execution.

“For the last 150 years, both Captain Wirz and the South have been blamed for the death of the prisoners who fell at Andersonville, but little has been said of his efforts to save them or of the same percentage of Confederate guards who died at the camp,” Wirz Memorial Committee Chairman James Gaston said. “Still less is reported of atrocities which occurred against Confederate POWs in Union prison camps such as Elmira Prison, New York, where 25 percent of the prisoners died, or Camp Douglas, Illinois, where more than 25 percent of the Confederate prisoners died as compared to less than 5 percent of the guards stationed there throughout the war.”

James King, commander of the Albany SCV Camp 141, which is involved this year in the Wirz memorial, called the hanging of the Camp Sumter POW camp commander a “travesty.”

“The trial of Andersonville POW Camp Commander Henry Wirz was a travesty of American justice and a complete farce in which the outcome of being found guilty was predetermined,” King said. “This trial remains a dark chapter in the American justice system and especially highlights immoral and unethical proceedings and conduct by military courts of this time period.

For additional information about Sunday’s memorial service, contact Gaston (gaston7460@bellsouth.net), Americus SCV Camp Commander John Carroll (carrolljohnbiii@bellsouth.net) or King (jkingantiquearms@bellsouth.net).