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    Chapter 81

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    Chapter 82
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    CAPTAIN WIRZ THE ONLY ONE OF THE PRISON-KEEPERS PUNISHED--HIS ARREST,
    TRIAL AND EXECUTION.

    Of all those more or less concerned in the barbarities practiced upon our
    prisoners, but one--Captain Henry Wirz--was punished. The Turners, at
    Richmond; Lieutenant Boisseux, of Belle Isle; Major Gee, of Salisbury;
    Colonel Iverson and Lieutenant Barrett, of Florence; and the many brutal
    miscreants about Andersonville, escaped scot free. What became of them
    no one knows; they were never heard of after the close of the war. They
    had sense enough to retire into obscurity, and stay there, and this saved
    their lives, for each one of them had made deadly enemies among those
    whom they had maltreated, who, had they known where they were, would have
    walked every step of the way thither to kill them.

    When the Confederacy went to pieces in April, 1865, Wirz was still at
    Andersonville. General Wilson, commanding our cavalry forces, and who
    had established his headquarters at Macon, Ga., learned of this, and sent
    one of his staff--Captain H. E. Noyes, of the Fourth Regular Cavalry
    --with a squad. of men, to arrest him. This was done on the 7th of May.
    Wirz protested against his arrest, claiming that he was protected by the
    terms of Johnson's surrender, and, addressed the following letter to
    General Wilson:

    ANDERSONVILLE, GA., May 7, 1865.

    GENERAL:--It is with great reluctance that I address you these lines,
    being fully aware how little time is left you to attend to such matters
    as I now have the honor to lay before you, and if I could see any other
    way to accomplish my object I would not intrude upon you. I am a native
    of Switzerland, and was before the war a citizen of Louisiana, and by
    profession a physician. Like hundreds and thousands of others, I was
    carried away by the maelstrom of excitement and joined the Southern army.
    I was very severely wounded at the battle of "Seven Pines," near
    Richmond, Va., and have nearly lost the use of my right arm. Unfit for
    field duty, I was ordered to report to Brevet Major General John H.
    Winder, in charge of the Federal prisoners of war, who ordered me to take
    charge of a prison in Tuscaloosa, Ala. My health failing me, I applied
    for a furlough and went to Europe, from whence I returned in February,
    1864. I was then ordered to report to the commandant of the military
    prison at Andersonville, Ga., who assigned me to the command of the
    interior of the prison. The duties I had to perform were arduous and
    unpleasant, and I am satisfied that no man can or will justly blame me
    for things that happened here, and which were beyond my power to control.
    I do not think that I ought to be held responsible for the shortness of
    rations, for the overcrowded state of the prison, (which was of itself a
    prolific source of fearful mortality), for the inadequate supply of
    clothing, want of shelter, etc., etc. Still I now bear the odium, and
    men who were prisoners have seemed disposed to wreak their vengeance upon
    me for what they have suffered--I, who was only the medium, or, I may
    better say, the tool in the hands of my superiors. This is my condition.
    I am a man with a family. I lost all my property when the Federal army
    besieged Vicksburg. I have no money at present to go to any place, and,
    even if I had, I know of no place where I can go. My life is in danger,
    and I most respectfully ask of you help and relief. If you will be so
    generous as to give me some sort of a safe conduct, or, what I should
    greatly prefer, a guard to protect myself and family against violence,
    I should be thankful to you, and you may rest assured that your
    protection will not be given to one who is unworthy of it. My intention
    is to return with my family to Europe, as soon as I can make the
    arrangements. In the meantime I have the honor General, to remain, very
    respectfully, your obedient servant,

    Hy. WIRZ, Captain C. S. A.
    Major General T. H. WILSON,
    Commanding, Macon. Ga.

    He was kept at Macon, under guard, until May 20, when Captain Noyes was
    ordered to take him, and the hospital records of Andersonville, to
    Washington. Between Macon and Cincinnati the journey was a perfect
    gauntlet.

    Our men were stationed all along the road, and among them everywhere were
    ex-prisoners, who recognized Wirz, and made such determined efforts to
    kill him that it was all that Captain Noyes, backed by a strong guard,
    could do to frustrate them. At Chattanooga and Nashville the struggle
    between his guards and his would-be slayers, was quite sharp.

    At Louisville, Noyes had Wirz clean-shaved, and dressed in a complete
    suit of black, with a beaver hat, which so altered his appearance that no
    one recognized him after that, and the rest of the journey was made
    unmolested.

    The authorities at Washington ordered that he be tried immediately, by a
    court martial composed of Generals Lewis Wallace, Mott, Geary, L. Thomas,
    Fessenden, Bragg and Baller, Colonel Allcock, and Lieutenant-Colonel
    Stibbs. Colonel Chipman was Judge Advocate, and the trial began
    August 23.

    The prisoner was arraigned on a formidable list of charges and
    specifications, which accused him of "combining, confederating, and
    conspiring together with John H. Winder, Richard B. Winder, Isaiah II.
    White, W. S. Winder, R. R. Stevenson and others unknown, to injure the
    health and destroy the lives of soldiers in the military service of the
    United States, there held, and being prisoners of war within the lines of
    the so-called Confederate States, and in the military prisons thereof, to
    the end that the armies of the United States might be weakened and
    impaired, in violation of the laws and customs of war." The main facts
    of the dense over-crowding, the lack of sufficient shelter, the hideous
    mortality were cited, and to these added a long list of specific acts of
    brutality, such as hunting men down with hounds, tearing them with dogs,
    robbing them, confining them in the stocks, cruelly beating and murdering
    them, of which Wirz was personally guilty.

    When the defendant was called upon to plead he claimed that his case was
    covered by the terms of Johnston's surrender, and furthermore, that the
    country now being at peace, he could not be lawfully tried by a
    court-martial. These objections being overruled, he entered a plea of
    not guilty to all the charges and specifications. He had two lawyers
    for counsel.

    The prosecution called Captain Noyes first, who detailed the
    circumstances of Wirz's arrest, and denied that he had given any promises
    of protection.

    The next witness was Colonel George C. Gibbs, who commanded the troops of
    the post at Andersonville. He testified that Wirz was the commandant of
    the prison, and had sole authority under Winder over all the prisoners;
    that there was a Dead Line there, and orders to shoot any one who crossed
    it; that dogs were kept to hunt down escaping prisoners; the dogs were
    the ordinary plantation dogs, mixture of hound and cur.

    Dr. J. C. Bates, who was a Surgeon of the Prison Hospital, (a Rebel),
    testified that the condition of things in his division was horrible.
    Nearly naked men, covered with lice, were dying on all sides. Many were
    lying in the filthy sand and mud.

    He went on and described the terrible condition of men--dying from
    scurvy, diarrhea, gangrenous sores, and lice. He wanted to carry in
    fresh vegetables for the sick, but did not dare, the orders being very
    strict against such thing. He thought the prison authorities might
    easily have sent in enough green corn to have stopped the scurvy; the
    miasmatic effluvia from the prison was exceedingly offensive and
    poisonous, so much so that when the surgeons received a slight scratch on
    their persons, they carefully covered it up with court plaster, before
    venturing near the prison.

    A number of other Rebel Surgeons testified to substantially the same
    facts. Several residents of that section of the State testified to the
    plentifulness of the crops there in 1864.

    In addition to these, about one hundred and fifty Union prisoners were
    examined, who testified to all manner of barbarities which had come under
    their personal observation. They had all seen Wirz shoot men, had seen
    him knock sick and crippled men down and stamp upon them, had been run
    down by him with hounds, etc. Their testimony occupies about two
    thousand pages of manuscript, and is, without doubt, the most, terrible
    record of crime ever laid to the account of any man.

    The taking of this testimony occupied until October 18, when the
    Government decided to close the case, as any further evidence would be
    simply cumulative.

    The prisoner presented a statement in which he denied that there had been
    an accomplice in a conspiracy of John H. Winder and others, to destroy
    the lives of United States soldiers; he also denied that there had been
    such a conspiracy, but made the pertinent inquiry why he alone, of all
    those who were charged with the conspiracy, was brought to trial. He
    said that Winder has gone to the great judgment seat, to answer for all
    his thoughts, words and deeds, "and surely I am not to be held culpable
    for them. General Howell Cobb has received the pardon of the President
    of the United States." He further claimed that there was no principle of
    law which would sanction the holding of him--a mere subordinate
    --guilty, for simply obeying, as literally as possible, the orders
    of his superiors.

    He denied all the specific acts of cruelty alleged against him, such as
    maltreating and killing prisoners with his own hands. The prisoners
    killed for crossing the Dead Line, he claimed, should not be charged
    against him, since they were simply punished for the violation of a known
    order which formed part of the discipline, he believed, of all military
    prisons. The statement that soldiers were given a furlough for killing a
    Yankee prisoner, was declared to be "a mere idle, absurd camp rumor."
    As to the lack of shelter, room and rations for so many prisoners,
    he claimed that the sole responsibility rested upon the Confederate
    Government. There never were but two prisoners whipped by his order,
    and these were for sufficient cause. He asked the Court to consider
    favorably two important items in his defense: first, that he had of his
    own accord taken the drummer boys from the Stockade, and placed them
    where they could get purer air and better food. Second, that no property
    taken from prisoners was retained by him, but was turned over to the
    Prison Quartermaster.

    The Court, after due deliberation, declared the prisoner guilty on all
    the charges and specifications save two unimportant ones, and sentenced
    him to be hanged by the neck until dead, at such time and place as the
    President of the United States should direct.

    November 3 President Johnson approved of the sentence, and ordered Major
    General C. C. Augur to carry the same into effect on Friday, November 10,
    which was done. The prisoner made frantic appeals against the sentence;
    he wrote imploring letters to President Johnson, and lying ones to the
    New York News, a Rebel paper. It is said that his wife attempted to
    convey poison to him, that he might commit suicide and avoid the ignomy
    of being hanged. When all hope was gone he nerved himself up to meet his
    fate, and died, as thousands of other scoundrels have, with calmness.
    His body was buried in the grounds of the Old Capitol Prison, alongside
    of that of Azterodt, one of the accomplices in the assassination of
    President Lincoln.
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