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  • Sunken Eyes, Black Countenance: Life in Andersonville Prison

    During the Civil War, both sides had terrible prison camps, but one particular Georgia camp has become synonymous with inhumane treatment. Fort Sumter outside the town of Andersonville housed 30,000 prisoners in a facility designed for 10,000. Union reenactor Mark Stivitz and World War II POW and Andersonville National Historic Site volunteer Bob Windham describe the filthy conditions and wonder how Americans could possibly treat one another like that.

    Support Materials

    Discuss

    1. Why do armies take prisoners? Couldn't they find other ways of handling the situation? What might be costs of some of these methods?

    2. Jefferson Davis complains about the suspension of the exchange of prisoners between the Union and Confederacy. why would Davis want to exchange prisoners, given the anger on both sides towards the opposition? (What was happening at this time both in the South and within the army that made keeping Union prisoners difficult and made Davis want the other captured Confederates to be freed?)

    3. Do you agree with the consequences that the Raiders faced? Why or why not?

    Expansion

    1. The National POW Museum described in the video was completed and opened for visitors in 1998. Talk with classmates who have visited the museum to share information about it as well as their reaction to the exhibits they saw. Alternately, explore GPB's Andersonville virtual field trip and discuss the visit with a partner.

    Vocabulary

    atrocious: cruel, exceptionally bad
    barracks: housing for soldiers, usually in a large building
    blockade: a closing off of a city, harbor, or port to prevent passage of trade or traffic
    calumny: slander, malicious falsehoods
    commissary: a store on a military base where food and equipment are sold
    countenance: facial expression
    decoy: a lure used as a means to divert attention, usually used to draw someone into peril
    dysentery: a disorder of the lower intestine caused by bacteria or parasites; symptoms include pain, fever, and diarrhea
    fare: food and drink
    furlough: temporary leave of absence granted to a member of the military
    hew: to cut or shape as with an axe
    maggot: fly larvae
    mercenaries: soldiers contracted from foreign countries
    mortality: death, usually presented as a percentage or a rate (for example, "mortality at Andersonville was approximately 75-125 people each day")
    obdurate: hard hearted; not giving in to persuasion
    offal: the parts of a butchered animal that are discarded
    plunder: to steal, especially in time of war
    promulgate: to publicly and officially announce a law
    prudence: the quality of exercising good judgment or common sense
    ration: one day's quantity of food given to someone
    recruit: to enroll
    scurvy: disease caused by Vitamin C deficiency; symptoms include bleeding gums and bleeding under the skin
    stockade: a holding area for prisoners comprised of posts driven side by side into the ground

    For Teachers

    Discussion Guide

    1. Why do armies take prisoners? Couldn't they find other ways of handling the situation? What might be costs of some of these methods?
    Answers will vary. Students may mention execution instead of needing to feed and care for prisoners. Although, executing opposing prisoners might mean the same for you own captives!

    2. Jefferson Davis complains about the suspension of the exchange of prisoners between the Union and Confederacy. why would Davis want to exchange prisoners, given the anger on both sides towards the opposition? (What was happening at this time both in the South and within the army that made keeping Union prisoners difficult and made Davis want the other captured Confederates to be freed?) 
    Davis needed more soldiers. He needed the exchange in order to refill his ranks in order to continue the War. The Confederacy was lacking resources: money, men, food, clothing, and armaments. They could barely afford to feed the men they had and relied on the people of the communities and towns to supply all of the above for their soldiers in the field. They could not afford to feed prisoners as well. They needed this exchange of prisoners.

    2. Do you agree with the consequences that the Raiders faced? Why? 
    Answers will vary, but students will likely note that instinct to survive is so strong that it trumps loyalties, even strong ones, like nationalism and patriotism. However, students may also point to stealing as an ultimate wrong - or even worse - being a traitor. 

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