The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Monument to Henry Wirz at Andersonville
The Georgia Division and the United Daughters of the Confederacy proposed a resolution at its 1905 convention to erect a monument in memory of Henry Wirz. Such was to be done in an effort to vindicate his memory of the charges for which he was convicted and as a protest of the South against what the U.D.C. called "the slanders and falsehoods already displayed at [Andersonville]." The resolution read:
"Whereas, Captain Henry Wirz, Commandant of the Stockade Prison at Andersonville, Ga., was judicially murdered under false charges of cruelty to prisoners; and
Whereas, After an interval of forty years these false charges are reiterated on sign boards in public places, from the pulpit and on monuments; Therefore, be it
Resolved, That the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Georgia use their influence to obtain the necessary funds to place a suitable memorial to Captain Wirz in Andersonville, Ga., upon which a statement of facts shall be engraved in enduring brass or marble, showing that the Federal Government was solely responsible for the condition of affairs at Andersonville.
Be it further resolved, That as four Federal prisoners were permitted to go from Andersonville to Washington to plead for an exchange of prisoners, and when refused a hearing returned to prison, thus keeping their parole, a tribute to their honor be inscribed on this monument."
The proposed erection of the Wirz monument and the subsequent efforts of the U.D.C. to raise the funds and gain the approval necessary to place the monument at Andersonville drew national attention. There was a great deal of debate as to the appropriateness of the placement of this monument at Andersonville, which was the site where the offenses for which Wirz was indicted, convicted and hung had occurred. Many Northerners still held strong feelings of hatred and resentment toward the South and particularly toward the memory of Henry Wirz and Andersonville Prison. The South also had strong feelings, as indicated in the U.D.C. resolution, that Henry Wirz and, by implication, the Southern states had wrongly been convicted of the murders of Union soldiers through inhumane treatment.
The U.D.C. prevailed in this
battle and the monument was erected at the prison site in Andersonville
on May 12, 1908. The information which was subsequently engraved on the
The Wirz Monument
On the Front Side
"In memory of Captain Henry Wirz, C.S.A. Born Zurich, Switzerland, 1822. Sentenced to death and executed at Washington, D.C., Nov. 10, 1865.
To rescue his name from the stigma attached to it by embittered prejudice,
this shaft is erected by the Georgia Division, United Daughters of the
On the Second Side
"Discharging his duty with such humanity as the harsh circumstances of the times, and the policy of the foe permitted, Captain Wirz became at last the victim of a misdirected popular clamor.
He was arrested in time of peace, while under protection of a parole,
tried by a military commission of a service to which he did not belong
and condemned to ignominious death on charges of excessive cruelty to Federal
prisoners. He indignantly spurned a pardon, proffered on condition that
he would incriminate President Davis and thus exonerate himself from charges
of which both were innocent."
On the Third Side
"It is hard on our men held in Southern prisons not to exchange them, but it is humanity to those left in the ranks to fight our battles. At this particular time to release all rebel prisoners North, would insure Sherman's defeat and would compromise our safety here.
18, 1864. Ulysses
On the Fourth Side
"When time shall have softened passion and prejudice, when reason shall have stripped the mask of misrepresentation, then justice holding even her scales, will require much of past censure and praise to change places.
December, 1888. Jefferson Davis."
The actual guilt or innocence of Henry Wirz is still a matter debated by those who examine the history of the period. Although the U.D.C. resolution indicates that the charges against Wirz were false, the facts show that thousands of Union prisoners died while he commanded the prison at Andersonville and he was convicted by the military commission assigned to conduct the trial. The dispute as to the how the trial was conducted, the truth of the testimony provided, and the dominance of the prosecution in decisions made as to who could testify both for the prosecution and for the defense are the debatable points. The blame for deaths due to lack of provisions and disease cannot be placed solely on either the Confederacy or (as the U.D.C. indicated in its resolution) the Union Government. The U.D.C. of 1905 and others who state that "the Federal Government was solely responsible for the condition of the affairs at Andersonville" must remember that the war was between two opposing factions and that, while the Federal Government had some control over the exchange of prisoners and the destruction of food, medicine, and transportation in the South during its Southern campaigns, the Confederacy had exclusive control over the area in Georgia where this prison was located. The Union could, arguably, have exchanged prisoners and thus reduced overcrowding, or could have refrained from destroying food, medicine and transportation, but the other side of this issue is that the war would likely have been lengthened and resulted in more direct deaths from combat. The Union had no way of preventing the deaths of prisoners who were shot, died in stocks, or were killed when attacked by dogs. The Confederacy had exclusive control over any acts committed by its own soldiers at Andersonville.
Text by Jon Rice photo obtained by Troy Drew from The Andersonville Prison Trial: The Trial of Captain Henry Wirz, by General N.P. Chipman, 1911.