The Andersonville Trial (A play by Saul Levitt)
"The Andersonville Trial" play was written by Saul Levitt using the official record of the trial of Henry Wirz as its basic source material. Mr. Levitt attempted to stay as close to the facts as possible while injecting his own concepts of the personalities involved. The play can be considered a documentary to the extent that it is set in the time and place of the trial, formal names and roles of characters reflect those of historical participants, and some of the dialogue is derived from the original trial record. However, the play should be read as a drama and not a documentary due to the artistic license exercised by Mr. Levitt in making some factual modifications. An examination of the history of events leading up to the trial and of the trial itself also reveals that the play does not provide a complete picture of what occurred at the trial or before it occurred.
The play was first presented on December 29, 1959 in New York City at Henry Miller's Theater. It was subsequently published by Random House Publishing in 1960 and was presented as a television movie in 1970. The setting of the play is, as in the original trial, in the United States Court of Claims, Washington, D.C., a courtroom borrowed by the Military Commission to provide space for the public and press. A cast of thirty recreates the trial events and atmosphere during the trial.
Wirz is physically portrayed as an ill and frail man who can hardly lift his arms, much less commit the acts of which he is accused. As in the actual trial, he was lying down on a chaise lounge during the course of the trial. As the play progresses and testimony is presented against Wirz he is occasionally agitated and seems not quite as ill as his appearance leads one to believe. Wirz expresses a belief that the trial is simply a formality of which the outcome is already decided. He resigns himself to accept that he will be convicted because he was on the wrong side in the war. The main concern Wirz expresses in the play is for his family and how they will remember him. Wirz wants the record set straight regarding what was done and why. In the play, unlike in the actual trial, Wirz is the only one who testifies for himself. The testimony from defense witnesses in the original trial is combined somewhat into that of Wirz in the play. He emphasizes that he was following orders and did what he had to do under the circumstances.
The testimony of the prosecution witnesses presented in the play is strong and supports the conviction of Wirz. None of the controversies related to the way in which defense witnesses were excluded from testifying by the prosecution or the perjury commited by some witnesses was addressed in the play. Wirz was convicted and sentenced to death.
Overall the play provides interesting
reading and gives a general view of the facts brought to light during the
trial. It also seems to present a realistic view of how Wirz may have viewed
the trial as well as being in line with the concern for his family that
Wirz expressed in a letter to Louis Schade on the day of his execution.
Text by Jon Rice.