The Execution of Captain Henry Wirz

     HenryWirz rejected an offer of a pardon the night before his execution. The offer was conditioned on his agreement to testify that former Confederate President Jefferson Davis was responsible for the deaths at Andersonville. Wirz advised that such a statement would be untrue and he would not base his freedom on a lie.

Old Capital Prison


Preparing the Prisoner for Execution


     On November 10, 1865 Wirz, guarded by four companies of soldiers, was led to the gallows in the Old Capital Prison yard before some 250 spectators who had government issued tickets. The spectators chanted "remember Andersonville" as Wirz ascended the stairway of the gallows. A hood was placed over Wirz's head and the rope around his neck. Wirz last words reportedly were that he was being hanged for following orders. The trap door was sprung open at 10:32 a.m. stretching the rope as it suddenly bore Wirz's weight. Wirz's neck was not broken by the fall and he writhed about as he slowly died of stangulation.

     The crowd openly displayed satisfaction that Wirz was dead. The public had been made aware of the deaths caused by autrocious conditions at Andersonville; the press had printed photographs of the worst of the surviving prisoners; those prisoners who had survived despised Wirz; the public had cried out for vengeance and all had waited through a trial lasting sixty-three days for retribution to be had. Forgiveness was not possible as reflected by Walt Whitman regarding Andersonville when he wrote, " There are deeds, crimes that may be forgiven but this is not among them. It steeps its perpetrators in blackest, escapless, endless damnation."

The Execution of Captain Henry Wirz

     The public, with the death of Henry Wirz, felt that justice had been done and the desire for revenge was largely satisfied.

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Text by Jon Rice. Photographs obtained from The Library of Congress, and National Archives by Troy Drew.

These materials were prepared as part of a class assignment for The Seminar in Famous Trials course at the University of Missouri-K.C. School of Law. The use of any sound or images in the trials sites is in furtherance of the educational mission of the Seminar.