Henry Wirz

Captain Henry Wirz
(1822 - 1865)

      Henry Wirz was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1822. He graduated from the University of Zurich, later obtaining an M.D. degree from the medical colleges of Paris and Berlin. After practicing medicine for a time, he immigrated to the United States in 1849, establishing a medical practice in Kentucky. In 1854 he married a widow, Mrs. Wolfe, and became stepfather to her two young daughters. The family moved to Louisiana, and in 1855 his own daughter, Cora, was born. At the beginning of the War For Southern Independence Dr. Wirz enjoyed a lucrative medical practice and was fluent in English, German, and Dutch.

     When the war opened, Dr. Wirz enlisted in Company A. Fourth-Battalion, Louisiana Volunteers. This regiment fought bravely at the Battle of Seven Pines, where Sergeant Henry Wirz was severely wounded in his right arm by a minie ball. The arm was almost useless to him thereafter. On June 12, after returning to his unit, Wirz was promoted to Captain "for bravery on the field of battle." However, his wound rendered him unfit for battle, and he was detailed as acting adjutant-general to General John H. Winder, Provost Marshall in charge of Confederate prisoner of war camps.

     Because of his nationality and education, Captain Wirz was summoned to Richmond in the summer of 1863 and sent on a secret mission, President Jefferson Davis made Captain Wirz a Special Minister and sent him to Europe carrying secret dispatches to the Confederate Commissioners, Mister Mason in England and Mister Slidell in France.

     Captain Wirz returned from Europe in January 1864 and reported back to Richmond, where he began working for General Winder in the prison department After serving at prisons in Richmond and Tuscaloosa , Captain Wirz was ordered to take charge of the interior of Andersonville Prison in April of 1864. He assumed his duties there the same month, and remained at Andersonville with his wife and family until April of 1865, when he was included in the surrender of General Johnston and his forces to General Sherman. Shortly before the end of the war, Wirz was promoted to the rank of Major.

     Wirz retired to civilian life until taken into custody by Union forces of General Wilson. He was taken to Macon, Georgia where he was questioned at length about the prison, then released to return to his family at Andersonville. While waiting for the train, he was arrested by Wilson's soldiers. A few days later he was transported to Washington, where he was placed in the Old Capitol Prison on May 10, 1865 to await trial on charges of war crimes.

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Text written by Bill Carnes, photo obtained by Troy Drew in The Andersonville Prison Trial: The Trial of Captain Henry Wirz, by General N.P. Chipman, 1911.

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.