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Civil War Pow Atrocities Essay

1530 words - 6 pages

One of the great tragedies during the American Civil War was the mistreatment of Prisoners of War. The Civil War was said to be the war where "brother fought brother" and that alone makes it very hard to understand why the waste and brutality of this magnitude took place during this war. It is hard to say just how many prisoners, Northern and Southern alike, died at the hands of their captors because many of these war crimes would not be documented for obvious reasons. However, Lonnie R. Speer writes, approximately "56,000 soldiers" died during captivity.1 Although we will never know exactly how many of these died as a result of crimes against humanity, the evidence that does exist will help us understand the needless slaughter that took place.During the war there were approximately 225 military prisons in use by both the Union and the Confederacy. Although, many of these structures were simply holding pens until transportation could be arranged to a larger facility, many atrocities took place while these prisoners waited to be moved. The conditions of these military penitentiaries during the Civil War were nothing short of brutal and cruel. Many of these prisoners were subjected to many surreal forms of neglect, to include physical and mental abuse at the hands of their captors. Inhumane treatment was used to obtain information, recruit soldiers, or to force oaths of allegiance upon these helpless victims. Speer describes some of the atrocities like this:In addition to the torture and neglect that were carried out on a regular basis, evenmore unbelievable-and less known-was the actual killing of these unarmed men inretribution for their army's actions on the battlefield.2The war of retribution was a widely practiced form of reprisal and there is "ample documentation to suggest both sides quite commonly practiced retaliatory measures against each other for real or imagined wrongs throughout the war."3 The President of the Confederate States issued a statement in July 1861 that it would deal the Union prisoners the same fate that the Confederate prisoners were dealt.4 Many of these retaliations were carried out away from the battlefield, sometimes by executions at prisons months after capture, or maybe a lottery would reward the fate of the innocent. The Union Secretary of War, Stanton, was an enthusiastic advocate of retaliation, but it was not until 1863 that President Lincoln officially endorsed such practices. Retaliations occurred at every level during the war and it even had a personal affect on Confederate General Lee. General Lee was staunchly opposed to this form of justice and became a supporter shortly after President Lincoln ordered the execution of his son. This nonstop so called battlefield justice continued throughout the war and remained one of the biggest travesties of the conflict.Besides the mental and physical abuse, these prisoners were also subject to other elements, "The POWs suffered from a variety of illnesses and...

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