A. Plan of investigation
The ethics and rules of war have been a fiercely debated topic for centuries. One facet of war that is particularly divisive is the treatment of prisoners of war. This investigation compares the treatment of prisoners of war in the Andersonville and Rock Island prison camps during the American Civil War. Andersonville and Rock Island are widely regarded as the harshest prison camps of the Confederate and Union armies, respectively. The conditions of each camp will be examined and compared using factors such as nutrition, living arrangements, habits of camp leaders, and death rates.
The main source used in this investigation is Life and Death in Civil War Prisons by J. Michael Martinez. Through interpretation and evaluation of several books, primary sources, and court cases, the treatment of Confederate prisoners and Union prisoners will be compared.
B. Summary of evidence
In order to understand the significance of the prison conditions and some of the reasons underlying why those conditions existed, it was necessary to become familiar with the events surrounding the creation and use of the prisons. Andersonville and Rock Island were prisons belonging to the armies of two opposing nations, the Confederate States of America and the United States of America. The CSA was composed of states that had recently seceded from the USA, which sparked the beginning of what is known as the United States Civil War. The war broke out for numerous reasons, including slavery, differing economic interests, and the recent election of Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860. Lincoln’s election was a particularly divisive issue, as he promised to contain slavery in the South and prevent its spread (Goodwin). This division is evident in the results of his election, in which he received only 1,865,908 votes of the total 4,685,030, which is roughly 40% of the popular vote (Drexler). From these factors, tensions rose and eventually eleven states seceded from the Union.
The war began in 1861, and casualties began to skyrocket within the first year. Eventually, the practice of prisoner exchanges between the Union and the Confederacy came to an abrupt stop, creating an overflow of prisoners in both countries (Martinez). New prison camps had to be built in order to contain the excess. Rock Island prison, in Illinois, was founded in December of 1863 in order to contain the overflow from other camps. It was built on the site of a United States Army fort and arsenal in Illinois, consisting of eighty-four hastily constructed buildings and a large wooden fence that ran the perimeter of the camp (Martinez). Andersonville, in Georgia, was founded in February of 1864 for the exact same reason; unlike Rock Island, however, it was severely underequipped to contain the vast quantities of prisoners that would arrive. It was intended to hold 9,000 prisoners at maximum, but ended up holding 26,000 within half a year of opening. It was built on poor farmland under...