Andersonville Prison, arguably the most horrific Confederate prison for Union soldiers, was constructed in 1864 during the US Civil War and was located a little over a hundred miles south of Atlanta, Georgia. The prison was constructed as an open-air stockade with walls made of pine logs at least fifteen feet high. During its fourteen months of operation, Andersonville Prison would see as many as 45,000 Union prisoners enter its gates. Nearly a third of them would die within the walls due to the poor sanitation, lack of food, widespread disease, and brutal conditions.
This map, produced by the United States Sanitary Commission, shows the simple horror of the 25-acre stockade. The United States Sanitary Commission was a private organization created by the US Congress in 1861 to raise money in order to support wounded Union soldiers, and their map of Andersonville is simple but effective at communicating the reality of the camp to a Northern audience.
In the center of the stockade lies a swamp, and set back from the stockade walls is the “dead line.” Any prisoner who crossed the dead line by moving from the center of the stockade toward the outer walls would be shot dead. This system was designed to stop prisoners from attempting to climb the high walls or dig tunnels underneath them. On this particular map, the four corners outside the stockade have been marked by cannons. Also blocked out is the position of Captain Wertz, the commander in charge of running Andersonville. Wertz would eventually be charged with war crimes after the end of the war and be found guilty by a military tribunal. He was hung in Washington, DC in November of 1865.
Some of the best maps of Andersonville were created by Robert Knox Sneden, a map-maker, engineer, and soldier for the Union Army. Sneden was captured by the Confederacy in 1863 and served time in Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. In February of 1864, over 100 prisoners escaped Libby Prison by tunneling out of a rat-infested section of the prison’s basement that guards were loathe to enter. After the prison break, some of the prisoners still inside Libby Prison were moved to Andersonville – Sneden among them. Sneden mapped the route they took as they were moved to Andersonville by rail.
This map shows the detail of the rail line running between Raleigh, North Carolina and Andersonville, Georgia that was used to transport the prisoners. Sneden also made detailed maps of the prison complex, documenting not only the geographic layout of the prison, but also included counts and measurements of people and places.
The Main Fort and entrenched camping area for Confederate soldiers was located on high ground just below the Sweetwater Lick, edging up against a swamp. Sneden notes that the Confederates have log houses, with approximately 2,500 men stationed there, including Captain Wertz. “Rebel Officers” appear to have a separate section of log housing. Near the Confederate camp is a hospital, with 1,735 patients as of August 1864. Roads lead out of the Main Fort and down toward the stockade (listed here as 27 acres), with the dead line prominent on the map. The maps lists 38,000 prisoners and 52 sentry boxes. Sentry boxes are where guards were stationed with guns to watch for anyone attempting to cross the dead line. The map also shows the overcrowded camp’s attempt at expansion, with features such as the “new cookhouse (28 x 60 feet).” At the bottom right-hand corner of the map you can see the edge of a nine acre cemetery, with 12,790 dead.
Sneden’s second map of Andersonville shows the stockade in detail, demarcating the “old stockade” from the “new stockade,” where the prison was expanded to accommodate more prisoners. A bridge runs across the swamp in the middle, and a street network springs to life in his illustration. “Main Street or Broadway” cuts just below the swamp, connecting to the North Gate of the stockade. Following the road out past the guard gate towards the town of Andersonville, one could find the Bakery and the Cook House. Dotted down the sides of the stockade walls are the sentry boxes. Just past the South Gate, Sneden places the Dead House, where bodies were placed after removal from the stockade before being buried in the cemetery.
Today, Andersonville still exists as a National Historic Site with an extensive cemetery. Robert Knox Sneden was eventually freed and lived until 1918, with Civil War maps and illustrations as his life’s work. His artistic products remain an incredible resource beyond Andersonville, and number in the hundreds. Sneden’s original drawings are housed at the Virginia Historical Society, who in a collaboration with the Library, provided digital copies for Library of Congress’ online collections.