Book Review–A History of Andersonville Prison Monuments

A History of Andersonville Prison Monuments cover.
A History of Andersonville Prison Monuments cover.

Reaves, Stacy W. A History of Andersonville Prison Monuments (Civil War Series). Charleston, Arcadia/History Press. 2015. ISBN 9781626196247. 139 pages, 132 pages text. $19.99. Index, bibliography, b/w photos.

Prisoner of war camps are never a pleasant place. Those that Union and Confederate soldiers endured during the Civil War were horrific. Death rates were exceedingly high. This is due to several factors; lack of food, lack of medical care, an uncaring attitude from those in charge, poor hygienic condition and others were most common. Who is to blame for these conditions if often debated with no clear answer ever agreed upon.

When Civil War prisons are thought of I would venture that the name Andersonville would be the most commonly mentioned. While no doubt the most famous, or infamous as the case may be, it was hardly the only one with deplorable conditions. The fact that it held Union prisoners and that its commandant, Henry Wirz, was put to death for his actions, and perhaps the fact that the grounds are still available to visit have led to the prison’s notoriety.

Author Stacy W. Reaves has written  a book discussing the memorials and monuments that have been placed around Andersonville. The book is broken into three major themes: the founding of the prison and what it was like, efforts to preserve the land and tell the story of what happened there (of primary importance is the Women’s Relief Corps who at one time owned the majority of the prison property), and finally efforts from various northern states to erect monuments to their lost men.

The majority of the book, approximately 90 pages, deals with individual monuments and the efforts made by various state agencies and groups to have them placed. While the majority of photos are modern there are some excellent photos of veterans gathered at monuments which helps bring a real sense of humanity to the book.

Michigan monument at Andersonville, dedicated in 1904. Courtesy National Park Service.
Michigan monument at Andersonville, dedicated in 1904. Courtesy National Park Service.

My personal favorite in the book is the Michigan memorial. This monument, which cost approximately $6,000, shows a mourning Columbia bringing a laurel victory wreath to place on the graves of the dead from Michigan. It is a monument that is different from the majority of those seen and it looks to be beautifully carved.

While there are several statements included putting down the southern efforts while failing to acknowledge northern prison problems (page 14) it is important to note the inclusion of information on the Wirz monument. This monument, erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1909,  is not located within the park service boundaries but rather in the town of Andersonville.

While not a complete look at all monuments this is certainly a book that anybody interested in Andersonville, Civil War prisons, Civil War memory, or cemetery iconography should take a look at. The text is brief, only 139 total pages with plenty of photos, and can be read through in an afternoon.

Thank you to The History Press for sending a complimentary review copy.




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