1941: George Johnson Armstrong, under the Treachery Act 1758: Not Florence Hensey, Seven Years’ War spy

1864: The Andersonville Raiders

July 11th, 2018 dogboy

It’s not hard to understand why the Andersonville Raiders turned criminal. But on this day in 1864, the group was decapitated when six of its leaders were hanged in a quasi-legal action at the most inhospitable prisoner of war camp in the Confederacy.*

Andersonville Prison was opened in February 1864, 26.5 Georgian acres (about 0.1 square kilometers, or about the size of a square 4 city blocks on a side) of tightly-packed tents with a ditch of water flowing through its center. Its design population was 10-15,000 prisoners; its true population at one point was almost 30,000.** Some 45,000 Union soldiers went in, passing first the outer stockade, then the so-called “dead line” that demarcated the line outside of which they could be shot summarily, and finally into a mass of malnourished, often sickly humanity. Of these, 13,000 never emerged.

The Confederacy, you may recall, was not the war’s winner. As an aspiring nation, the CSA borrowed heavily to fund its arms, then found itself strapped for basic supplies as the war dragged on. By 1863 the nation was already economically depressed, and when a CSA-USA prisoner exchange agreement broke down, the Confederacy found itself with a lot of Union soldiers to house and nowhere to put them. Enter Andersonville: far enough from the North to be “safe”, easily defensible, and in the heart of slave labor to build it. All the Confederacy needed to build some basic housing was wood, which should be … oh wait … war update!…the Union controlled lumber supplies. Guess there won’t be housing.

Prisoners instead got lumped in with their brigade, and (at least initially) basic materials to make some sort of shelter.† New arrivals often showed up without being thoroughly checked over, so they might come in with food and supplies that weren’t already available to other internees.‡ Very quickly, the grounds were littered with Union POWs from around the country, people with vastly different backgrounds and goods. As the camp’s population breached 10,000 and then 20,000,§ there were, of course, inmates with designs on better living.

It’s not hard to see where this is going.

Sometime around May 1864, dozens of them assembled into a loose affiliation. The Raiders were headed by about a half dozen men: Charles Curtis, Patrick Delaney, John Sarsfield, William Collins (“Moseby”), a guy known only as “A. Munn”, and W.R. Rickson (or possibly Terry Sullivan; there’s an unusual disparity in diary accounts on the person’s name, but first-hand diary entries from the moment prefer Rickson) were considered the principal offenders. Each headed a small band of thieves who would trick new entrants, burgle tents, or use violence or threats of violence to amass “wealth” and keep themselves well-fed, well-clothed, and, most importantly to them in this hostile place, alive.

The Raiders had some huge advantages when they committed these crimes. Thanks to their amalgamated resources, they had good odds of being better armed and more fit than their victims — unless those victims were green, in which case they just knew the place better. The thieves started out as midnight raiders who turned tail at the first sign of genuine resistance unless they thought they could readily overpower the victim. By mid-June they were brazen, according to John Ransom: “Raiders … do as they please, kill, plunder and steal in broad day light, with no one to molest them.”

The victims were soldiers who, even if they weren’t killed, were left without resources in a deadly environment. Even the robberies and beatings were, in many cases, a prolonged form of murder, and Union inmates knew it. Indeed, Collins was thought by most to have never directly assaulted anyone, but he was known to steal blankets from the ill.

It’s unclear what the full Raider population was (estimates range from 100 to 500, but most people settle on the 100-200 range). What we can say definitively is that it was large enough to be a problem. Late in June of that year, a group called “the regulators” began taking police-like action against the perpetrators. Inmates brought their complaints to the group, which sought out and punished — usually through head shaving or other non-destructive means — those they found responsible.

On June 29, that problem started getting a real solution when the Raiders assaulted and robbed a prisoner now known only as Dowd. Dowd complained to the guards, and Andersonville’s overseer, Captain Henry Wirz, officially endorsed the Regulators as a police force/tribunal to maintain order. But first he announced an end to inmate rations until the Raiders were given up. (What a guy!)

The Regulators, headed by a man called “Lumber” (or maybe “Limber”) Jim, quickly had 80-100 inmates to deal with. Jury trials were implemented in the spirit of (but without most of the protections of) common law, and most punishments ranged from setting in the stocks to running the gauntlet.


Detail of a panorama sketch of Andersonville (click to see it) makes space for a certain well-attended sextuple hanging.

The ringleaders were also among this bunch. They were assembled on July 11 and executed at a hastily-erected gallows on the north end of camp. As far as the POWs were concerned, the ultimate crime of the Raiders was a violation of the soldier code of death before dishonor. Their bodies were buried separately from other inmates, and the US makes a point of placing no memorial flags at their graves.

To be clear, the Andersonville Raiders were, for most inmates, not the primary problem but an obviously controllable one. Remember that 30% of the interned died, and for the most part those deaths were borne of bad sanitation, hunger, and disease. The removal of the Raiders was a morale boost at best, as Andersonville was still a pee-pee soaked heckhole in which another 10,000 soldiers would die before liberation in May 1865, most of them before the summer’s end.

* It was also known as Camp Sumter, named after the county it resided in.

** The population density at peak was 330,000 people per square kilometer. For comparison, the world’s densest city is Manila, at about 71,000 people per square kilometer.

† It turns out the term “shebang” wasn’t widely-used camp lingo. Drawings and photos of the camp illustrate the variety of dwellings: open sleeping, simple V-tents, structured tents, lean-tos, huts, and shacks were all scattered about the grounds.

‡ They also came with new diseases.

§ The original camp was actually only 16.5 acres, and the population ballooned to 20,000 in early June and 33,000 in August of that year. Ransom notes that the stockade was “enlarged” on July 6. Fall transfers dropped the number to 1,500 and it bumped back up to 5,000 until war’s end. Sanitation issues persisted throughout.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Georgia,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Other Voices,Public Executions,Soldiers,Theft,USA,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , ,

One thought on “1864: The Andersonville Raiders”

  1. midnitelamp says:

    if you are ever in that part of the world visiting the camp which also houses the POW museum is well worth the time.Robbins Air Force Base with dozens of fighters, bombers, recon, transport,and drones are on display. Pres. Carters home is nearby too

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


Calendar

July 2018
M T W T F S S
« Jun    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!


Recent Comments

  • Becky: Sorry, but your comment mark you as both ignorant AND a racist. You arent the one that gets to make the...
  • Larry G: That’s awesome Kevin. Look forward to seeing you!
  • Kevin Sullivan: Hey Cory… Again, I’m just now seeing this! Yes, he absolutely had been hunting that...
  • Kevin Sullivan: Hi Maria, I’m just now seeing this! You know, I don’t believe any transcripts currently...
  • Kevin Sullivan: Hi Larry! Yes, I’ll be a guest on Snapped: Notorious Ted Bundy on Sunday night! :)