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Civil War prisons book

Civil War prisons book

Publisher: Alfred William Bennett

Medium: Printed Text

Shelfmark: 8175.a.65

Scale: Millimetres

Genre: Print


Produced by the United States Sanitary Commission, A Narrative of Privations and Sufferings of United States Officers & Soldiers was written primarily to analyse and discuss the treatment of Union prisoners of war in Confederate camps. ‘Painful rumours concerning the treatment of prisoners of the war by the rebel authorities’ spread through the Northern states during the war and the book was an attempt by the Sanitary Commission to investigate these stories. It concluded that many were true and that the condition and treatment of Union soldiers in Southern prisons was inhumane.

To emphasise these conditions, the book contained chapters about the treatment of Confederate soldiers within the army and within Union prisoner of war camps. Both were far more favourable than Southern wartime prisons. In reality, both sides treated prisoners badly and many of the prisons themselves were rundown due to the fact that neither army could spare supplies to maintain them. Confederate prisons, however, did receive the greatest notoriety and even with the book’s Union bias, there is no denying that the images of the soldiers show how horrendous conditions were. The most infamous was Andersonville Prison in Georgia, where some 13,000 Union prisoners of war died from starvation, malnutrition and disease.

The United States Sanitary Commission was a federally sanctioned, privately funded relief organisation that was established during the Civil War. It was modelled on the British Sanitary Commission that had been founded during the Crimean War and provided medical aid and nursing to sick and wounded soldiers, as well as raising funds for veterans and ensuring sick soldiers received army pay. Many of the Sanitary Commission’s members were women and the organisation was just one of a number of Northern home–front groups that were set up to aid Union soldiers away from the front-line.

The Library’s copy of A Narrative of Privations and Sufferings was produced in 1865 by Alfred William Bennett, a publisher and keen botanist in London. He frequently published books that included photographic reproductions, such as this book, which contains images of emaciated Union soldiers after their release to highlight how appalling their treatment had been. To view extracts of the Bennett publication, including the photographs, please see the Digitised Manuscripts collection.

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