Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Slow Death

Heinrich Hartmann Wirz the commander of the Confederate Prisoner of War Camp known as Andersonville was executed November 10th 1865.

Heinrich Hartmann Wirz was born in Zurich, Switzerland November 25th 1823.  He attended the University of Zurich and practiced medicine before immigrating to the United States in 1849.  Wirz married in Kentucky a widow who had two daughters.  They moved to Louisiana where Wirz started another medical practice and added another daughter to his family.
When the Civil War started Wirz joined the 4th Louisiana Volunteers as a private.  While serving during the Battle of Seven Pines he was wounded and lost the use of his right arm.  Do to the loss of his arm Wirz was assigned to the staff of Confederate General John Henry Winder, who was in charge of Confederate prisoner of war camps.  In March 1864 Wirz was placed in command of Camp Sumter located near the railroad depot of Anderson, Georgia, which would come to be batter known as Andersonville.  The prison was designed to be used as a temporary holding place for Union prisoners waiting to be exchanged.  With the end of prisoners exchanges, Andersonville would end up holding about 32,000 Union prisoners.

Wirz was arrested in May 1865 and taken to Washington, DC where he was placed on trial for causing the deaths of Union prisoners of war.  A military tribunal was convened July 1865 and presided over by Union Major General Lew Wallace.  The court took testimony from Union prisoners of war, residents who lived near Andersonville and Confederates who had served with Wirz.  The commission found Wirz guilty of conspiracy and eleven counts of murder.  He was sentenced to death.  He wrote a letter to President Andrew Johnson asking for clemency, but never received a reply.  He was hung to death November 10th 1865 on First Street in Washington, DC where the Supreme Court building is located.  Wirz’s neck didn’t break when the gallows dropped and so he slowly strangled to death.  Wirz is buried in the Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington, DC.

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