Sunday, August 17, 2014

Civil War Sunday - Andersonville - August 17, 1864

Photos are such an everyday part of our life, in the year 2014. 

Many of us own cell phones.  No part of our lives go undocumented.  Anything newsworthy is sent to social media almost instantly, or so it would seem.  Instant pictures, instantly.

Not so, during the American Civil War, 1861-1865.

Photography was in its infancy 150 years ago today.  It was a complex process, and one only undertaken by skilled people using expensive equipment. 

I have read that that our Civil War is considered the first war to be extensively photographed.  War, in all its horrors, was finally brought to the everyday citizen, as photographers published and sold those photographs.

Prisoner of war camps were no exception.  Even in Andersonville (Camp Sumter, Georgia), perhaps the most famous prisoner of war camp ever, photos were taken.  And sold to the curious.

Think:  over 30,000 prisoners held on 32 acres.

A famous series of Andersonville photos were taken on August 17, 1864, 150 years ago today.
(If you follow the link, you can download, as a PDF, the photos, from the Digital Library of Georgia.) Who would have thought, 150 years ago, of being able to do that?

The set of seven views could be yours for only $2.00.  I don't know what $2.00 in 1864 was worth today, but $2. in 1913 (according to an online inflation calculator) had the buying power of $48.15 today.  In other words, it wasn't cheap to buy these photos.

Even today, you can get prints of these photos on various websites.

According to a card of explanation, there were 33,000 prisoners (Union POWs) housed on 32 acres.

One of the photos was of a burial party.

It was so sobering (when I visited Andersonville several years ago) walking those same 32 acres freely, not having to worry about what was called the "dead line" (cross it, and that's what you were.  More than a few prisoners did that to end their sufferings.)  And even more sobering to know there were other prison camps, on both the Union and Confederate sides, where brother held brother prisoner in the most deplorable of conditions.  Even an hour from where I live, in the POW camp holding Confederates (Camp Chemung) also called "Helmira", suffering we can't imagine took place.

War, and the suffering of war, was no longer romantic, but war goes on.

We have instant photos and videos today, and still war happens.  Still, the innocent die.

Look at those photos, taken 150 years ago today, if you are able to download the pdf, and wonder if we are any more civilized today than we were on August 17, 1864.


  1. Amazing on how there were taken on a photograph on those years, and it seems the technology is now vast when it comes to photos.

  2. Had read about the various POW camps in the war,Anderson was in a class upon itself.

  3. It's incredible to contemplate the numbers of people who have suffered and died in wars. What a shock it must have been for the first people to see photos of the war in all its horror.

  4. a early peek at a Halocaust hear bits and pieces,even a movie or two but these POW camps are really never talked about much


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