Sunshine & Staw-Hats-Captain Henry Wirz Monument.

On Saturday, May 16, 2009, the Georgia sun was shining. It was a perfect day for straw hats and handkerchiefs. Members of the Georgia Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy conducted a service in Andersonville, Georgia. Their program was entitled Centennial Observance and Re-Dedication of the Captain Henry Wirz Monument.  Here is an image of Captain Henry Wirz.                 

The unfortunate Capt. Henry Wirz, a native of Switzerland, had studied medicine in Europe. He volunteered for Confederate service and was deemed unfit for active service after receiving a wound to the arm. Captain Wirz was given command of the ill-fated Andersonville Prison. The victors executed him on November 10, 1865, in Washington.

The UDC program began at 11 a.m. at the foot of the obelisk located in the center of the little village of Andersonville. About 100 folks were in attendance. The site of the former prison is across highway 49 and is maintained by the National Parks Service. Taxpayers have been bled over the past eleven years to bring that propaganda park up to speed.

Mrs. Sybil Willingham who is the UDC Second Vice President spearheaded the memorial. Her speech concerned the history of the creation of the UDC monument.

The Granddame of Andersonville is Peggy Sheppard. She supervised things from her golf cart. Peggy is to be commended for her untiring efforts over many years to educate folks about the real history of the prison and Capt. Henry Wirz. I first met Peggy when she spoke to the Louisville Civil Round Table on the subject of the Andersonville Prison.

Col. Heinrich Wirz, a great grand nephew of Captain Wirz, traveled from Switzerland to be present at this anniversary event. Daniel Schwab is the brother-in-law of Colonel Wirz’s son. Daniel traveled with Colonel Wirz from Switzerland as his aide-de-camp.

Over the years, Mr. and Mrs. James Gaston have graciously hosted Colonel Wirz and others in their home at Americus, Georgia. James is the Past Commander of the Alexander H. Stevens SCV Camp #78 and has worked on the Exoneration Committee.

Cora Lee Wirz was the only American daughter of Capt. Henry Wirz. She married J.S. Perrin and they lived and died in Natchez, Mississippi. Captain Wirz has four great great grandsons living in Louisiana. They are the four Watkins brothers. Robert and Perrin Watkins attended the ceremony and brought their mother and Robert’s wife.

Mr. Ben Willingham, Chief of Staff MOS&B, gave an informative speech about the life of Mr. L. M. Park. It seems that the young Park volunteered for Confederate service in 1864 at the age of fifteen. He became a guard at the prison. Park was in close contact with Captain Wirz after being selected to work as a prison clerk. Following the execution of Captain Wirz in Washington, Park took it upon himself to respond in writing to the vicious attacks published about the character of Captain Wirz. Mr. L. M. Park also served as Chairman of the Advisory Board during the construction of the monument.

Years after the War ended, the ladies of Georgia were sickened by the bigoted signs left on the grounds of the former prison by hateful Yankees. The ladies decided to develop a permanent memorial which would fully explain the dire situation that existed for the Commander of the prison in 1864 when the South was suffering all kinds of shortages.

At the UDC meeting of 1905 in Macon, Mrs. Louis G. Young of Savannah submitted a resolution that a monument be erected to the memory of Henry Wirz in order to vindicate him from the stain of judicial murder under false charges. The resolutions read:

“Whereas, Captain Henry Wirz, Commandant of the Stockade Prison at Andersonville, Ga., was judicially murdered under false charges of cruelty to prisoners; and Whereas, After an interval of forty years these false charges are reiterated on sign boards in public places, from the pulpit and on monuments; Therefore, be it

Resolved, That the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Georgia use their influence to obtain the necessary funds to place a suitable memorial to Captain Wirz in Andersonville, Ga., upon which a statement of facts shall be engraved in  enduring brass or marble, showing that the Federal Government was solely responsible for the condition of affairs at Andersonville. Below is an image of the Wirz monument.

Be it further resolved, That as four Federal prisoners were permitted to go from Andersonville to Washington to plead for an exchange of prisoners, and when refused a hearing returned to prison, thus keeping their parole, a tribute to their honor, be inscribed on said monument.”

The UDC members were able to agree upon a location and the design for the monument, but they had to fight against much northern bigotry. The monument dedication was held on May 12, 1909.  Capt. Henry Wirz’s daughter, Cora Lee Wirz Perrin, and his granddaughter, Mary Gladys Perrin were both present. Mary Gladys did the unveiling.

At the Centennial Observance there was a lady dressed in a long white 19th century style dress similar to the one her own grandmother was photographed wearing at the original dedication. At the conclusion of the observance, both Col. Heinrich Wirz and Mr. Ben Willingham each were presented with the Jefferson Davis UDC Medal.

Peggy Sheppard had penned a poem entitled Ode to C.S.A. Captain Henry Wirz. This is the first stanza: “Oh, Henry Wirz was damned, But Henry Wirz was a man. Could have saved his life with a lie But he walked to the gallows with his head held high.”

Captain Wirz undoubtedly could have preserved his own life if he had accepted the proffered Yankee bribe and lied in order to implicate President Jefferson Davis in the Lincoln assassination. He died because he would not lie. The memory of honorable Capt. Henry Wirz will be preserved forever in our Valhalla of Southern Patriots.


For those who may not know it, here is the story of Captain Henry Wirz C.S.A.

Henry Wirz was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1822. After graduating from the University of Zurich he obtained medical degrees from Paris and Berlin. Wirz emigrated to the United States in 1849 and established a medical practice in Kentucky. After marrying he moved to Louisiana.

On the outbreak of the War Between The States. Wirz joined the Confederacy. Serving as a sergeant in the Louisiana Volunteers, Wirz was badly wounded at the battle at Fair Oaks (May, 1862) and lost the use of his right arm. Unable to continue in active service, Wirz became a clerk at Libby Prison in Richmond. His commanding officer, Brigadier General John Henry Winder, was impressed by Wirz and he was soon promoted to the rank of major.

Wirz spoke fluent English, German and Dutch, and on the advice of General John Henry Winder Confederate President Jefferson Davis decided to send him on a secret mission to England and France.

When Wirz returned to America he rejoined General John Henry Winder, who was now in charge of all Union prisoners east of the Mississippi. During the summer of 1863 an agreement under which Union and Confederate captives were exchanged came to an end. There was now a rapid increase in the number of prisoners and so it was decided to build Andersonville Prisonin Georgia. In April, 1864 Winder appointed Wirz as commandant of this new prison camp.

By August, 1864, there were 32,000 Yankee prisoners in Andersonville. The Confederate authorities did not provide enough food for the prison and men began to die of starvation. The water became polluted and disease was a constant problem. Of the 49,485 prisoners who entered the camp, nearly 13,000 died from disease and malnutrition.

When the union arrived in Andersonville in May, 1865, photographs of the prisoners were taken. The the following month they appeared as drawings in Harper's Weekly. The photographs caused considerable anger and calls were made for the people responsible to be punished for these crimes. It was eventually decided to charge General Robert E Lee, James Seddon, the Secretary of War, and several other Confederate generals and politicians with "conspiring to injure the health and destroy the lives of United States soldiers held as prisoners by the Confederate States".

In August, 1865 President Andrew Johnson ordered that the charges against the Confederate generals and politicians should be dropped. However, he did give his approval for Wirz to be charged with "wanton cruelty". Wirz appeared before a military commission headed by Major General Lew Wallace on 21st August, 1865. During the trial a letter from Wirz was presented that showed that he had complained to his superiors about the shortage of food being provided for the prisoners. However, former inmates at Andersonville testified that Wirz inspected the prison every day and often warned that if any man escaped he would "starve every damn Yankee for it." When Wirz fell ill during the trial Wallace forced to attend and was brought into court on a stretcher.

Wirz was found guilty on 6th November and sentenced to death. He was taken to Washington DC to be executed in the same yard where those involved in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln had died. Alexander Gardner, was invited to record the gala event.

The execution took place on the 10th November. The gallows were surrounded by Union soldiers who throughout the procedure chanted "Wirz, remember, Andersonville." Accompanied by a Catholic priest, Wirz refused to make a last minute confession, claiming he was not guilty of committing any crime.

Major Russell read the death warrant and then told Wirz he "deplored this duty."Wirz replied that: "I know what orders are, Major. And I am being hanged for obeying them."

After a black hood was placed over his head, and the noose adjusted, a spring was touched and the trap door opened. However, the drop failed to break his neck and it took him two minutes to die. During this time the soldiers continued to chant: "Wirz, remember, Andersonville."

article © Nancy Hitt This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  2009; presentation © Quantrillsguerrillas.com 2009. "Permission should be requested and agreed to before using this or copyrighted essay and/or image."


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