22 November 2011 by Published in: Neo-Confederate hooey 27 comments

The following neo-Confederate hooey was posted on Facebook today:

The legacy of Captain Henry Wirz should be rewritten. This man was a hero for doing the best he could. And, on his final night before his execution, Stanton sent govt agents to Wirz`s cell offering a bribe to for liberty if he implicated President Davis for Andersonvilles problems. Wirz stood strong to his values with integrity and chose death before excepting a bribe against Davis, even though he was completely innocent himself…..This is just another example how evil and devious Stanton really was to try and bribe Capt Wirz into lying against President Davis….God bless Captain Wirz, you were a hero for that act alone!

This is, of course, a mainstay of neo-Confederate doctrine. As it goes, Wirz was a hero and martyr, and only the wardens of Elmira and the other Union POW camps were war criminals. The heroic Wirz, by contrast, maintained his heroic character by refusing to implicate Jefferson Davis. So, therefore, his war crimes weren’t so bad. Ummmm…no.

As I said, this is a mainstay of neo-Confederate doctrine. Try this one on for size, which appears on a prominent neo-Confederate website, that of the Georgia Heritage Council:

A Confederate History Minute (9) – by Calvin E. Johnson, Jr.

Captain Henry Wirz, Confederate Hero and Martyr

Captain Henry Wirz was born, Hartman Heinrich Wirz in November 1823, in Zurich, Switzerland where his father, Abraham Wirz was highly respected.

At the outbreak of the War Between the States, Wirz enlisted in the Fourth Louisiana infantry on June 16, 1861. He was promoted to sergeant a year later and was wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines. He never recovered from the injury to his left wrist and it caused him great pain for the rest of his life.

Wirz was promoted to Captain on June 12, 1862 and was first detailed to General John Winder where he was given command of a Confederate military prison in Richmond, Virginia.

After serving a year as special emissary to President Jefferson Davis in Paris and Berlin, on March 27, 1864, he was installed as commandant of Andersonville Prison at Fort Sumter in Georgia. Wirz did the best he was able to do with many Union prisoners and the little food and medicine. It is written that the guards got the same food and medicine as the prisoners.

The Confederacy sent a distress message to Union President Abraham Lincoln and Union General Ulysses S. Grant. The South pleaded for an exchange of Confederate and Union prisoners. Lincoln and Grant, however, refused believing the Union prisoners might go home but the Confederate prisoners might go back to fight.

Captain Henry Wirz was unfairly charged of war crimes and it is written that no witnesses for the defense were allowed to testify. Among those who would have is a Union soldier who was a prisoner at the prison.

For over 30 years there have been efforts to exonerate the good name of Captain Henry Wirz. There is an annual memorial service to Wirz on the Sunday nearest November 10th each year in Andersonville, Georgia, at the monument to Wirz placed there by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (Georgia Division).

This sort of rewriting of history really is appalling. Wirz was hanged for a reason. He was neither a hero nor a martyr. He was a war criminal. Casting him in any other light is just plain wrong, and is something we need to remain constantly vigilant in battling. Call these neo-Confederate revisionists on their nonsensical hooey. Don’t let them get away with it.

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Comments

  1. Michael Homula
    Tue 22nd Nov 2011 at 9:07 pm

    Simply appalling. Beyond the clear revisionist history and blatant twisting of facts, it appears that some people need to go back to junior high for a grammar, spelling and english lesson.

    The real danger in this sort of revisionism is that, in this day and age of pseudo research known as Google and Wikipedia, some will stumble upon posts such as this and believe them to be accurate. That is just plain dangerous.

    WARNING: Reading the first quote of revisionist history in Eric’s post may actually make you less intelligent.

  2. Tue 22nd Nov 2011 at 9:11 pm

    I believe the accuracy of the attempted deal to save his life in return for implicating Davis is disputed.

  3. Steve Bockmiller
    Wed 23rd Nov 2011 at 12:54 am

    Hi Eric…
    While I come more from a southern perspective than the northern, I believe in the truth, and also dislike revisionism, wherever it comes from. But, I do ask, what evidence is cited to counter these claims. Calling it “hooey” (which it probably is) is not debunking it. Admittedly, I haven’t studied this particular issue, so I claim ignorance….educate me. What fair evidence was provided that he actually committed war crimes and thus, should have been convicted? Was he prohibited from calling witnesses in his defense? If not, it was not a fair trial or a fair conviction. Not challenging you…just looking to learn. I don’t know. Give me the other story…I hear the “hooey” too much. Have a good thanksgiving.

  4. PHW
    Wed 23rd Nov 2011 at 1:15 am

    Just a question, but IYO, was there ANYTHING positive you can say about the South? Other than it was defeated?

  5. Wed 23rd Nov 2011 at 10:29 am

    Mr. Bockmiller: There is little question that Wirz’s trial was less than legally pristine, and this has been known and acknowledged in mainstream studies since forever.
    If his immediate superior, Gen. Winder, had not died of natural causes toward the end of the war, it probably would have been him on trial, not Wirz. But to call him a “hero” is more than a bit of a stretch.

  6. Wed 23rd Nov 2011 at 9:39 pm

    PHW, let me answer your question, even though I think it one of the more galactically stupid ones I’ve ever been asked.

    However, before I do, let’s discuss your refusal to obey the rules. The rules here are quite clear. Commenters are to use a REAL name to leave comments. Initials–and I have no idea what they stand for–are not a REAL name and do not comply with the rules. The next time you don’t obey the rules, your comment will be deleted. And that will continue to happen until you do obey the rules. I trust that I have made myself abundantly clear.

    Now, to answer your stupid question: There is plenty about the South that I like, and plenty that I find admirable about it. What I don’t find the least bit admirable is this sort of revisionism, nor do I find calls for secession, nullification, and all of the other pillars of neo-Confederate doctrine either attractive or appropriate. Beyond that, I vacation in the South every summer, I have lots of Southern friends, I thoroughly enjoy Southern cooking, and most of the battlefields that I love are in the South.

    That’s the answer you get. If it’s not good enough, sorry about your luck. And remember that old cliche we were taught as children: ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer.

  7. John Foskett
    Fri 25th Nov 2011 at 12:30 pm

    As James points out, Wirz’s trial was hardly a model. But it’s a bit like the Sacco-Vanzetti and Rosenberg trials. For all of the procedural shortcomings there is no legitimate challenge to their guilt as charged. Brother Wirz falls into the same category.

  8. Paul LaCroix
    Fri 25th Nov 2011 at 4:20 pm

    The ultra-liberal former Governor of the Commonwealth of Massaschusetts Michael Dukakis had said the following, “We are not here to say whether these men are guilty or innocent. We are here to say that the high standards of justice, which we in Massachusetts take such pride in, failed Sacco and Vanzetti.” Dukakis stated that he probably would have pardoned them; however, Massachusetts law did not permit the governor to grant pardons posthumously. The case is still officially open.

  9. John Foskett
    Sat 26th Nov 2011 at 12:34 pm

    It is indeed still open. And if you rrad either of the well-researched books which thoroughly explore the evidence you will come away with less than reasonable doubt about the role of either in the payroll robbery and killing. As with Wirz, it’s critical to separate procedural flaws (which may well have resulted today in an O.J.-style acquittal0 from whether in fact the accused committed the crimes charged.

  10. Sun 27th Nov 2011 at 10:58 am

    Wirz was guilty of slavishly adhering to his orders as opposed to the moral duty of caring for the men in his charge. That said, it was Wirz who devised and constructed the drainage system which eliminated the sewage back-up (into the camp) from the nearby swamp.

  11. Wed 30th Nov 2011 at 9:16 pm

    When I read comments like the neo-Confederate bather you cited it reminds me, with a cold sweat running down my back, of neo-Nazi BS. Some people don’t get it!

  12. Jon Wallace
    Mon 05th Dec 2011 at 4:55 pm

    While I am no fan of the confederacy and their ultimate goals. I think you have to be careful not to examine history within current societal standards. I can think of many statements made by the Great Emancipator himself which would not survive current scrutiny.

    Regarding Wirz. The victors write the history and execute the war criminals. I have no doubt that within the scope of what Henry Wirz had available to him in the way of resources, in combination with his overall mission, that Wirz was put in the unfortunate situation of “doing the best he can”

    Scapegoats and scapegoating is a very common practice. Certainly there are examples of equally deplorable Union prisons. Or at least Union prisons which defied current standards of care regarding prisoners of war.

    The two paragraphs are radically different. I did not find the second one as polarizing.

    I am not sure I would classify the second one as neo confederate doctrine. Just a different point of view.

  13. Jon Wallace
    Mon 05th Dec 2011 at 5:59 pm

    This Neo-Confederate topic raises a debate I like to have every once in awhile. But only with those who are able to maintain their objectivity and honor its requirements. The question is: what would be your opinion of the confederacy and the states rights question if slavery was not part of the equation in 1860.

    With the upshot being that I dont think that favoring the peculiar institution was an absolute part of the equation for many in the southern officership. They just did what their neighbors and companions were doing.

  14. Dennis
    Tue 06th Dec 2011 at 6:53 am

    Absent slavery I think it is a moot point. The peculiar institution is the driver in this car. What other right was in danger to any state?

    Even the existence of slavery was not threatened before the war was in full progress. Lincoln said so himself, and the Republican Party platform only addressed halting the spread of slavery.

    Regards,
    Dennis

  15. Matt Borders
    Tue 06th Dec 2011 at 1:47 pm

    I concur with Dennis’s statements. Every Confederate state constitution brings up slavery as a specific entity that needed to be continued and or protected. Beyond that I believe each seceding state cited a supposed threat to slavery as either their primary reason for leaving or as one of their main reasons.

  16. Damion Hunter
    Sat 10th Dec 2011 at 2:35 am

    I am no southern sympathizer, but I am a bit of a Wirz sympathizer. Have you not done research on Elmyra, New York and Benjamin Tracy? He was no better or worse than Wirz and yet he ends up serving in high office in the US Government and a Navy vessal was named after him while ol’ Henry Wirz was sent to the Gallows. Scholarly work on the matter is favoring the argument the South had from the beginning on this one- sorry.

    Maybe Wirz got what he deserved, but why not Tracy and others- the death rate in Elmira was very near equal to that of Andersonville.

  17. Dennis
    Mon 12th Dec 2011 at 6:55 am

    Damion,

    Because one criminal, say Tracy, escaped justice is that a reason not to dispense justice to Wirtz?

    In this sentence that is what you seem to be saying,”Scholarly work on the matter is favoring the argument the South had from the beginning on this one- sorry.” Sorry, that argument has absolutely no validity.

    Regards,
    Dennis

  18. Mon 12th Dec 2011 at 11:43 pm

    I’m with Dennis on this one, Damion. We should condemn all those who committed criminal neglect or worse in regard to prisoners, not give Wirz a free pass because others were given a free pass (or reward) for their crimes.

  19. Paul LaCroix
    Tue 13th Dec 2011 at 9:04 am

    Damion, what you’re saying should then be applied to WWII, we had trials for the Germans because of what they did to the Jews but yet we let the Japanese off the hook. What you suggest in your comments, if applied to WWII, is that we shouldn’t have prosecuted the Germans since the Japanase didn’t get prosecuted for what they did to the Chinese and to Allied POWs.

  20. Jon Wallace
    Fri 23rd Dec 2011 at 9:34 am

    We did prosecute the Japanese, and executions were conducted. It just didnt receive the same kind of press and then subsequent history writing that the Nuremburg trials received.

    The topic of who is and who aint a war criminal is very murky. (Im going strictly on recollection here) Wasn’t it Custer who hung like 7 (and shot one execution style) of Mosby’s men upon capture?

    There are many stories from DDAY, and Viet nam and everywhere else within our own military experience of GI’s executing prisoners because they were too much trouble to handle properly. It goes back to my previous comment above of “the victors naming the war criminals”

    It seems to me that the handling of POW’s for any army at any time seems like an inconvenience at best. Throw in a generalized lack of resources (read:food) on the part of that army and you have a situation ready made for an “Andersonville”

  21. Dennis
    Sat 24th Dec 2011 at 5:35 am

    I don’t see anything murky about who is or isn’t a war criminal. I do however see levels of war crimes. One is state sanctioned and the other personal.

    What happens to prisoners in camps or at the direction of a commanding officer is state sanctioned. Acts by individuals, while heinous are not in that category.

    I see nothing in your statements or mine that provides mitigating circumstances for the acts of any of those mentioned.

    Regards,
    Dennis

  22. Jon Wallace
    Sat 24th Dec 2011 at 1:04 pm

    Or in other words. Exactly what I said.

  23. Dennis
    Mon 26th Dec 2011 at 7:21 am

    OK, I didn’t read you that way. No divergence on what is a crime between us. You stating that who is and isn’t a war criminal is murky is confusing given the above.

  24. Jon Wallace
    Thu 12th Jan 2012 at 11:12 am

    I was home this morning and poking around and the History Channels documentary on Camp Douglas in Chicago was on. Near the end of the show the issue of Henry Wirz and his problems versus Colonel Sweet and his treatment of prisoners was raised. Backing up what I said previously, Colonel Sweet ended the war with a commendation for a job well done, Henry Wirz ended the war at the end of a rope. The point was made that at Andersonville, guards suffered nearly the same fate as the prisoners, lack of resources causing hunger, death and disease. At Camp Douglas, resources in abundance were willfully and knowingly withheld from the prisoners causing equal if not worse conditions.

  25. Dennis
    Tue 17th Jan 2012 at 6:39 am

    No question that sometimes the winners get less “justice” than the losers. That does not make criminals on the losing side less guilty. Crimes were still committed at Andersonville.

    Regards,
    Dennis

  26. Guy
    Tue 17th Jan 2012 at 7:41 am

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_prison_ships_%28New_York%29

    Anyone appalled by the cruelty of Andersonville may be interested in reading this quick wrap-up. In retrospect, Andersonville was a walk in the park compared to being placed on an intensely crowded ship with no supplies, no guards, cannibalism for survival, and mob rule. This was how “gentlemen” treated prisoners. The black flag of “No Quarter” used for centuries is another example. Some folks may consider this note an attempt to justify cruelty, but quite to the opposite, rather than to focus on the ill will of man, it adds the greatest of honor to the memories of those who volunteered to fight regardless of the knowing that these cruelties could be inflicted on them if captured. Men still fought against the armies flying the black flag with full knowledge, just as black soldiers and their officers in our Civil War. There is more to courage, honor, and valor than standing up to the enemy on the field of battle. One fella has it totally right. We can never judge history by present standards. We must immerse ourselves in the total picture of the day while forcing ourselves to forget the proceedings since in order to make judgements. Rather than to judge, I just thank God that these, the bravest of men, who fought the enemy armed only with the will to survive, so that we today we may sit back in our comforts and find their treatment appalling.

  27. Fri 20th Apr 2012 at 6:21 am

    Describing Wirz as “heroic” is a classic example of black and white thinking with a lot of whitewashing thrown in for good measure.

    Were Northern POW camps atrocious? In many instances, yes. Do the victors get to hypocritically punish the losers? Hell yes.

    Does any of that change the fact that Wirz was a war criminal (even by mid-19th Century standards ), and unfortunately for him, a war criminal on the losing side? NO. If such an offer was made to him, does his rejection of it mitigate his actions. HELL NO.

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