Henry Wirz Is Hanged

Henry Wirz, former commander of the infamous Confederate prison at Andersonville, Georgia, was hanged on November 10, 1865 in Washington, D.C. Swiss-born Wirz was assigned to the command at Andersonville on March 27, 1864.

When arrested on May 7, 1865, he was the only remaining member of the Confederate staff at the prison. Brigadier General John Winder, commander of Confederate prisons east of the Mississippi and Wirz's superior at Andersonville, died of a heart attack the previous February.

A military tribunal tried Wirz on charges of conspiring with Jefferson Davis to "injure the health and destroy the lives of soldiers in the military service of the United States." Several individual acts of cruelty to Union prisoners were also alleged. Caught in the unfortunate position of answering for all of the misery that was Andersonville, he stood little chance of a fair trial. After two months of testimony rife with inconsistencies, Wirz was convicted on all counts and sentenced to death.

Wirz was arrested in May, 1865 by a contingent of federal cavalry and taken by rail to Washington, D.C., where the federal government intended to place him on trial for conspiring to impair the lives of Union prisoners of war.

In July 1865, the trial convened in the Capitol building and lasted two months, dominating the front pages of newspapers across the United States. The court heard the testimony of former inmates, ex-Confederate officers and even nearby residents of Andersonville. Finally, in early November, the commission announced that it had found Wirz guilty of conspiracy as charged, along with 11 of 13 counts of murder. He was sentenced to death.

In a letter to President Andrew Johnson, Wirz asked for clemency, but the letter went unanswered. Wirz was hanged and later buried in the Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington, D.C. He was survived by his wife and one daughter.

Henry Wirz was the only man tried, convicted and executed for war crimes during the Civil War. His conviction is controversial still today.

Some writers have said that Wirz was unfairly tried and convicted because of the fact that the South had low food rations, which was out of Wirz's control. The controversial trial, one of the nation's first war crime tribunals, created enduring moral and legal notions and established the precedent that certain wartime behavior is unacceptable, regardless if committed under the orders of superiors or on one's own.

rose in his cell at the Old Capitol and wrote a last letter to his wife…Later that afternoon, after giving a few final strokes to a stray cat that had wandered in to share his confinement, he emerged from his cell with a black cambric robe draped over his shoulders…He followed the guards into an enclosed courtyard, where chanting soldiers and other spectators hung like vultures in the street. There was his life offered up to appease the public hysteria. ”

— William Marvel, Andersonville: The Last Depot