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Civil War Prisons Paperback – March 15, 1997

3.9 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 123 pages
  • Publisher: Kent State Univ Pr (March 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0873381297
  • ISBN-13: 978-0873381291
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #740,346 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
First we need to address the issue of just what work is being reviewed here and which book is being sold on this product page. As another reviewer here, Kerry Walters, has so well pointed out, several reviewers have mistaken this work edited by William B. Hesseltine, with a work actually written by Hesseltine around 1930 entitled "Civil War Prisons: A Study in War Psychology." The book being reviewed here is "Civil War Prisons," which is the small volume published and released by The Kent State University Press in 1962. We are addressing two quite different works. Hesseltine's original work, which as noted was issued about 1930 has its own set of problems; if problems you chose to call them, and issues completely separate than those addressed in this work. Readers do take note of this...it makes very big difference in how this book is approached. (Note: Hesseltine's 1930s work is good but, in my opinion, should be approached with caution. Hesseltine has tried his best to be neutral in his assessments, but this sympathies bleed through here and there and again, in my opinion, he does not give a completely balanced overview....but of course each reader should make up their own mind on this subject.)

Civil War Prisons, Edited by William B. Hesseltine, the actual book being reviewed here, is a collection of essays (or articles), which address different prisons which existed during the Civil War. These articles and their authors include:

Civil War Prisons - Introduction, by William B. Hesseltine

Prison Life at Andersonville, by Ovid Futch

The Military Prison at Fort Warren, by Minor H. McLain

Rock Island Prison Barracks, by T.R. Walker

A General Behind Bars: Neal Dow in Libby Prison, edited by Frank L.
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Format: Paperback
In a field where new scholarship is not only recommended but needed, Hesseltine's Civil War Prisons- written seventy-five years ago- remains a standard on the topic. Hesseltine tackles the previous historiography of northern and southern prisons during the American Civil War. The author attempts to bring closure to the legendary northern myth that the Southern government did its best to "exterminate" Union prisoners by calling the effective northern war propaganda a wartime "psychosis." Furthermore, the author offers his analysis over the much debated prisoner exchange system, and comes down hard on the North, especially its government and General Ulysses S. Grant, for their questionable approach to this issue.

It almost appears as if Civil War Prisons comes from a Southern perspective with some northern sympathy. While Hesseltine accuses northerners of creating this wartime psychosis, and literally blames them for creating a public frenzy, no mention is recorded of how it was organized, why it occurred, and who was responsible for it. Additionally, the author leaves little criticism for the Southern mistreatment of Union prisoners, but does discuss the problems at Andersonville and other Confederate camps. In addition, the author dismisses the Southern notion that Confederate prisoners suffered the same or worst fate at Northern camps. However, though in no way a Southern apologist, Hesseltine's upbringing in Virginia remains filtered throughout the book as the author appears to have trouble "criticizing" the South.

The focal argument deals with the prisoner exchange system in which the author blames Lincoln and Grant for not exchanging prisoners of war during the last two years of the conflict.
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Curiously, the two earlier reviewers, while writing interesting comments, aren't reviewing the book they think they are. They've confused William Hesseltine's 1930 Civil War Prisons: A Study in War Psychology with the slim collection of essays edited by William B. Hesseltine entitled Civil War Prisons. The latter, issued in 1962 and reissued 30 years later by Kent State University Press, is the book they should've reviewed here.

The essays collected in Civil War Prisons all originally appeared in a special issue of the journal "Civil War History." Predictably, they're both enjoyable and rigorously documented. One of them, the article on Andersonville, is also generously illustrated with both line drawings and photographs.

The essays focus on prisons both well-known and not so familiar. Ovid Futch writes on the infamous Andersonville; Minor McLain on Fort Warren, the federal prison on George's Island in Boston Harbor; T.R. Walker on Rock Island Prison on an island in the Mississippi River; Frank Byrne presents an edited version of General Neal Dowl's experiences as a captive in Richmond's Libby Prison; James Robertson's writes on New York's Elmira Prison, a camp so notorious for high death rates that it came to be called "Hellmira"; Edward Downer describes Johnson's Island in Lake Erie; and William Armstrong discusses the remarkable prison diaries of Pennsylvanian Edmund Ryan, captured not once but twice.

The essays describe what we've come to expect from writings on Civil War prison camps: the generally sorry treatment of inmates in terms of food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. Explanations for the treatment range from indifference to revenge to inability to care for massive quantities of prisoners after the parole system broke down.
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