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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The real crime is that I chose the losing side.", April 7, 2009
This review is from: The Andersonville Trial (Paperback)
Filled with the kind of drama that only a real war crimes trial can generate, this play by Saul Levitt focuses on the trial of a German-born Confederate captain who was in charge of the Andersonville Prison in Georgia, where Union soldiers died at the rate of over 100 a day during their incarceration in 1864. Living in overcrowded conditions without shelter, shade, clean water, or adequate food, the men became desperate, preferring to risk being shot during escape attempts to living in the squalid and unsanitary conditions of the prison.

Captain Wirz, who was in charge of the prison, is now on trial. His counsel, southern lawyer Otis Baker, is highly skilled at twisting words, and brilliant at forcing the court to consider the rules of wartime engagement and the necessity of following orders. The courtroom battles between Baker and the Union prosecutor, Col. N. P. Chipman, are memorable for the philosophical complexities of their arguments and the emotions with which they argue their positions. Gen. Lew Wallace, overseeing all, is hard pressed to keep the two sides in order and arguing relevant legal issues.

Dr. John Bates, a doctor who worked at the prison for eight months, shows how his compassion gradually became dulled by the horrors of the conditions, until he became inured to the hundreds of deaths he had to certify every week. James Davidson, a nineteen-year-old Vermont soldier who was incarcerated at Andersonville, shows the traumatic effects of his experiences as he testifies, his role becoming one of the most sympathetic in the entire play.

The developing tension becomes so great that the audience will easily sit through a two-and-a-half hour performance, breathless with anticipation, their emotions soaring with the legal points made by the prosecution and soaring equally with the human feelings engendered by the defense. As Chipman says, "I'd like to believe that I am more of a man than Wirz was to save those men, but am I?" This is a theatrical creation not to be missed by lovers of theatre and anyone interested in Civil War history. n Mary Whipple

The Andersonville Trial (Broadway Theatre Archive)
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The Andersonville Trial
The Andersonville Trial by Saul Levitt (Paperback - October 1, 1961)
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