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They left the nightmare...and entered Hell. Captured Union soilders cope with life inside the Civil War's most notorious prisoner-of-war camp. A powerful, compeling tale of war and will, with Emmy Award-winning direction by John Frankenheimer and a cast including Frederic Forrest (Apocalypse Now) and William H. Macy (ER, Fargo) Year: 1996 Director: John Frankenheimer Starring: Jarrod Emick, Frederic Forrest, Ted Marcoux
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Up until then, Yankees and Confederates mostly just had temporary camps to hold prisoners for as little as a few weeks before they would be exchanged. But by the spring of 1864, newly-promoted General-in-Chief Grant decided to stop exchanges for good, therefore holding tens of thousands of prisoners in camps on both sides. The Yankee prisoners would starve because the Confederate nation of almost a dozen Southern states, threatened on all sides by marauding Yankee armies, didn't have enough food and supplies to feed their own civilian population and armies, much less tens of thousands of Yankee prisoners. This I can truly understand. If any food was to be available, it would preferably go off to their own families and soldiers, and the POW's would get whatever was left, which wasn't very much.
This movie follows the story of what appears to be about a company of Massachusetts troops who were captured during a skirmish with the other side on June 1, 1864 near Cold Harbor, Virginia, right before the slaughter of almost 7,000 Yankees was to happen on that ground within the next few days. You see the officers being separated from the enlisted men, and the officers were to be taken to Libby Prison in Richmond, the infamous camp for all Yankee officers in captivity. Upon their arrival at Andersonville, the men meet Captain Wirz, the Swiss-born Confederate commander of the prison who almost lost his arm at the 1862 battle of Fair Oaks. Wirz would end up being the only Confederate soldier executed for "war crimes" a few months after the war finally ended. He gives brutal treatment to the Yankees that attempt to escape from prison, many of which on record happened to do successfully, and this treatment brings much protest from a visiting Confederate colonel from the War Department. In the prison, a fellow soldier from their regiment that had been presumed dead since Antietam gives the arrivals great advice: Don't drink the diseased water from the spring, stay away from the Yankee Raiders that manage to rob the new arrivals of anything they have, and collect rainwater by wringing out their clothes during a downpour. Soon, the brutal treatment by the Raiders brings the whole camp into an uproar, and as the Confederate guards watch with fascination, the entire camp gives the Raiders some much-needed justice, followed by a trial and execution.
The Yankees also adapt themselves to building escape tunnels under the camp, helped by a couple of former miners from Pennsylvania, and you find out what happens to the "tunnel traitor" Yankees who hope to give this information to the Confederate guards for as little as an extra piece of bread. The prison life looks very harsh and you see many of the prisoners die, but it was simply a way of life for survival for those that lived. This was an excellent movie!
Haunting scenes of conflict and inhumanity included young Southern boys just starting puberty who were Prison Guards (just as ruthless as the Hitler Jugend under the Nazi SS in WW II Germany and the trial that brought the Raiders to justice. The Prison Commandant, Captain Wirz, was
even severely criticized by some of his own Southern Military Commanders for not using Parole or Prisoner Exchanges to correct the deplorable conditions. Ironically, Wirz did have moments of humaneness, when he informed the Union Authorities that the Prison was no place for young pre-adolescent boys (not in puberty) and arranged for them to be paroled, and escorted North under a White Flag of Truce to Union Soldier lines. Several boys were saved from certain death. Captain Wirz was Swiss (or German?) in nationality.
During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the famous "Lieber Code" - a rule book for Union Forces in Battle. The Lieber Code stated:
"the unarmed person is to be spared in person, property and honor as much as the exigencies of war will admit." This was applied to both civilians and prisoners. Violations of the "Lieber Code" under the command of Captain Wirz were cited that led to his Union military court martial conviction and execution. As proof the United States had a long history to take precautions to avoid harming civilians and prisoners during and after armed combat, the "Lieber" Code was cited during the famous International War Crimes Trials at Nuremberg, during the 1940s.
True, this movie is not a documentary and there is "Hollywood" influences. Nevertheless the master moviemaker John Frankenheimer directed this movie that enables any person with a basic grade school education to grasp the epic message of life inside the most notorious of the American Civil War's prison camps. Well done, and worthy of an Emmy and several 5 Gold Star Ratings! Evil is irrational and I will never understand how Americans abused or killed Americans during the Civil War. Never Again!
This portrayal of what happened inside Andersonville will raise your indignation and leave you thinking about other POW instances in our past and present. 'Andersonville' shows us a side of ourselves that we might not want to see or imagine; whether we would become a raider or one of their victims; whether we would stand by and let our own comrades in arms become victims of greed and violence or would we make a stand, possibly at the expense of our own life.
How so few could intimidate so many for so long is difficult to believe, but it does happen ... and it did.
Andersonville is a graphic portrayal of POW conditions during the Civil War [or as is said down here 'The War of Northern Aggression']. Ted Turner's people have done an excellent job in bringing to life a segment of war no one wants to see - the horrid conditions: lack of sanitation, housing, medical assistance, food and clothing. Man's inhumanity to man at its worst is vividly portrayed here primarily through the eyes of one Union soldier.
It is well worth watching and having in your DVD collection. I saw the airing on TNT a few years ago and when I saw it was available on DVD, I scooped it up. You should too.