Henry Wirz biography
Henry Wirz was born on November 25, 1823, in Zurich, Switzerland. During the Civil War he was commander of the infamous military prison at Andersonville, where many Union prisoners-of-war died as a result of poor conditions. After Union forces liberated the prison in 1864, Wirz was put on trial and found guilty of conspiracy and cruelty. On November 10, 1865 he was hanged in Washington, D.C.
Confederate soldier and war criminal Heinrich Hartmann Wirz was born on November 25, 1823, in Zurich, Switzerland. Captain Henry Wirz served as the commander of the infamous civil war prison at Andersonville, where many Union prisoners-of-war died because of the terrible conditions there.
Wirz had dreamed of becoming a doctor, but he ended up studying to become a weaver instead. In 1823, he married Emilie Oschwald. The couple had two children together, but the union did not last. Wirz and his wife eventually divorced. According to some reports, Wirz had legal troubles while in Europe involving embezzled money, and may have served some time in prison.
Move to the United States
In 1849, Wirz immigrated to the United States. He practiced his trade as a weaver in Lawrence, Massachusetts, before moving further south. Traveling to Kentucky, Wirz worked as a doctor's assistant and remarried. He then moved again, settling in Louisiana where he worked on a plantation. In 1861, Wirz enlisted in the Confederate Army after the start of the Civil War, joining the Fourth Louisiana Infantry.
While serving in the Confederate Army, Wirz received several promotions. He became a captain after fighting in the Battle of Seven Pines in 1862. He took command of his first military prison that same year, running the Confederate facility at Richmond. His tenure there was short-lived; after a month, Wirz took charge of another military prison in Alabama.
As a special assistant to Confederate president Jefferson Davis, Wirz spent a year in Europe acting on behalf of Davis. He returned in 1864 and was selected to oversee the military prison at Andersonville. A difficult and often morose person, Wirz was known to be a weak administrator and to have a bad temper. He was harsh in his handling of the prisoners at Andersonville, but his personal responsibility for the horrors that occurred there has been a subject of debate over the years.
There can be no question that the situation at Andersonville was a nightmare. Tens of thousands of Union soldiers - estimates range from 32,000 to 45,000 soldier - were held there in deplorable conditions. They faced torture and starvation, and the sick and wounded among them were often left untreated. In all, approximately 13,000 soldiers died at Andersonville.
Trial for Andersonville Atrocities
After Union general William T. Sherman's forces liberated the prison in 1864, Wirz was put on trial by a military tribunal for his role at Andersonville. Much of the American public was outraged when they learned of the wanton cruelty inflicted on the Union soldiers there. Needing to hold someone accountable for Andersonville, Wirz became the military's primary target.
Wirz's trial lasted two months, during which he faced charges of conspiracy and cruelty. Wirz was found guilty on all counts, including one count for conspiring with Jefferson Davis to "injure the health and destroy the lives of soldiers in the military service of the United States."
For his role in this tragedy, Wirz received a death sentence. He was, at least according to some accounts, offered parole if he implicated Jefferson Davis for war crimes, but he refused. On November 10, 1865, Wirz was hanged in Washington, D.C. Some historians have questioned Wirz's guilt, wondering if he merely served as a scapegoat for all the atrocities committed at Andersonville.