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Prisoners 1860s at McHenry and Andersonville

andersonvilleAs you research and come across one or more ancestors who served during the American Civil War, you may well see they might have been a prisoner at one time. In the early years of the war, prisoners were just caught and then within a few days an exchange of prisoners would take place. Both sides soon realized the fighting would just continue if soldiers were returned to their regiment. So prisons were set up for the Union and Confederate sides.

With the need of supplies and food just for the soldiers on both sides actually fighting, the prisoners – the enemy was the last to get any decent food, blanket or clothing. Medical care was for the soldiers in the field not for prisoners, so many of ancestors entered healthy and died later in the prison.

An online site, by the National Park Service has two of the main prisons McHenry in Maryland which was the home to more than 15,000 Confederate soldiers; and Andersonville prison camp in Andersonville, Georgia, where more than 45,000 Union soldiers were kept. This site allows you to search for an ancestor who might have been in either prison.

Select from the drop down arrow one of the prisons. Then select a state the person was from next their given and surname. However keep in mind you might be incorrect on the state, a given name or surname spelling. So start with the surname unless it is a common name.

There will be a listing of names and the total in the list at the top. What is very interesting to see is how many in one prison had the same surname and see how many from various states with the same given and last names. For example in Andersonville there were 16 soldiers with the name ‘John Wilson’.

Click on a name of interest and a full listing of any known information is available. The person’s names, rank, regiment, home state (sometimes it just states United States). Next what is really good to have is when they were captured, where they were captured and what happened — did they survive in prison? Some listing will have additional comments.

If you find an ancestor this could be very important in your research. You would then want to get their military records from the National Archives. Reminder, only these two prisons have records online.

Illustration: Union prisoners at Andersonville.

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