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Henry Wirz
[[Image:File:Henry Wirz photo.jpg|center|200px|border]]Henry Wirz
Personal Information
Born: November 25, 1823(1823-11-25)
Place of Birth: {{{place of birth}}}
Died: November 10, 1865 (aged 41)
Place of Death: {{{place of death}}}
Birth Name: {{{birth name}}}
Other Information
Allegiance: United States of America
Confederate States of America
Participation(s): {{{participations}}}
Branch: Confederate States Army
Service Years: {{{service years}}}
Rank: Captain
Service number : {{{servicenumber}}}
Unit: {{{unit}}}
Commands: Andersonville Prison
Battles: American Civil War
Battle of Seven Pines
Relations: {{{relations}}}
Other work: {{{otherwork}}}

Heinrich Hartmann Wirz[1] better known as Henry Wirz (November 25, 1823 – November 10, 1865) was a Confederate officer tried and executed in the aftermath of the American Civil War for conspiracy and murder relating to his command of Camp Sumter, the Confederate prisoner of war camp near Andersonville, Georgia.

Medical career and family[]

Born in Zürich, Switzerland, Wirz graduated from the University of Zurich but there is no evidence he obtained a degree. Wirz practiced medicine for a time before he emigrated to the U.S. in 1849, when many Forty-Eighters were fleeing the failed Revolutions of 1848 in the German states and elsewhere, or the Swiss Sonderbund war. Wirz, who had married in 1845 and had two children, was imprisoned briefly in the late 1840s for unknown reasons.[2]

He established a medical practice in Kentucky where he married a Methodist widow named Wolfe. Along with her two daughters they moved to Louisiana. In 1855 his wife gave birth to their daughter Cora. By 1861, Wirz had a successful medical practice.[3]

Civil War[]

When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, Wirz claimed to have enlisted as a private in Company A, Fourth-Battalion, Louisiana Volunteers of the Confederate States Army. It is rumored that he took part in the Battle of Seven Pines in May 1862, during which he was supposedly severely wounded by a minie ball and lost the use of his right arm. No official record exists to give credence to any involvement in that or any other military affair before he become director of Andersonville.[3] Wirz allegedly then served on detached duty as a prison guard in Alabama, then transferred to help guard Federal prisoners incarcerated at Richmond, Virginia. Because of his injury, Wirz was assigned to the staff of General John H. Winder, who was in charge of Confederate prisoner of war camps.[3]

In February 1864, the Confederate government established Camp Sumter, a large military prison in Georgia near the small railroad depot of Anderson (as it was called then), to house Union prisoners of war. In March, Wirz took command of Camp Sumter where he remained for over a year.[3]

Though wooden barracks were originally planned, the Confederates incarcerated the prisoners in a vast, rectangular, open-air stockade originally encompassing sixteen and a half acres, which had been intended as only a temporary prison pending exchanges of prisoners with the North. The prisoners themselves gave this place the name Andersonville. The prison suffered an extreme lack of food, tools and medical supplies, severe overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions and a lack of potable water. At its peak in August 1864, the camp held approximately 32,000 Union prisoners, making it the fifth largest city in the Confederacy. The monthly mortality rate from disease and malnutrition reached 3000. Around 45,000 prisoners were incarcerated during the camp's 14-month existence, of whom 13,000 (28%) died.[4]

Trial and execution[]

File:Execution of Henry Wirz.jpg

The execution of Henry Wirz near the US Capitol moments after the trap door was sprung.


Grave Marker

Wirz was arrested in May 1865, by a contingent of federal cavalry and taken by rail to Washington, D.C., where the federal government intended to place him on trial for conspiring to impair the lives of Union prisoners of war.[3]

In July 1865, the trial convened in the Capitol building and lasted for two months, dominating the front pages of newspapers across the United States. The court heard the testimony of former inmates, ex-Confederate officers and even nearby residents of Andersonville. Finally, in early November, the commission announced that it had found Wirz guilty of conspiracy as charged, along with 11 of 13 counts of murder. He was sentenced to death.

In a letter to President Andrew Johnson, Wirz asked for clemency, but the letter went unanswered. Wirz was hanged at One First Street, Northeast, Washington, D.C., the present-day site of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was later buried in the Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington, D.C. He was survived by his wife and one daughter.

Henry Wirz was the only man tried, convicted and executed for war crimes during the Civil War. His conviction remains controversial today.[4][5] Residents of the town of Andersonville annually march to a Wirz memorial, along with supporters of a congressional pardon for Wirz.[6]

Some writers have said that Wirz was unfairly tried and convicted[7] because the South had low food rations, which was out of Wirz's control.[8] The controversial trial, one of the nation's first war crimes tribunals, created enduring moral and legal notions and established the precedent that certain wartime behavior is unacceptable, regardless if committed under the orders of superiors or on one's own.[9]


Wirz's trial was depicted in the 1970 television film The Andersonville Trial, directed by George C. Scott who had appeared in the Broadway play by Saul Levitt upon which it was based. It featured Richard Basehart as Wirz and William Shatner as chief government prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Norton P. Chipman. The film centered upon the question of whether Wirz should have been condemned for following orders, in a parallel with the then-current controversy over the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War. In TNT's 1996 film, Andersonville, Jan Triska played Wirz.


  1. "Heinrich Hartmann Wirz". Retrieved 2008-11-28. 
  2. "Andersonville Prison". Retrieved 2008-11-28. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 "Wirz Trial Home Page". UMKC School of Law. Retrieved 2008-11-28. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Andersonville: Prisoner of War Camp-Reading 1". Retrieved 2008-11-28. 
  5. Drew, Troy Bill Carnes and Jon Rice. "Wirz Trial Home Page". Retrieved 2008-11-28. 
  6. Horwitz, Tony, Confederates in the Attic
  7. [1]
  8. Heidler, David Stephen et al. Encyclopedia Of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, NY: Norton, 2001. "Wirz did not receive a fair trial. Nevertheless, he was found guilty and sentenced to death."
  9. [2]

See also[]


  • Chipman, Norton, P. The Tragedy of Andersonville; Trial of Captain Henry Wirz, the Prison Keeper, (Sacramento, 1911).
  • Futch, Ovid. History of Andersonville Prison, (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1968).
  • Harper, Frank. Andersonville: The Trial of Captain Henry Wirz, MA Thesis, (University of Northern Colorado, 1986).
  • Page, James Madison, The True Story of Andersonville Prison: A Defense of Major Henry Wirz , 1908.
  • Marvel, William, Andersonville: The Last Depot

External links[]

de:Henry Wirz fi:Henry Wirz