The Only Wartime Photographs Taken of Andersonville Prison

August 17, 1864 (Wednesday)

Taken from a guard tower along the west wall near the north gate, looking across the entire south end of the prison.
Taken from a guard tower along the west wall near the north gate, looking across the entire south end of the prison.

Andrew Riddle was a photographer well before the war, learning the trade in 1846. Five years later, he opened his own studio in Baltimore. In 1856, he moved to Columbus, Georgia and continued his profession, opening a couple of branch studios in Macon and Rome.

Taken from a guard tower along the east wall near the sinks, looking north.
Taken from a guard tower along the east wall near the sinks, looking north.

When the war broke out, he moved his studio to Richmond, but was hardly content in staying in the city. In October of 1862, he was captured attempting to smuggle photographic supplies from Washington. While the supplies were confiscated, he was allowed to go free. Undaunted, a few months later, he was captured yet again for the same offense and sentenced to eight months in prison.

Taken from a guard tower along the east wall, looking northwest across the prison site. The sutler's shanty is at center, and the north gate is to the left.
Taken from a guard tower along the east wall, looking northwest across the prison site. The sutler’s shanty is at center, and the north gate is to the left.

Once again free, he returned to Macon, but was conscripted as a private in the engineer corps. The Confederacy used him as a map maker and a photographer – the only official one in the entire South. This was how he found himself at Andersonville on this date.

Taken from along the east wall, south of the creek while looking northwest. Shows the sinks and the cluster of shelters known as "The Island."
Taken from along the east wall, south of the creek while looking northwest. Shows the sinks and the cluster of shelters known as “The Island.”

The photographs were taken on the 16th and developed on the 17th (which was when they were dated). These were the only photographs ever taken of Federal prisoners in a Confederate prison camp.

Taken from along the east wall, just north of the creek. Looking south across the sinks. Prisoners using the sinks can be seen in the foreground. Guard towers along the south wall are visible in the background.
Taken from along the east wall, just north of the creek. Looking south across the sinks. Prisoners using the sinks can be seen in the foreground. Guard towers along the south wall are visible in the background.

In August of 1864, Andersonville contained over 30,000 inmates in their twenty-acres plot.

Taken from a guard tower near the north gate along the west wall, this photograph shows the ration wagon with prisoners crowded around. The structure at upper center is the Sutler's shanty.
Taken from a guard tower near the north gate along the west wall, this photograph shows the ration wagon with prisoners crowded around. The structure at upper center is the Sutler’s shanty.

On this date, over 100 prisoners of war died, joining 6,000 of their comrades in the nearby cemetery.

Those that died at Andersonville were buried in shallow trenches by their fellow prisoners who were paroled out onto work details.
Those that died at Andersonville were buried in shallow trenches by their fellow prisoners who were paroled out onto work details.

Riddle used a printing process that created an “albumen silver print.” Invented in 1850, it was very much like a “peel-apart” Polaroid, which easily produced a paper photograph from a negative. You can see more about it here.

Photograph of the national cemetery as it appeared during the prison's operation. This is either taken from near the modern entrance to the cemetery looking across section K, or from in between sections J and K looking across J.
Photograph of the national cemetery as it appeared during the prison’s operation. This is either taken from near the modern entrance to the cemetery looking across section K, or from in between sections J and K looking across J.

The text used for the captions was nicked from the Andersonville National Park Service site.

Taken from a guard tower along the east wall, looking southwest across the sinks. The Star Fort is located among the trees at center on the outside of the prison walls.
Taken from a guard tower along the east wall, looking southwest across the sinks. The Star Fort is located among the trees at center on the outside of the prison walls.
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The Only Wartime Photographs Taken of Andersonville Prison by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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3 thoughts on “The Only Wartime Photographs Taken of Andersonville Prison

  1. The shocking fact that caused this horror was that Lincoln demanded for the continuation of prisoner exchanges, the Confederates would have to treat the Union Black Soldier POWs the same as White POWs (they were being shot when trying to surrender,i.e.Fort Pillow, the Crater,or sold, rented out, or used as labor for the Army), but Confederate President Davis refused to agree to those terms. Grant then stopped the prisoner exchange & the two sides opened POW prisons. Again we have to question the judgment of Davis throughout the entire war.

    1. Davis was a significant factor in the ultimate Confederate defeat.

      Of course, in hindsight it is easy to say, but the focus should have been on concentrating forces into two, maybe three forces instead of trying to defend every fort, town, village, settlement by sending a small force there.

      And all of the petty arguments and personal animosity, Davis, Bragg, Joe Johnston, Hood etc…

      I’m not saying they would have won (or avoided defeat long enough for some settlement being proposed by some foreign power) and above all I’m not saying it would have been good if they had won (slavery was something that needed to go, and is indefensible in itself, and they had made it their cause to defend it) but they were given opportunities by poor leadership in the Union, particularly some of the generals, and they couldn’t capitalize because of their own mistakes, and many of those were Davis’s misjudgements.

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