Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Words from the condemned -- part 1 of 7: the diary of Henry Wirz

Selections from the diary Captain Henry Wirz, commandant of the notorious Confederate prison called Andersonville, made in the days leading up to his November, 1865 execution. Originally appeared in the Boston Advertiser; reprinted in the November 15, 1856 edition of the New York Times on page 1, column 1

Part 1 of 7 : Henry Wirz diary entry of October 1, 1865. [See all entries in this series]

[explanatory note from the New York Times:]

"We print below the diary of Henry Wirz, which we received last evening from a correspondent at Washington. Several references have been made in our telegraphic dispatches and elsewhere to this singular document. Our readers will find in it little that bears upon his career at Andersonville, except his protestations of innocence. As to the general character of this diary, and the genuineness of the sentiments expressed in it, we shall leave our readers to judge. We have no desire, and it is hardly necessary to argue his case, now that the grave has closed over him."

Old Capitol Prison, October 1, 1865:

Everything is quiet around me, no sound but the measured steps of the sentinel in the corridor can be heard, the man who is sitting in my room is nodding in his chair.More... Poor, short-sighted mortals that we all are, this man is put in my room to watch me, to prevent any attempt I might possibly make to take my own life. My life, what is it worth to anyone except myself and my poor family, that they should be so anxious. I think I understand it very well, they are afraid I might cheat them and the public at large from having their revenge and giving, at the same time, the masses the benefit of seeing a man hung. If that is all, they are welcome, I have no desire to live, perhaps there was never a more willing victim dragged to the scaffold than I am, why should I desire to live. A beggar, crippled with my health and spirit broken, why, oh, why should I desire to live. For the sake of my family? My family will do as well without me as with me; instead of providing and taking care of them, I would be a burthen to them. And still knowing all that, why do I not put an end to my life? Because, in the first instance, what I suffer now is the will of God. God, how much is not in this word. What tower of strength, of consolation. Yea, Heavenly Father, if it was not thy will, I would not be a prisoner, I would not be looked at, spoken of as a monster such as the world has never seen and never will see, if that what I suffer now was not put on me by you for some wise purpose I would not be as free as the bird in the air. Thou and I, we two alone know that I am innocent of these terrible charges. Thou and I, we both know, that I never took the life of a fellow man, that I never caused a man to suffer and die in consequence of ill treatment inflicted by me, and still I am tried for murder, men have sworn that they saw me do it, they have called on Thee, to witness that they tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and they told a lie, a lie black as hell itself, why did you not send a thunderbolt from the high heavens, why o God, why, because it is thy holy will, and in humility I kiss the rod with which thou seest proper to chastise me.

The second reason why I do not destroy a life which is a burden to me is because I owe it to myself, my family, my relations, even the world at large to prove that there never existed a man so utterly devoid of all humanity, such a fiend incarnate, as it has been attempted to prove me to be. I see very well that I have no earthly show, that I am a doomed man, but thanks be to God, that I am enabled to say with holy Stephen, Lord lay not this sin to my charge. They judge by what they hear and I must abide by it.

It makes me feel very sorry and at the same time I could almost smile, when I see men like Col. Persons and Capt. Wright give their testimony, how careful they first weigh every word; how afraid they are to say something which might perhaps implicate themselves. I pity them, a day will come when they will be sorry that they took not a more manly stand than they did. Perhaps one of the hardest things I have to bear is, when I hear such men speak now, and recollect what they have said and how they acted a year ago, then they did not say that they did not wish to associate with me, oh no, then they would visit my house and invite me to theirs. But enough, I despise and always have despised a coward.

My wife has tried again to see me to-day, but could not because Gen. Baker who by order of the Secretary of War has to be present at the interview is still sick. I think it is pretty hard, because a man is sick, I have been deprived now for two weeks of almost the only joy, to see my poor wife. It looks to me, that the hundreds of officials at Washington one could be entrusted with the fearful responsibility to let a sick prisoner see his wife, talk with her for thirty minutes about three dear children, their domestic affairs. But why should I grumbles or have any bitterness in my heart? I think I ought to be proud that a government like the Government of these United States considers me of such importance to take such extraordinary measures.

For four weeks have I asked in vain to have the permission to see a minister of the gospel, to get such consolation, as I thought I needed, part of that time I was at death's door, and finally on yesterday, I was allowed to see Rev. Father Boyle, but during the whole time, except during confession, the Officer was present. I think it is high time to blot out the eagle in the American escutcheon and substitute a buzzard. I have heard when I was a boy that the eagle was the king of birds, if he is how is it that he stoops so low to tear with his talons an humble captain, and is afraid to strike men such as I could name. Poor eagle I pity thee, thy arts are more like those of a buzzard.


Anonymous said...

This dude is so cool.

Unknown said...

War is hell, and the vanquished, guilty or innocent, are subject to the victors, right or wrong..

Theevilspellbinder said...

How can you say Wirz was cool? He was the 1st Hitler. But only with the powers to torture, condemn and slowly kill, not lead. Gen. Winder aside, this man (And I use that word quite loosely) chose only to let men suffer and die in a most inhumane manner. I'm quite glad his neck was not broken when he was hung. Too bad he could not have hung and strangled for a year before he died. He was a monster and deserved nothing less. A classic sociopath with power granted to his megalomania.

Anonymous said...

hey, Theevilspellbinder maybe if you read your history once in a while you will learn that most historians think Wirz was innocent. He did not recieve a fair trial, at all. People testified against him and said he did such awful things when that person did not even go to Andersonville. Hitler chose the conditions in which the prisoners in the camps would live under, Henry Wirz did not. partially to thank for conditions at Andersonville is the beloved President Lincoln. When he stopped the prisoner exchange, MANY camps, not just Andersonville, went way over the number of people the camps were built for. All of the prisoner of war prisons were horrible, includimg THE NORTH. But the North won, and wanted revenge, so Wirz became a scape goat. he did the best he could with those conditions. All of the south was starving, again thanks to Mr. Lincoln! who cut of supply lines from the North to the South. Like the other person said, War is hell. For everybody. Its an awful thing that happened at Andersonville, but its also an awful thing with someone gets wrongly executed just so America can have a scape goat. So before you go shooting your mouth off about something you clearly have no knoledge about, do some research so you dont look like a complete idiot :)

Anonymous said...


You really ought brush up on your history before any more drivel flies off you keyboard.

Anonymous said...

While Wirz may possibly have been innocent from the onset of conditions under which his prisoners lived, I can say very simply and clearly, without any doubt, that Wirz looked every day upon them without ever resigning, complaining, or doing anything, including showing any sense of empathy or humanity towards them. This is apparent in his diaries, such as those listed here, and other sources. In addition, despite the claims of loss of food to the prison as a whole, he looked rather plump when he was arrested, in a shocking comparison to his captives. I should like his supporters to examine such simple and startling facts.
However, I am quite certain that Wirz was only a small piece of the puzzle that caused such atrocities, and that certainly others with equivalent or deeper responsibility for such crimes were never called at all to Justice. Therefore, it is more likely that while Wirz was indeed a scapegoat, he had his share of inhumanity as well. How can anyone live in a prison where their captives are like the pictures and evidence shown indisputably from the prison. I despise all men responsible, no matter their allegiance in the war, for such horrible atrocities.