Andersonville was a Confederate prison. Located in Georgia, it was nothing more than a stockade for corralling and killing the human spirit.
Although masterfully written, I would not recommend MacKinlay Kantor’s 1955 novel “Andersonville” for every reader.
In all, 12,913 of the approximately 45,000 Union prisoners held in the prison died there from starvation, malnutrition, diarrhea and disease.
Kantor brings the suffering to the human level with his beautifully crafted characterizations. Before he makes you experience the horror, he allows you to experience the human, and it is pretty hard to take.
The musings of prisoner Nathan Dreyfuss on the cost of the Civil War stopped me cold. I replayed the passage again and again. Why had I not thought before of this immeasurable cost of war? Liken it to undiscovered “miracle cures” lost in the destruction of a rain forest.
What then of a loss of humanity? Nathan’s words:
“The great lamentation of the future will be concerned only with the fact that, by and large, the most energetic and high-minded youths of all these states involved were the ones who perished. And, most of them were too young to leave their seed behind them. It will be a long weakness for the united nation of the future.
“The soul which might have written the compelling opera went winging at Manassas Junction. The hand which might have sculptured a shape fairer than Moses was shot off on the Chickahominy. The brain which could have managed the richest agronomy of all time was drilled by a conoidal at Stones River.
“The hearts which might have beat with the rhythm of philanthropist and priest and educator; oh, wicked Gettysburg; oh, doleful Vicksburg; oh, thrice-lewd Fredericksburg.”
“Will ever I know the future? Oh, sad, maimed future! Where is your prime inventor? The ocean covered him with barnacles when the Monitor went down. Where is the saint whose scalpel or microscope was intended to still the scream of cancer? We Federals spattered his skull at Missionary Ridge.
"Oh, long, discordant future drowned in tears as now my soul is drowning. Where is the president whose power and nobility might have led a healed nation to world-enfolding glory? The fever took him at Rock Island, in Arkansas, in Libby Prison, at Fort Delaware.
“He wore blue; he wore butternut; he drew a lanyard; he tore paper of a cartridge with his teeth. He galloped behind John Morgan; he rode to meet the lead on that last charge of Farnsworth’s in a Pennsylvania glen.
“Minister and explorer, balloonist and poet, botanist and judge, geologist and astronomer, and man with songs to sing.
“They are clavicles under leaves at Perryville, ribs and phalanges in the soil of Iuka, They are a bone at Seven Pines, a bone at Antietam. Bones in battles yet to be sweated. They are in a soil instead of walking. The moss has them.”