Monday, June 8, 2020

Booknotes: Andersonville Raiders

New Arrival:
Andersonville Raiders: Yankee Versus Yankee in the Civil War’s Most Notorious Prison Camp by Gary Morgan (Stackpole, 2020).

From the description: "It was the most witnessed execution in US history. On the evening of July 11, 1864, six men were marched into Andersonville Prison, surrounded by a cordon of guards, the prison commandant, and a Roman Catholic priest. The six men were handed over to a small execution squad, and while more than 26,000 Union prisoners looked on, the six were executed by hanging. The six, part of a larger group known as the Raiders, were killed, not by their Rebel enemies but by their fellow prisoners, for the crimes of robbing and assaulting their own comrades." Even if they haven't read any book-length studies of Andersonville, most Civil War enthusiasts will have at least some level of recognition of the episode from their more general reading, and many will remember it vividly as the major focus of the cable television miniseries Andersonville that first aired in 1996.

However, Gary Morgan, who has extensively researched the Andersonville Raiders and their hanging, has come to the conclusion that much of the traditional recounting of events is false. Along the way, Morgan's book Andersonville Raiders: Yankee Versus Yankee in the Civil War’s Most Notorious Prison Camp reexamines many key questions, including "Who were these six men? Were they really guilty of the crimes they were accused of? Were they really, as some prisoners alleged, murderers? What role did their Confederate captors play in their trial and execution?" and "What brought about their downfall?"

More: "Relying on military records, diaries, memoirs written within five years of the prison closing, and the recently discovered trial transcript, author Gary Morgan has discovered a version of events that is markedly different from the version told in later day “memoirs” and repeated in the history books. Here, for the first time in a century and a half, is the real story of the Andersonville Raiders."

Morgan's book is not a narrative history of the Raiders, their trial, and their execution. Instead, the bulk of the book consists of the author's extensive profiles and investigations of the condemned men, with standalone chapters assigned to each convicted raider [Patrick Delany, "Curtis," William Collins, J. Sarsfield, "Rickson," and "Munn"]. As one can see, even the identities of some of the men are not straightforward. Among other topics (such John McElroy's well-known Andersonville book published in 1879), the book also discusses the cases of other "raiders" who have been identified (or misidentified) through various sources. The story of the man [John Urban, a.k.a. "Dowd"] whose severe beating proved to be the tipping point in finally deciding to put an end to raider crimes is featured as well. The appendix section includes the aforementioned trial transcript, an anthology of relevant selections from published Andersonville diaries and memoirs, and the text of a December 1864 post-exchange New York Times interview with execution organizer Leroy Key.

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