Andersonville is a 1996 American television film directed by John Frankenheimer about a group of Union soldiers during the American Civil War who are captured by the Confederates and sent to an infamous Confederate prison camp.
The film is loosely based on the diary of John Ransom, a Union soldier imprisoned there. Although certain points of the plot are fabricated, the general conditions of the camp accurately match Ransom’s descriptions, particularly references to the administration of the camp by Captain Henry Wirz.
The film begins with a group of Union soldiers being captured and forced to surrender at Cold Harbour, Virginia, in June 1864. They are transported to prisoner-of-war Camp Sumter, near Andersonville, Georgia. When they enter, they discover a former comrade, named Dick Potter, who was captured at Antietam, who explains the grim realities of daily existence in the camp – primarily the lack of shelter, clean water, and regular food supplies. He also states the danger of a rogue group of Union soldiers, called the “Raiders”, who hoard the camp’s meagre rations, and lure unsuspecting “fresh fish” – newly captured soldiers – into their area of the camp, to attack and rob them.
With every able-bodied man required for fighting, young teenagers and old men are used as guards. At one watch tower, manned by two young guards, a Union soldier offers money for some corn. He is instructed to step over the “dead line” fence and approach the watch tower to trade, which contradicts the rules of the camp. But reluctantly, compelled by need, the soldier steps over the line, and (in a macabre type of game) the soldiers in the next watch tower shoot him dead.
As the story unfolds, the unit captured at the beginning of the film ally with some inmates, and help them by working on their tunnel under the stockade wall. Eventually it is complete, but one man tries to inform the guards, in hope of receiving a reward. He is captured and “TT” (meaning tunnel traitor) is cut into his forehead as a warning. The escape is attempted one night, and all goes well until the last man is spotted and shot, and the dogs are unleashed. In a very short time, most escapees are back in the camp and placed in standing stocks as punishment.
The situation with the Raiders eventually becomes unbearable, as group after group of new prisoners are targeted upon arrival. Night raids are made, with possessions being taken from tents and prisoners injured or killed by the Raiders. After a banjo is stolen, one man fights to get it back but is badly beaten. Things progressively get worse until finally one man decides he has seen enough of the “vultures out to rob and murder the new boys”. He rallies support from the disparate groups, and within minutes hundreds of his comrades are charging the Raiders’ camp. A massive and deadly riot ensues.
In the end the Raiders are beaten, stolen goods are redistributed to their owners, but many want them all hanged outright. But upon the insistence of a few, a request for a legitimate trial is made to Captain Wirz, the Confederate commander of the prison camp. A trial is held, with a jury made up of new internees, which ultimately results in the six ring-leaders being found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. After the executions life becomes relatively peaceful, but the cold reality of starvation, and lack of sanitation or medical care, begins to set in as emaciation, dysentery, scurvy, and fever take their toll, causing many to die. As the film ends, an announcement is made by Wirz that all prisoners are to be exchanged – the surviving Federal soldiers leave the camp, filing past their dead comrades on the way to the trains.
Against a view of the present-day Andersonville National Cemetery, the movie’s end coda reads:
In 1864–5, more than 45,000 Union soldiers were imprisoned in Andersonville. 12,912 died there. The prisoner exchange never happened. The men who walked to the trains were taken to other prisons, where they remained until the war ended. After the war, Wirz was hanged, the only soldier to be tried and executed for war crimes committed during the Civil War.
- Jarrod Emick – Josiah Day.
- Frederic Forrest – Sgt. McSpadden.
- Ted Marcoux – Martin Blackburn.
- Carmen Argenziano – Hopkins.
- Jayce Bartok – Billy.
- Frederick Coffin – Collins.
- Cliff DeYoung – Sgt. John Gleason.
- Denis Forest – Mad Matthew.
- Justin Henry – Tyce.
- Tony Higgins – Tucker.
- Andrew Kavovit – Tobias.
- Olek Krupa – Olek Wisnovsky.
- William H. Macy – Col. Chandler.
- Matt McGrath – Ethan.
- Peter Murnik – Limber Jim.
- Gabriel Olds – Bob Reese.
- William Sanderson – Munn.
- Gregory Sporleder – Dick Potter.
- Jan Tříska – Capt. Henry Wirz.
- Bruce Evers – Lt. Barrett.
- Robert David Hall – Samson.
- Thomas F. Wilson – Thomas Sweet.
- Andersonville was filmed on location on a farm some fifty miles south of Atlanta (about a hundred miles north of the actual location of the camp) where a huge set was built (not quite to scale) of the actual camp.
- Accurate in detail down to the officer’s quarters outside the camp gates, the fifty foot high raw timber walls and thousands of ragged tents, a working stream, and even a full scale railway depot with half of a locomotive made of wood were built on the property.
- At any given time there were hundreds of extras employed every day, many of whom were Civil War re-enactors who came from all over the nation to take part in the production.
- The programme won a 1996 Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Directing for a Miniseries or a Special for director John Frankenheimer.
- It was nominated in six other categories as well, including a nomination for cinematographer, Ric Waite.
You can find a full index and overview of Andersonville here.
Production & Filming Details
- Release Date: 03 March 1996.
- Running time: 167 minutes (total running time).
- Country: US.
- Language: English.