Stories from Hartford's Grassroots
On the west side of the State Capitol in Hartford, one statue stands as a reminder of Connecticut Civil War soldiers who died in Southern prisoner of war camps. The memorial’s subject, unarmed and with his army cap in hand, is known as the Andersonville Boy. Thirteen thousand captured Union soldiers perished under horrible conditions in the Andersonville, Georgia military prison from 1864 to 1865.
The sculpture was created by Norwich-born artist Bela Pratt. In 1907 the original piece was dedicated at Andersonville, which has become a national historic site. A copy of the figure was installed two years later in Hartford. The subject is meant to honor all the men, black and white, who died as Confederate captives. But the Andersonville Boy could just as well been Casper Young of Hartford.
In 1862 Casper Young lived on Front Street at a hotel he managed called the German Republic House. The hotel was originally known in the 1840’s as the Deutsches Gasthaus, located on Hartford’s East Side around Sheldon and Grove Streets in “Little Germany.”
For a while, Young roomed at the hotel with Heinrich Wirz, a Swiss national. They became friends.
Many Germans emigrated to the U.S. around 1848, after the failure of their liberal revolution. They brought their democratic ideas with them.
A year after the Civil War began, Young enlisted as a Union soldier. Germans made up a significant number of the Northern army: 516,000 served, with about 60% having been born in the United States.
Young was captured, imprisoned, and later died at Andersonville. These facts alone are not exceptional; at least 360,000 Union soldiers died in the war to halt the South’s secession and abolish slavery.
Heinrich Wirz was made a captain in the Confederate army, and commanded the Southern prison where Casper Young perished.
Casper Young and a total of 45,000 of his comrades suffered in the Georgia prison camp. Young was one of the 13,000 soldiers- – including 291 from Connecticut- -who died under Heinrich Wirz. All Union deaths at Andersonville were recorded by fellow prisoner Dorence Atwater of Terryville, Connecticut.
After he left Hartford, Heinrich (later known as Henry) Wirz traveled, moved to Louisiana, and practiced medicine. He was also the overseer of hundreds of slaves. He joined the Confederate Army at the start of the national conflict because, as he testified, “I was carried away by the maelstrom of of excitement.” Wirz was promoted to captain and then assigned to run Andersonville. He forced slaves to build the camp’s stockades and bury dead prisoners.
Another Union soldier imprisoned at Andersonville was Robert H. Kellogg of Wethersfield. Kellogg survived the camp and was later a witness at Henry Wirz’s court-martial trial. His daily journal (which he later published) recorded the disease, starvation and atrocities committed against the Union prisoners. Kellogg called Wirz a “cold blooded, cowardly, cruel fellow.”
Walt Whitman had an even more severe judgment. The poet, who served as a nurse during the war, wrote that while “there are deeds, crimes that may be forgiven, this is not one of them. [Andersonville] steeps its perpetrators in blackest, escapeless, endless damnation.”
After the South’s defeat, Heinrich Wirz was convicted of war crimes in a military court, based on the testimony of a hundred eyewitnesses, including some fellow Confederates. One former prisoner, J.H. Burns of Connecticut, testified he had seen Wirz order a guard to kill a captive.
He was hanged November 10, 1865. Confederate president Jefferson Davis called Wirz a “martyr” (Davis was an unindicted co-conspirator in the court martial). As late as 1981, a modern-day apologist for the Confederacy lamented that “Wirz was merely an unfortunate victim of circumstance.”
The Wirz case was closely followed and fiercely argued across the entire country. Advocates for Wirz and other Confederate leaders triggered the growth of the “Lost Cause,” so named because they could not admit defeat, nor could they own up to the horrors of the enslavement of millions of Black people.
Alt-right “historians” (see the pernicious Institute for Historical Review, which is also the world’s leading Holocaust denier) and groups such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) have spent the last one hundred years attempting to rehabilitate Heinrich Wirz, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Jefferson Davis, and many more as noble heroes. The monuments to their crimes are being taken down, one at a time.
An obelisk commissioned by the UDC was erected in the town center at Andersonville, a short distance away from the Andersonville Boy. According to Douglas Kirby , co-author of Roadside America, the Wirz memorial is the only U.S. monument to a war criminal.