Transforming Civil War Prisons: Lincoln, Lieber, and the Politics of Captivity, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Transforming Civil War Prisons

Lincoln, Lieber, and the Politics of Captivity, 1st Edition

By Paul J. Springer, Glenn Robins


184 pages

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During the Civil War, 410,000 people were held as prisoners of war on both sides. With resources strained by the unprecedented number of prisoners, conditions in overcrowded prison camps were dismal, and the death toll across Confederate and Union prisons reached 56,000 by the end of the war. In an attempt to improve prison conditions, President Lincoln issued General Orders 100, which would become the basis for future attempts to define the rights of prisoners, including the Geneva conventions. Meanwhile, stories of horrific prison experiences fueled political agendas on both sides, and would define the memory of the war, as each region worked aggressively to defend its prison record and to honor its own POWs.

Robins and Springer examine the experience, culture, and politics of captivity, including war crimes, disease, and the use of former prison sites as locations of historical memory. Transforming Civil War Prisons introduces students to an underappreciated yet crucial aspect of waging war and shows how the legacy of Civil War prisons remains with us today.


Transforming Civil War Prisons explains the historical context for Union and Confederate prison policies, and why neither side was prepared for the unprecedented number of captives this bloody war wrought. Included are informative discussions of the "Lieber Code," excerpts from prison diaries, and a useful overview of prison historiography. This is a valuable book for students of the war and historians seeking to delve deeper into this often overlooked topic.

—Lesley J. Gordon, author of The Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut’s Civil War

This slim volume affords a sweeping view of the many facets of Civil War prisons. Readers are introduced to prison policy, captive experiences, war memory, and historiography, while also illuminating the varieties of captivity. The primary source documents will be especially helpful to students who will be afforded first-hand material while being introduced to this controversial subject.

—Michael P. Gray, author of Business of Captivity: Elmira and its Civil War Prison

Table of Contents

1. Prisoner of War Policy and Practice. 2. The Captivity Experience. 3. The Culture of Captivity. 4. The Politics of Captivity. 5. Honoring Civil War Captives. 6. Civil War Prisons in History and Memory. Documents.

About the Authors

Paul J. Springer is Associate Professor of Comparative Military Studies at Air Command and Staff College. He is the author of America's Captives: The History of US Prisoner of War Policy.

Glenn Robins is Professor of History at Georgia Southwestern State University. He is the editor of They Have Left Us Here to Die: The Civil War POW Diary of Sgt. Lyle G. Adair, 111th US Colored Infantry.

About the Series

Critical Moments in American History

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General
HISTORY / Military / Other
HISTORY / United States / 19th Century
HISTORY / Modern / 19th Century