Andersonville (film)

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Directed by John Frankenheimer
Produced by Diane Batson-Smith (co-producer) (as Diane Smith)
John Frankenheimer (executive producer)
David W. Rintels (producer)
Lansing L. Smith (producer)
Ethel Winant (executive producer)
Written by David W. Rintels
Starring Jarrod Emick
Frederic Forrest
Ted Marcoux
Music by Gary Chang
Cinematography Ric Waite[1]
Edited by Paul Rubell
Distributed by Turner Pictures
Release dates March 3, 1996
Running time 167 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Andersonville is an 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. His line on escaping prisoners is very similar to the book, "The Flying Dutchman [Wirz] offers to give two at a time twelve hours the start".[2]


The film begins with a group of Union soldiers being captured and forced to surrender at Cold Harbor, 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 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.

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 very young rebel soldiers 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 fellow comrades are charging the Raider's camp. A massive and deadly fight 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 takes its 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.[3]

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.

Historical accuracy[edit]

One inaccuracy of the film is the spontaneous uprising that overthrows the Raiders within minutes and results in them being brought to justice. In reality an internal police made up of other prisoners called the Regulators had been formed with Wirz's permission and had arrested the majority of the Raiders several days before they were tried.



The program 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.[1]


  1. ^ a b "Cinematographer Ric Waite dies, Shot 'Footloose,' '48 Hrs.,' won Emmy". Variety. 2012-02-21. Retrieved 2012-02-29. 
  2. ^ Ransom, John L.; Catton, Bruce (May 1994). Andersonville Diary: Life Inside the Civil War's Most Infamous Prison. Berkley Trade. p. 71. ISBN 0-425-14146-2. 
  3. ^

External links[edit]

See also the novels Hiram's Honor and Hiram's Hope by Max Terman.