Andersonville Prison


A view of Georgia’s infamous Andersonville Prison based on the memory of a POW survivor.

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Between February of 1864 and April of 1865, nearly 45,000 Union soldiers made their way through the Confederate prisoner of war camp known as Andersonville Prison, or Camp Sumpter. Of these, almost 13,000 died due to starvation, exposure, and disease. Sanitation was horrible due to overcrowding, discipline was harsh, and food and clean water were severely lacking. Thomas O’Dea arrived at Andersonville in the summer of 1864, after being captured at the Battle of the Wilderness. He was imprisoned for about six months and the horrendous experience left an indelible impression on the 17-year-old boy.

Nearly fifteen years later, he saw an image commemorating Andersonville as a clean and orderly place, and, looking to remedy the misrepresentation, began his own drawing. Over the following six years, he sketched a large outline of the prison from memory. According to Rob Mellon of the Herald-Whig,

“Although he had never drawn before, he picked up the skill quickly and with an apparent natural talent sketched in pencil a detailed and accurate image of the prison from memory. He produced a 4.5’ x 9’ bird’s eye view of the site as he remembered it. O’Dea’s main image captured the despair, hunger, disease, and death at the camp. It is surrounded by 19 separate scenes including the modes of punishment, execution of raiders, the line of dead at the gate, and a shooting at the deadline.

The “dead line” was a demarcation inside the main stockade wall. It created a no-man’s land into which no Union prisoner was allowed to cross. Any prisoner even touching the “dead line” was shot without warning by Confederate guards who lined the stockade walls on platforms called “pigeon roosts.” Due to the extreme manpower shortages in the Confederate Army near the end of the war, the prison guards were often just young boys.

There were only two positive scenes in O’Dea’s sketch. One was an image of Providence Spring, a bubbling spring of freshwater revealed one night during a mighty thunderstorm when a bolt of lightning struck the ground. Providence Spring was a saving grace for many thirsty soldiers. The other image of hope was of Father Peter Whelan, known as “The Angel of Andersonville,” ministering to the prisoners. At the bottom right corner is a self-portrait of the artist, Thomas O’Dea.”

The view is one of the most realistic depictions of the horrors of Andersonville Prison, though it’s not without a political message. The scales of justice in the lower left are tipped in favor of those who ‘bought’ support for the war via war bonds, rather than those unfortunates wasting away as POWs. The empathy is extended to the message near the bottom of the page, ‘to the parents, widows, orphans, and friends, of those who perished in this prison, and to the remembering, survivors is this picture respectfully and fraternally dedicated.’

An incredible example of Civil War commemoration from the late 19th century, and a striking visualization of some of the horrors experienced by those who fought. Drawn by Thomas O’Dea between 1879 and 1885. Replicated by T.J. Landis and lithographed on stone by Henry Seibert and Brother in New York in 1885.


Map Details

Publication Date: 1885

Author: Thomas O'Dea

Sheet Width (in): 59.5

Sheet Height (in): 38.75

Condition: B

Condition Description: A lost cause has been professionally restored and mounted on linen for preservation and stability. The image remains heavily worn and scarred, with minor spots of image loss throughout. More moderate losses are visible in the margins (notably in the upper corners), though the outlines of each scene are evident and visible. A large damp stain can be seen in the lower left corner and other spots of varying discoloration are visible as well. Despite the issues, the view presents an aged patina that reflects the subject matter and any further deterioration will be halted due to the restoration.


1 in stock