Inside NGE

Fact Check: Was Wirz the Only Man Executed for War Crimes Committed during the Civil War?

New Georgia Encyclopedia editors continually update the resource in order to keep the encyclopedia's 2,200+ articles fresh and accurate. Here, they report on recent interesting changes.
When we first published our Andersonville Prison article, we claimed that Henry Wirz, a Swiss-born physician who took command of the Confederate prison in late 1864, was "the only man executed for war crimes committed during the Civil War." An encyclopedia user asked us to look into that claim, which is often cited as proof that the federal government unjustly scapegoated Wirz.
According to the National Park Service, we were wrong. Wirz, first of all, was not the only man executed for war crimes committed between 1861 and 1865. At the end of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, which raged from August to September 1862, more than 300 Sioux Indians were sentenced to death by a Union military tribunal for attacking and killing nearly 500 white settlers. U.S. president Abraham Lincoln eventually commuted most of the tribunal’s sentences, but 38 Sioux were hanged in December 1862. This remains the largest mass execution in U.S. history. These men were all executed for crimes committed "during the Civil War." 
Wirz was also not the only man executed for crimes committed in the American Civil War itself. Champ Ferguson, a Confederate guerrilla convicted by a Union military commission of killing at least fifty-three captured Union soldiers, and Robert Kennedy, a Confederate officer convicted of plotting to blow up New York landmarks, were both executed in 1865, though Kennedy was executed about two months before the end of the war.
Many men were executed for war crimes at the time of the Civil War. Some participated in the Civil War, like Ferguson and Kennedy, and some didn’t, like the Sioux. There were not many war crimes trials after the war—U.S. president Andrew Johnson ensured that when he banned military tribunals in April 1866—but there were more than one. Wirz was one of the few people executed for war crimes, not the only person executed for war crimes.
Given this evidence, we revised the article's fourth-to-last paragraph. Instead of claiming that Wirz was "the only man executed for war crimes committed during the Civil War," we now claim that he was "one of a few" Confederates to be executed for war crimes committed during the war. We added details about Wirz's trial in Washington, D.C., to the Andersonville article, and we updated our Macon County and The Andersonville Trial (Play) articles, which also made the "only man executed" claim.
Interested in suggesting your own revisions? Visit our Contact Us page. If you found our Andersonville article interesting, then you might also like our articles on Civil War Prisons, the Civil War in Georgia, and Civil War Cemeteries.
 
Posted by:
Got an idea for a post or article? Do you know something about Georgia history or have expertise you can write about? We'd love to hear from you!

Submit an Idea

NGE will read all submissions and we look forward to reading your ideas. Note these ideas will NOT appear as comments nor will they be made public. We may not be able to reply to all submissions.
close

Loading

From Our Home Page
Insects and Spiders

Insects and spiders are invertebrates that belong to the phylum Arthropoda, which also includes such animals as millipedes, lobsters, and crabs.

Read more...
Joseph Standing (1854-1879)

Mormon missionary Joseph Standing, an an elder of the

Read more...
Sandra Baker-Hinton
...

Read more...
Wally Butts (1905-1973)

James Wallace "Wally" Butts Jr.

Read more...
Courtesy of Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries