How to Sketch a Terrible Place: A Union POW's Hand-Drawn Map of Andersonville Prison

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Sept. 23 2013 1:00 PM

How to Sketch a Terrible Place: A Union POW's Hand-Drawn Map of Andersonville Prison

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This sketch, drawn by Robert Knox Sneden, a Union mapmaker who spent 13 months as a Confederate prisoner, depicts the layout of the notorious Andersonville Prison in Georgia in April 1864.

Sneden, a Canadian, enrolled in the 40th New York Infantry Regiment in 1861 and eventually served as mapmaker for three generals. Throughout his service, he sketched the events he witnessed; when he was discharged in 1864, he used his notes to compile a 5,000-page memoir, containing upwards of 1,000 illustrations and maps. (The Virginia Historical Society acquired this work in 1994; the Library of Congress offers digitized versions of 300 of its pages.) 

Andersonville, built in Macon County, Ga., in February 1864, remained open for 14 months. Initially built for 10,000 prisoners, it eventually housed 30,000 at a time, penned up in a 16-acre stockade with a creek running through it. The prisoners were underfed, and the sanitation was minimal. Of 45,000 soldiers imprisoned at the site during its use, 13,000 died.

The conditions at Andersonville make Sneden’s production of this map all the more impressive. This is a rough sketch of the place, made just two months after his arrival. Sneden recorded such scanty information as he could glean about the numbers of rebel troops stationed around the camp, noted features of the surrounding terrain, and showed how the prisoners arranged themselves within the stockade.

Sneden apparently made other maps of the area around Andersonville and sold them to prisoners bent on escaping, and some details on this map—the placement of troops and guards—could have been helpful in the same pursuit.

Sneden himself left Andersonville as a transfer in September 1864. He was set free in a prisoner-of-war exchange in December and discharged in early 1865.

Andersonville

Virginia Historical Society viaLibrary of Congress.