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|The US Civil War was anything but civil
from a prisoner of war point of view. Both union and
confederate POW camps were attrotious places to stay, and
served more often than not as graves rather than as
prison camps. In the Confederate South one prison camp
known as Andersonville served as a home for thousands of
union soldiers. In just a few years time 12,912 people
had died in this camp. The movie is about this most
infamous of Civil War POW camps.
The movie begins with a group of Union soldiers being ambushed and forced to surrender. They are marched to Andersonville. As they first arrive they discover an old friend they once knew, named Dick Potter. He tells them how things are, and instructs them to not drink the water from the lake as its contaminated; rain water is the only safe drinking water he states. Further he states the dangers of a rogue group of Union Soldiers that goes around in search of "fresh fish" or newly captured soldiers to victimize and steal from. More vicious than the rebel soldiers, these comrades prove to be the most deadly danger of this camp. Rebel forces run low, so children are used as guards.
In one watch tower two child guards, stand alert. A Union soldier offers them money for some corn. He is instructed to step over the fence and approach; this contradicts rules of the camp that forbid any approach even near this line. But reluctantly the soldier steps over the line, and the youthful rebel soldiers shoot him dead. One hollars to his superior "I warned him lieutienat," in a most spiteful tone.
As the story unfolds some union soldiers ally with the band captured at the beginning of the film, and begin work on a tunnel under the walls to freedom. Eventually the tunnel is complete, one man threatened to tell of its location. He was stopped and marked TT (for tunnel traitor) in blood on his face so everyone would know. As the escape is attempted all goes well until the last man stands up and moves slowly. He is soon spotted, and the guards and dogs are unleashed. In a very short time, the soldiers are back in the camp. This time in the stockade. But ultimately punishment ends and life goes on.
The situation with the rogue union soldiers becomes unbearable. After a musical instrument is stolen one man goes to get it back and fights a man to get it. Things progressively get worse until one scene when new recruits arrive and one man named Jim decides he has seen enough. These "vultures out to rob and murder the new boys." would not strike again. He looks around the camp yelling "WHO, WHO, WHO'S WITH ME." Everyone knew what he referred to and within minutes hundreds of his fellow comrades were running with him towards the area where the rogue union soldiers slept. A hell of a fight ensued, the confederate soldiers just watched as they were powerless to stop it.
In the end the evil union soldiers are caught. Many want them all hanged out right. But upon the insistance of a few, a request for a trial is given to the Confederate commander of the prison camp. A trial ensues, conducted fairly but which ultimately resulted in the ring leaders of this gang being found guilty and sentenced to hanging. Incidentally this incredible scene had to be reshot in its entirety because the film for the scene was actually lost. A reward was even offered up by the studio for this missing film at the time. After the death of the troublesome "inmates" life became peaceful, but the cold reality of starvation began to set in.
As the film ends an announcement is made that all the soldiers are free. They are offered transport via a train to wherever they wish. In reality the trains transported the men to another POW camp. This film truly captures the history of Andersonville and the struggles of the 12,912 men who died there. Only one man was condemned to death for war crimes as a result of the Civil War and that man was the commander of the Andersonville POW camp, Wirtz. The one thing that really sticks out about this film is the big battle scene between the union soldiers in the camp. This was made as a Turner Films original as was the incredible Gettysburg saga.
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