Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 442
Andersonville by Mackinlay Kantor tells the story of the notorious Andersonville prisoner-of-war camp built in Georgia in 1863 to house the Confederacy's prisoners during the American Civil War. This camp was overcrowded and full of disease, and some of the most important quotes in the book relate to the camp's poor conditions and the drastic measures prisoners took to survive.
From the beginning, the author makes a point of describing the Georgian climate as harsh—perhaps a poorly chosen place to build a prisoner-of-war camp.
Often in early December the north wind beats thinly, steadily across the hillocks of Georgia; it comes like a sickle cutting unseen but felt, and the edge is rawly mean.
When the prison is finally built for the "damn Yankees," Howell Cobb tries to think of a synonym to describe it.
Had he not a synonym for the cartouche of verbiage? What did you call a prisoner except a prisoner? What did you call a prison except a prison? Might you term Andersonville anything other than Andersonville? Call it mire, muck, sink, morass, dump, dung, cesspool, chamber pot, hog-wallow, cow-pie? Somewhere there must be proper synonyms.
As food begins to run short, prisoners start to find all sorts of ways to feed themselves. Some prisoners eat their own feces, and others diet on raw animals and birds.
He was trying to batter the birds with his jacket, trying to swaddle them with the cloth; even as Eben looked the man swaddled one. He wadded the garment around the bird, made a ball of it, he killed the swallow by crushing the jacket-wad beneath his feet. Then he sank down on his knees and when he arose half a minute later with a grin on his hairy face there was bright blood on his chin.
Most prefer to die insane instead of having to die with their faculties still intact.
This was a rich and beautiful way in which to die. For he had no recognition of pain, stench, wail or ordure. He dwelt in an established past which was as good to his demented soul as was the cold compress to the feverish, the oven-baked to the chilled. He dwelt in that content without chronology, he needed none.
When the Union soldiers finally arrive at the camp to liberate the prisoners, they find a "gigantic mass of human misery."
He looked down and saw a crowded mass of filthy skeletons, young and old-most of them were young skeletons-with blackened hide drawn tight, hide still trying to cover the bones and not always succeeding, for some of the bones had broken through the hide, and were oozing and raw.