Life and Death in Civil War Prisons: The Parallel Torments of Corporal John Wesly Minnich, C.S.A., and Sergeant Warren Lee Goss, U.S.A.

In This Review

Life and Death in Civil War Prisons: The Parallel Torments of Corporal John Wesly Minnich, C.S.A., and Sergeant Warren Lee Goss, U.S.A.

By J. Michael Martinez
Rutledge Hill, 2004
288 pp. $24.99
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At a time when Americans are coping with shocking revelations about the mistreatment of prisoners of war (POWs) at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, it is useful and informative to turn to Martinez's thoughtful and engaging account of conditions in Civil War prisons. By interspersing segments of the letters and narratives of two soldiers-one Union, one Confederate-with a broader account of POW issues as they developed during the war, Martinez provides an illuminating historical background for present problems. Poor training for guards, the high command's lack of attention to POW issues, poor facilities, the passions of war, and the horrors of prison life combined to create hellish conditions in both southern and northern prison camps. Martinez also reminds us of another painful truth: that the hatreds caused by mistreatment of prisoners are slow to heal. Fifty years after the end of the war, survivors of the camps (and the literary partisans of the two sides in the war) were still hurling venomous charges back and forth. The echoes of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib may be with us for a long time to come.