The premiere of this season’s “CSI: New York” last week gave me pause to think about one of the unsung heroes of the Civil War … Dorance Atwater and Andersonville Prison. In the CSI story, Gary Sinise has left the unit to work on identifying victims of 9/11 in order to provide closure to their families.
Dorance Atwater was born and raised in Terryville, Connecticut, and in 1861, probably lying about his age, enlisted in the Union army and joined the 2nd New York Calvary.
After being captured by the enemy on July 7, 1863, while carrying dispatches to General Kilpatrick, he was imprisoned first in Richmond before eventually being transferred to the notorious Rebel POW camp in Andersonville, Georgia.
The original 16.5 acre POW camp was meant to house ten thousand prisoners; however, by June 1864 there were over twenty thousand. By August there were over thirty-three thousand prisoners housed there. Words cannot describe the deplorable conditions the prisoners had to endure.
Since Atwater was detailed as a clerk to the surgeon and recorded all the daily deaths, he secretly maintained a record of the deaths and burial locations of many of his fellow soldiers.
Once the war ended, he attempted to have the lists printed by the Government Printing Office. At that time he had been discharged from the Army and enlisted in the General Service as a clerk. He was purported to have been paid $300 for the death list with a promise that it’d be returned to him after it had been copied by the Army.
The Army dragged its feet in copying, printing, and distributing the list to bring closure to some of the family members who had loved ones die at the prison. What the Army didn’t know was that he’d kept a secret copy of the list. Atwater took it upon himself to give the information to the New York Tribune where the names were published as a supplement to their newspaper. I actually purchased a copy of the list when I visited Andersonville, and it’s mind-bogging to say the least.
Dorance was arrested, court martialed and found guilty. He received a dishonorable discharge, a $300 fine and 18 months in prison. Through the help of the famous Civil War nurse and later founder of the American Red Cross, Clara Barton, he served only two months of the sentence. After his release he was made United States Counsel to the Seychelle Islands off the coast of Africa. This assignment was later changed to U.S. Counsel to Tahiti, were he married a Tahitian princess. He died in California in 1910.
Before he died, with the help of Clara Barton, they were able to properly mark and identify the many previously unknown graves at Andersonville Cemetery, no doubt bringing comfort and closure to many families up North.
Now you can see why the CSI episode brought Dorance Atwater to mind and the courage it took for him to make certain that many fallen soldier’s graves were identified and closure could come to their loved ones.
Yesterday was the release day for my, along with fellow Filly Linda Broday’s, newest anthology “A Texas Christmas.” In honor of the release I will give away signed copies to TWO lucky commenters today.