Near the end of the American Civil War, the Confederate government ordered the construction of a camp near Andersonville, GA to house captured Union soldiers. Conditions at the camp were harsh. Overcrowding, lack of food, and poor sanitation led to the deaths of thousands of prisoners. The prison had no roof, exposing the prisoners to extreme elements, and lacked fresh water and toilets. Tens of thousands of prisoners crowded into a compound designed for a fraction of that number. Nearly a third of those incarcerated at Andersonville died in captivity.

MacKinlay Kantor's 1955 novel "Andersonville" tells the story of this camp and the people associated with it.

Kantor took some of his characters from history. Camp Commander Henry Wirz was never able to manage the prison effectively. Prisoner William Collins repeatedly stole from fellow prisoners for his own benefit. Confederate guards hanged Collins; Wirz was arrested, convicted of war crimes, and executed after the war. He created fictional characters to represent the tens of thousands who lived, suffered, and sometimes died under the horrific conditions, as well as those surrounding the camp.

The novel follows the camp, its prisoners, its management, and those affected by Andersonville through the end of the Civil War. We see the inhumane conditions suffered by the prisoners. We experience the prejudices that ordinary people use to rationalize their hatred against Blacks, Yankees, Jews, Catholics, and others. But not everyone we meet is consumed with hate. Landowner Ira Claffey fights unsuccessfully for better conditions for the prisoners. He retains at least some of his humanity despite the Confederacy taking his land to build the prison and the Union Army killing his three sons in battle. And a one-legged southerner assists a one-armed escaped POW at the end of the war.

The sheer number of characters sometimes makes the story difficult to follow. One never knows when we meet someone if they will be significant later in the book. I found it challenging to keep them all straight. No central character dominates the story. The prison serves as the center, and all action revolves around it.

This book is not for the faint of heart. It describes suffering and cruelty in detail. Kantor provides detailed descriptions of the disease, abuse, and starvation suffered by those imprisoned at Andersonville.

If you seek a depiction of the horrors and savagery of war, this book is for you.