On this day in 1863 the Union and Confederate armies quit exchanging prisoners. How to explain the significance? Imagine a small cocktail party in which John H. Winder, the cantankerous old commander of Richmond‘s prisons, serves as host. While the exchange cartel is in place, the party goes along swell, with guests coming and going. There are no bacon-covered dates or anything fancy like that, but what there is proves to be adequate. Or if not adequate, then … well … the guests aren’t dying in droves. Let’s put it that way.
But then the Union high command calls it off. (Why? That’s another story; suffice to say that historians disagree and have proffered motives ranging from saintly to cynical.) The point is, now nobody leaves Winder’s shindig—but more and more guests keep coming. It’s awful. The Wisconsin boys drink all the beer and the New Yorkers, of course, scarf down all the pretzels until, in disgust, Confederate president Jefferson Davis sends them all south to Georgia.
Winder tagged along, too, but he was lucky enough to die of a massive heart attack a few months prior to Appomattox. By then the party was over, and had he lived, he likely would have hanged.
The last thing he remembered was running toward the door. “Relax,” said the night man …
IMAGE: Drawing of Andersonville by one of its survivors, Private Thomas O’Dea, Company E, 16th Maine