During the U.S. Civil War, the Andersonville Prison in Andersonville, Georgia was a source of cruelty. In this Confederate prison camp Union soldiers were dying of disease, malnutrition, and execution. 13,000 out of 50,000 prisoners died of malnutrition and disease . That number accounts for about two percent of the deaths within the entire Civil War. One of the prisoners of the Andersonville Prison, John L. Ransom, was a Quartermaster Sergeant for the 9th Michigan cavalry regiment . He was taken prisoner in 1863 when the regiment was “split into two smaller forces in east Tennessee” . Many of the regiment were taken captive, and placed into the 16 acre, Andersonville Prison, formerly known as Camp Sumter . Ransom wrote a journal, published in 1881, on his experiences while captive . In order to do this he traded favors for pencil and paper . When publishing the journal, it was supplemented with a list of the dead. This list was able to be created because of a prisoner stealing copies of the death logs .
Ransom discusses the politics, and attitudes of other prisoners within his diary. In fact, the camp had a mock election, in which Ransom voted for McClellan . This can be attributed to Ransom’s feeling of abandonment due to the Union ceasing its exchanges for prisoners, as well as his political alignment . In addition to analyzing the politics of the prisoners, he comments on the effect of Sherman’s March to the Sea campaign on the Confederates within Georgia . The campaign results in the relocation of prisoners, but this move allowed Ransom and others to escape to freedom . The commandant of the prison, Captain Henry Wirtz, was found guilty of cruelty and executed on November 10th, 1886 .
Ransom was prisoner for 14 months, and credits part of his survival to his diary . Ransom escapes and goes on the live until 1919. He dies in Pasadena . But, the war department spelled his last name wrong, “Ranson” on his headstone . Thus, ironically even though Ransom himself was organized, his gravestone has a typo .
Even though Ransom claims his diary is truthful within the first paragraphs of this journal introduction, there are still individuals who have a suspicion that much of his diary was created to satisfy the pension department . This suspicion is argued through the underestimation and over estimation of the number of people within the camp, and the unlikelihood of the correct diagnosis of scurvy and the time that Ransom began to complain of it . Throughout the journal Ransom is either overestimating or extremely underestimating the number of people within the prison . This is shown by the comparison of his numbers to other firsthand accounts of the prison. Ransom also begins to complain of scurvy in May according to his journal, however scurvy does not usually occur until about July .
Though there are many different viewpoints as to when the journal entries were actually written, Ransom’s journal is still a widely used source for historical understanding of how far individuals will go for what they believe in. Thus, the significance of Ransom’s writing, whether it be false or not, will be argued using Ransom’s diary and other sources. Ransom’s diary is important to history because it provides information on the Andersonville Prison that may not have been known otherwise, and it provides an overall picture of the Anderson Prison.
The Ransom’s Andersonville Diary provides a personal accounting of one of the cruelest Confederate Prisons run during the Civil War. The extent of the cruelty is easily understood though the reading of Ransom’s diary. The diary included an accounting of how many prisoners died and also gave a list of names of the individuals who died. If Ransom did not keep this type of list, the number of individuals who died during his time at the prison would not be known. An example of this list is quoted below.
“7524 Barton Wm 1Cav L Sept 1 64
2111 Berry J M, S’t “ A May 17” 
The list is comprised of the full name, Co., Regt, date of death, and grave number for each individual. The individual were organized by state as well. This list was accurate as one of the prisoners working with the death reports was stealing the information for Ransom. This accounting allows historians to have a better understanding of who arrived at the prison and who ended up dying there. This list was probably also helpful for the families of the departed as they will know what happened to their loved one and where they are buried.
According to Bill Lowe, Ransom did a great service to historical records:
“He did a tremendous service to veterans and to history with the work that he did,” said Summit Township’s Bill Lowe, a member of the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War and an expert on Jackson’s role in the war. “A lot of the details of Andersonville would never have been known if he hadn’t done what he did.” 
Ransom’s diary provided information that was important to the veteran’s of the Civil War and other future wars by providing the details that he did within it. Ransom’s diary is historically important due to its factual accounting that may not have been obtained if the diary were not written.
The Andersonville Diary is not only important to history, it is also important to psychology. Leon Patenburg wrote an article on the importance of the diary to the understanding of psychological survival. Patenburg states that Ransom’s diary is a modern survival guide . This is shown through the soldier’s creation of “messes” a rough organized military structure. Ransom’s mess established regulations that were to be upheld.
“In our mess, we have established regulations, and any one not conforming with the rules is to be turned out of the tent. Must take plenty of exercise, keep clean, free as circumstances will permit of vermin, drink no water until it is boiled, which process purifies and makes it more healthy, are not to allow ourselves to get despondent, and must talk, laugh and make as light of our affairs as possible. Sure death for a person to give up and lose all ambition.” 
Sanitation within the camp was imperative to survival. Ransom had believed that many who were dying would have lived if they had adopted the regulations established by his mess. But, Patenburg states, “…the attitude that got Ransom through his captivity was one of optimism” . Ransom’s positivity kept him from drifting into depression and from essentially losing his mind like other prisoners.
John L. Ransom’s Andersonville Diary is important to history and to other fields of study through its accurate accounting of the prison’s conditions and the list of the departed. Without truly understanding the importance of his diary beyond protecting his own sanity, Ransom created a critical historical piece.
- Marvel, William. “Johnny Ransom’s Imagination”. Civil War History, vol. 41, no. 3, 1995, pp. 181-189. Accessed 7 Dec. 2017
- Ransom, John L. “John Ransom’s Andersonville Diary“, Aburn, 1881, New York. Accessed 7 Dec. 2017
- Smith, Nick. “John Ransom: An Organized Man”. Pasadena Museum of History. 2015. Accessed 7 Dec. 2017
- Norcott-Mahany, Bernard. “John Ransom’s Andersonville Diary”. Kansas City Public Library. 2011. Accessed 7 Dec. 2017
- Simkin, John. “John L. Ransom”. Spartacus Educational Publishers Ltd. 2014. Accessed 7 Dec. 2017
- Smith, Leanne. “Peek Through Time: Jackson native and Civil War Prisoner John L. Ransom’s “John Ransom’s Andersonville Diary” is an acclaimed piece of Civil War literature”. MLive. 2011. Accessed 7 Dec. 2017
- Patenburg, Leon. “Civil War Andersonville Diary provides modern survival guide”. Survival Common Sense. 2017. Accessed 7 Dec. 2017.
- Futch, Ovid L. History of Andersonville Prison. University Press of Florida, 2011.
- Catton, Bruce. Prison Camps of the Civil War. American Heritage Publishing Company, Incorporated, 1959. Accessed 7 Dec. 2017
- Robins, Glenn M. “Race, Repatriation, and Galvanized Rebels:Union Prisoners and the Exchange Question in Deep South Prison Camps”. The Kent State University Press, 2007. Accessed 7 Dec. 2017