LESSON ON ECONOMIC SYSTEMS

ANDERSONVILLE PRISON:
AN ECONOMIC MICROCOSM

INTRODUCTION

All society must develop an economic system to answer the basic economic questions. While we usually identify economic systems with a country (the United States has a market oriented system; the former Soviet Union had a command system), it is also possible to identify an economic system at a micro level.

In this lesson students examine how a group of civil war prisoners developed an economic system within their camp, a system designed to allocate scarce resources.

CONCEPTS

OBJECTIVES

Students will be able to:

  1. Identify the condition of scarcity at Andersonville Prison
  2. Develop solutions to the problems of scarcity at Andersonville Prison
  3. Evaluate the effectiveness of economic systems in finding solutions to problems of scarcity

LESSON DESCRIPTION

The lesson gives students an opportunity to recognize the conditions faced by the prisoners of war at Andersonville during the Civil War. Students will join others to develop a method for providing the economic wants of the Andersonville prisoners through either a market or command economy. The activity helps the students to recognize how different economic systems can solve the same problems differently.

TIME REQUIRED

Two class periods


MATERIALS

Activity 1 "Andersonville Prison"

Activity 2 "Andersonville Economic Wants--Command Solutions"

Activity 3 "Andersonville Economic Wants--Market Solutions"

Activity 4 "Andersonville - What Really Happened"

Visual 1 "Economic Concepts"
Available at the end of this document, and also as a separate document.


PROCEDURE

1. Explain to the class that this lesson focuses on how prisoners at Andersonville, a Civil War prison for Union troops, developed an economic system to deal with the problems of scarcity. Distribute Activity 1 for students to read; check for comprehension after reading is complete. (Activity 1 could also be assigned as homework prior to lesson.)

2. Review with students the concepts pertaining to economic systems, command economy, market economy, and scarcity using Visual 1.

3. Tell students that they will be developing an economic system for this Civil War prison camp. To decide on a command or market economic system, they will need to refer to Activity 1. Their economic system should best provide the prisoners with food, clothing and shelter, and other basic human wants.

4. Distribute one of the six cards in Activities 2 and 3 to each student. Each card will indicate a want that the prisoners had at the prison camp. In the space provided, each student should propose a method for providing this want using the economic system indicated. Have students complete their cards individually.

5. Next have students with similar cards work together, i.e. all students with food/command system, etc., compare their solutions. There will be six groups to cover the three economic wants as provided by the two systems.

6. Once a solution has been developed for individual wants by the six groups, have each group report their solutions to the rest of the class. In their presentations be certain the representatives describe:

CLOSURE

Distribute Activity 4, ask students to read it, underlining those aspects of the Andersonville economy that reflect a command approach and circling those aspects that reflect a market approach. Have students share their ideas to extend their understanding of these two types of economic systems.

Pose this question: "Is it appropriate to label the Andersonville system as a market economy?" Have students discuss this in small groups. Help students understand that this economic system, like many contemporary economic systems, was a mixture of market and command economic systems.

ACTIVITY 1
ANDERSONVILLE PRISON

History: One of the realities of the Civil War was how to care for the thousands of prisoners taken by the North and South. Confederate forces captured 211,400 Union soldiers of which 30,208 died in prison camps. Andersonville, located in Georgia, was the largest of the camps established during the Civil War. During the fourteen months it existed, more than 45,000 Union soldiers were confined there. Of these, almost 13,000 died from disease, poor sanitation, malnutrition, overcrowding, or exposure to the elements. Handicapped by deteriorating economic conditions, an inadequate transportation system, and the need to concentrate all available resources on its army, the Confederate government was unable to provide adequate housing, food, clothing, and medical care to their captives.

Economic History: Because of the inability of the Confederates to provide the basic necessities of survival, all prisoners were faced with an acute shortage of food, shelter, clothing, water, and medical attention. In coping with this grim situation, soldiers turned to varying forms of economic activities to improve their situation. In doing so, the prisoners of war continually made choices on how to acquire the resources that were available. The result was that they organized their economic life to deal with the problems raised by an acute scarcity of goods and services. Successful economic behavior became the condition for survival. As with all societies, the prisoners of war engaged in various economic activities which included the producing, exchanging, and consuming of goods and services.

ACTIVITY 2
ANDERSONVILLE ECONOMIC WANTS
COMMAND SOLUTIONS
FOOD

The only basic necessity Confederate authorities provided for was food. Official rations, however, were grossly inadequate. As prisoner numbers grew, the quality and quantity of rations grew poorer and poorer. Dirty black pea soup, a small supply of hardtack, and a two-inch square of cornbread were a typical daily ration. There were days in which no rations at all were distributed. Often, available rations were uncooked and the prisoners had to cook for themselves.

COMMAND SOLUTION
SHELTER

The prison pen covered 26.5 acres of land enclosed by a 15 foot-high stockade with dimensions 1,620' by 779'. As many as 33,000 men were contained in this area. This gave each prisoner an area of only 4 square yards. Many hundreds of prisoners were without shelter of any kind to protect them from rain, sun, heat, or cold. With the sky for a roof, the discomfort and suffering caused by a lack of shelter was terrible.

COMMAND SOLUTION
CLOTHING

Inadequate clothing added to the discomfort of the Andersonville inmates. Prisoners who needed clothing could expect no help from their captors who could not even adequately clothe their own Confederate army. Extremely dirty, tattered, or no clothing at all was common among the prisoners.

COMMAND SOLUTION
Cut into three separate cards.

ACTIVITY 3
ANDERSONVILLE ECONOMIC WANTS
MARKET SOLUTIONS
FOOD

The only basic necessity Confederate authorities provided was food. Official rations, however, were grossly inadequate. As prisoner numbers grew, the quality and quantity of rations grew poorer and poorer. Dirty black pea soup, a small supply of hardtack, and a two-inch square of cornbread were a typical daily ration. There were days in which no rations were distributed. Often, available rations were uncooked and the prisoners had to cook for themselves.

MARKET SOLUTIONS
SHELTER

The prison pen covered 26.5 acres of land enclosed by a 15 foot-high stockade. Dimensions of 1,620' by 779' were forced to house as much as 32.000 men. This gave each prisoner an area of only 4 square yards. Many hundreds of prisoners were without shelter of any kind to protect them from rain, sun, heat, or cold. With the sky for a roof, the discomfort and suffering caused by a lack of shelter was terrible.

MARKET SOLUTIONS
CLOTHING

Inadequate clothing added to the discomfort of the Andersonville inmates. Prisoners who needed clothing could expect no help from their captors who could not even adequately clothe their own Confederate army. Extremely dirty, tattered, or no clothing at all was common among the prisoners.

MARKET SOLUTIONS
Cut into three separate cards

ACTIVITY 4
ANDERSONVILLE--WHAT REALLY HAPPENED

The rations provided by the Confederacy were not the only resources made available to the prisoners. Goods and money flowed into the stockade from newly captured prisoners, local civilians, and guards looking to make a profit. It was by these methods that inmates, whose daily rations were at best meager, were able to add to their diet. Food, clothing and supplies were traded with guards, or local patrons. With the availability of these limited resources, all that remained was a system for the division of these goods among the population.

Inside the Andersonville prison, a group of prisoners called the Raiders banded together to improve their situation by preying on fellow prisoners. By operating in large groups, the Raiders were able to steal food, money, clothing and property by force. Prison authorities did nothing to stop the Raiders from attacking fellow inmates. New prisoners with good clothes, blankets, jewelry, and money were the favorite prey of the thieves. After selecting a victim, they would seize his possessions, club any friends who tried to assist him, and flee. One new shipment of 2000 new prisoners were dressed in new uniforms and carried well-filled knapsacks and large sums of money. Kindly appearing men would offer to show newcomers where they could sleep. Then during the night, they would come back and rob them.

Finally, in July of 1864, a group of prisoners known as the 'Regulators' banded together to oppose the Raiders. The Raiders were rounded up and held captive with the commanderís permission. They were then put on trial for their deeds and six who were identified as the ring-leaders were hung. The Regulators continued to patrol the camp and, according to many, adopted some of the plundering mannerisms of the Raiders.

Like most cities (Andersonville was the fifth largest "city" in the Confederacy), it included a host of tradesmen and merchants. There were representatives of many occupations. Barbers and laundries flourished. There were dentists, doctors, watchmakers, bakers, tailors, and many a cobbler repairing rotting shoes.

Prisoners who had money could buy almost anything imaginable to eat. James Selman's shanty periodically offered cucumbers, watermelons, muskmelons, onions, and potatoes. Selman's prices were high because he paid enormous premiums to the farmers and women who brought their produce and baked goods to the camp. (He still made a profit). Selmans' sutlery, was only the most obvious of several grocery alternatives. Over 200 small businesses operated on Market Street inside of the stockade. Full time vendors cried out "who wants wood?", and "Here goes a bully dress coat, only $4."

VISUAL 1
ECONOMIC CONCEPTS

Economic System: a collection of laws, institutions and,
activities, that provide a framework for
economic decision-making

Command Economy: economic decision-making is made
largely by a government authority

Market Economy: economic decision-making is made by
individuals in the marketplace that reflects
supply and demand

Scarcity: limited quantities of resources that are never
enough to satisfy human wants