War Crimes Honored: A found poem

War Crimes Honored

The camp,
Holding 32,000 Union soldiers—
The fifth largest city in the Confederacy—
Was dire.

The prisoners,
Never issued clothing,
Wore their uniforms until the pieces fell off,
Lived in holes they dug in the ground.
One reportedly used a pocket knife
To amputate his own gangrenous feet.
The death toll reached 13,000.

The man who presided over their deaths,
Captain Henry Wirz,
Was put on trial for war crimes.

Stories began flooding the Northern newspapers:
Photographs of survivors starved into living skeletons,
Like nothing the world had seen before,
And would not see again
Until the end of World War II.

Wirz was found guilty of
Cruelty,
Shooting,
Beating,
Turning dogs loose on prisoners,
Such nameless blasphemy and ribald jest,
As to exhibit him rather as a demon than a man.

So why erect a monument to a demon?

To recast him as a martyr.
To rescue his name from the stigma attached to it

By embittered prejudice.


Poem found in “Weekend Read: Executed for committing war crimes—then honored with a Confederate monument,” Southern Poverty Law Center, June 8, 2018

Janni Lee Simner

About Janni Lee Simner

Janni Lee Simner is the author of the post-apocalyptic Bones of Faerie trilogy and the contemporary fantasy Thief Eyes, as well as four books for younger children, more than 30 short stories, and the script for the video game The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse. Check out her Writing Life Series for practical tools to hone your writing craft and unlock your creative power or join her email list for ongoing updates here.
Tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply