Key Point: The defense that he had only followed orders failed to absolve Wirz of guilt in the mind of the court and established a precedent for the trials, 80 years later, of Nazi war criminals who made the same claim at Nuremberg following World War II. Simply acting on orders, it was judged, does not relieve an individual of his larger responsibility to humanity.
The June 19, 1861, editorial in the Charleston Mercury newspaper warned: “War is bloody reality, not butterfly sporting. The sooner men understand this the better.” During the four-year course of the Civil War, the entire country—North and South—would come to the same grim realization. There were seemingly endless lists of thousands of soldiers killed or wounded in battle or dead of disease. Thousands more, both Union and Confederate, languished in prisoner of war camps, enduring hardships that previously it had been inconceivable for civilized people to inflict upon one another.