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Theatre / The Andersonville Trial

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Poster for the 1970 movie version.

The Andersonville Trial is a 1959 play based on the 1865 trial of Captain Henry Wirz on conspiracy and murder charges. During the trial, Colonel Norton P. Chipman and Otis Baker duked it out in court with Wirz's fate on the line, and ultimately the issue of Just Following Orders is brought up.

A television adaptation was produced as the pilot episode of KCET's Hollywood Television Theatre in 1970, directed by George C. Scott (who portrayed Chipman in the original production) and starring William Shatner as Chipman, Jack Cassidy as Baker, Richard Basehart as Wirz, Cameron Mitchell as General Lew Wallace, and Buddy Ebsen as a witness describing the horrors to which Andersonville's prisoners were subjected.

See also MacKinlay Kantor's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Andersonville.

This play features examples of:

  • Armor-Piercing Question: During a recess in the trial, Baker confronted Chipman with the possibility of his being a puppet of a higher mortal power, not very much unlike Wirz. Chipman does not take it well.
  • Berserk Button: Don't compare Chipman to Wirz.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The play ends with Wirz being sentenced to hang after being convicted of all charges save for a single specification of murder.
  • Hero Protagonist: Chipman is determined to send a Confederate war criminal to the gallows.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Baker outright tells Chipman that unless he can get the moral issues of Wirz's administration of Andersonville admitted in court, he would be no different than Wirz.
  • Precision F-Strike: Chipman gets one upon Baker comparing him to Wirz.
    Chipman: God damn you...!
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: General Wallace is as patient and accommodating as he can be in the midst of everything going on, from Wirz's medical condition to even the theatrics going on between Chipman and Baker.
  • Skewed Priorities: Chipman accuses Wirz of this during the climax—specifically, that Wirz was still thinking with a military mindset when human beings captured by the Confederacy were at his mercy.
    Wirz: As I have said—as I say for the last time—it was, to me, a military situation.
    Chipman: But that was not a military situation; those helpless, unarmed men were no longer the enemy, no matter what Winder said. This was no longer a question of North or South, a question of war, but a question of human beings.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: General Sherman's march through and destruction of Atlanta only exacerbated the problems at Andersonville, as Wirz testified during the climax, in which he takes the stand.