From the shooting of an unarmed prisoner at Montgomery, Alabama, to a successful escape from Belle Isle, from the swelling floodwaters overtaking Cahaba Prison to the inferno that finally engulfed Andersonville, A Perfect Picture of Hell is a collection of harrowing narratives by soldiers from the 12th Iowa Infantry who survived imprisonment in the South during the Civil War.

Editors Ted Genoways and Hugh Genoways have collected the soldiers' startling accounts from diaries, letters, speeches, newspaper articles, and remembrances. Arranged chronologically, the eyewitness descriptions of the battles of Shiloh, Corinth, Jackson, and Tupelo, together with accompanying accounts of nearly every famous Confederate prison, create a shared vision

An acquisitions editor at the Minnesota Historical Society Press, Ted Genoways is the founder and former editor of the literary journal Meridian and the editor or author of several books, including the forthcoming In the Trenches: Soldier-Poets of the First World War. Hugh Genoways serves as chair and professor of the Museum Studies Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“The POW experience in the Civil War has captured less attention than the exciting narratives of marches and battles. This anthology of letters, diaries, and memoirs by men of the 12th Iowa who had the misfortune to become prisoners will help redress that romanticized imbalance and thereby deepen our understanding of the war.”—James M. McPherson, author of For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War
“Although a cursory glance might give the impression A Perfect Picture of Hell is principally a history of the 12th Iowa Regiment, in truth it is much more and deserves a wide readership. Members of this regiment were captured on four different occasions and, consequently, held at a wide range of locations throughout the South. Meticulous research by Ted Genoways and Hugh H. Genoways has uncovered and preserved many of their personal accounts, presenting a richly detailed, vivid portrait of their experiences in the Civil War's military prisons.”—Lonnie R. Speer, author of Portals to Hell: The Military Prisons of the Civil War
“Editors Ted and Hugh Genoways have brought together the stories of roughly twenty men—captured variously at Shiloh, Corinth, Jackson, and Tupelo—into a moving and informative collection…While the stories of the prisoners in A Perfect Picture of Hell speak eloquently for themselves, they are enhanced by the editors' prologue and other introductory materials, which set both the experiences of the regiment as a whole and the individual authors in context. This anthology, though of obvious value to those interested in the 12th Iowa, is much more than a regimental history. These men's prison experiences speak for those of thousands of other soldiers who served and suffered. As such, this book is a valuable contribution to the literature on Confederate prisons as a whole.”—The Journal of Southern History
“ … an unfailingly fascinating account of the deprivation, maltreatment, and brutality that characterized life in southern prison camps. Insightful and at times heart-wrenching A Perfect Picture of Hell will appeal to anyone with an interest in this aspect of the Civil War.”—Ethan S. Rafuse, Civil War Book Review
“‘A morsel of genuine history,’ wrote Thomas Jefferson, is ‘a thing so rare as to be always valuable.’ A Perfect Picture of Hell is both a morsel of genuine history and a valuable addition to the literature of the Civil War.”—The Civil War News



Editors’ Note


Captured at Shiloh, April 6, 1862

Eyewitness Account

-John H. Stibbs, Company D, Account of Surrender at Shiloh

Prison Accounts: Enlisted Men

-Charles L. Sumbardo, Company I, Incidents of Prison Life

-George Erwin Comstock, Company C, Reminiscences of S.C. Beck in Prison Life

-Seth Jones Crowhurst, Company E, Reminiscences of a Union Soldier, Letter: October 24, 1862, and Letter: November 5, 1862

-Bryon P. Zuver, Company D, Prisoner of War

Prison Accounts: Lieutenants

-Luther W. Jackson, Company H, A Prison Diary

-John W. Gift, Company F, Speech Delivered in Delhi, Iowa, November 1862

-Joseph B. Dorr, Company I, Journal of My Imprisonment in the Rebellion, Letter: June 11, 1862, and Letter: July 16, 1862

Prison Accounts: Officers

-John H. Stibbs, Company D, An Account of Southern Prisons, An Open Letter

-Edward M. Van Duzee, Company I, Incidents of Prison Life in 1862

William W. Warner, Company C, Letter: April 29, 1862, May 23, 1862, May 28, 1862, and June 13, 1862

Release and Parole

-Erastus B. Soper, Company D, Paroled Prisoners from Macon, Georgia, to St. Louis

Captured at Cornith, October 3, 1862

Eyewitness Account

-Erastus B. Soper, Company D, Excerpts from the “History of Company D, 12th Iowa”

Prison Account

-Allen M. Blanchard, Company D, Reminiscences of the Capture and Detention of Allen M. Blanchard, as a Prisoner of War

Captured at Jackson, July 11, 1863

Prison Account

-George Erwin Comstock, Company D, A Prison Diary

Captured at Tupelo, July 13 and 15, 1864

Eyewitness Accounts

-Frederick Humphrey, Chaplain, The 12th Iowa at the Battle of Tupelo: Letter from an Eye Witness

-William L. Henderson, Company C, Letter: July 21, 1864

Prison Accounts

-Edwin A. Buttolph, Company D, Reminiscences of the Second Capture of Edwin A. Buttolph on July 13, 1864, and His Detention in Rebel Prisons: Prepared by Himself

-John De Vine, Company I, An Account of Castle Morgan, Cahaba

-J. Warren Cotes, Company I, A Brief Account of the Experience in Captivity of the Men Captured at Tupelo, July 15th, 1864, An Open Letter


-John H. Stibbs, Andersonville and the Trial of Henry Wirz

Biographies of Individuals Mentioned in the Accounts


Literature Cited


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Publication Details

Publication Date
356 pages
9 photos, 5 drawings, 5 maps, bibliography, index