(Kathy’s A to Z blog posts are tidbits of fact gleaned from her research for her historical fiction novel LIKE A RIVER.)
To prevent prisoners from attempting to escape from Andersonville Prison, a “dead line” was erected. Stakes were driven parallel to the stockade wall and about fifteen feet inside it. Eventually, these stakes were connected with scantling run across the tops of them. This formed a flimsy fence, which couldn’t physically hold a man in. But the men were informed that crossing the dead line would mean being shot.
This discouraged prisoners from getting close enough to rush the walls or tunnel under it. (Although many tunnels were dug in the Georgia clay anyway, escapes were few.)
Guards in “pigeon roosts” atop the wall were prepared to enforce the dead line. And a number of documented cases tell of prisoners whose lives ended because they crossed or ventured too close to the line. Others, who could no longer bear the hardships of the prison, crossed it to end their suffering.