The notorious Confederate prison camp in Andersonville Georgia was literally Hell on earth for the Union prisoners. Starvation, disease, unruly guards and more often than not other prisoners made the experience one that stretched a man to his limits.
There was something else that played on the prisoners minds though. 17 feet in front of every wall of the prison was a line called the “deadline”. If you crossed the line, even accidentally, the guards would consider you as trying to escape and shoot you.
In the aftermath of the war the commanding officer of the prison camp, Henry Wirtz, stood trial for war crimes, one of the few men that did so after the war. During his trial, the term deadline was used enough and seen enough in the transcripts that the phrase entered common usage.
So the next time you find yourself “up against a deadline” just be glad you weren’t one of the unlucky men that found himself in that position in Andersonville.