A Day at Andersonville

Last Monday, November 14, 2011, I went to Andersonville National Historic Site, which includes the National Prisoner of War museum, the prison site, and National Cemetery…a trip I highly recommend for everyone. What started as a research trip for my 3rd novel turned into so much more—a memory I’ll never forget.

Our timing was perfect, arriving moments before the 30-minute video was about to start—a must see BEFORE you tour the prison site otherwise the full impact will be diminished.

For those of you not familiar with Andersonville, it is the site of a Confederate Army prisoner of war camp called Camp Sumter. The film shows hundreds of actual photos from the camp’s occupation and the living (and many times dying) conditions of daily life within the confines of the prison.

In the 14 months of its existence as a prison camp, more than 45,000 Union soldiers were held captive of which 13,000 died from disease, malnutrition, and exposure. The camp covered 26 ½ acres and was surrounded by a 15-foot high stockade fence.

As I walked across the site, it was easy to recall the photos I’d just seen and imagine the horrid living conditions of the camp. But it was the Civil War and the Union army had its own prisoner of war camps that were just as wretched. I found it humbling to know I was walking the same ground where so many died. Or at least I thought it was humbling at the time.

 

 

Then I went to the National Cemetery—now that was humbling. Rows and rows of headstone markers greet you at the front gate and serve as a reminder to the true savagery of the Civil War. Thousand of Union soldier markers crowd the landscape but it still makes up less than half of the cemetery’s graves. Union soldiers were buried in long trenches and marked with a number. A young man from the 2nd New York Cavalry named Dorence Atwater kept records of the deaths of prisoners. His records were vital for Clara Barton, who later used his information to identify and mark the graves of the dead.

If the name sounds familiar, it should—she went on to found the American Red Cross.

If you ever find your way traveling in Southwestern Georgia, I recommend you take half a day and visit the Andersonville National Historic Site. It’ll be time well spent.

5 Comments

  1. Jean Sasson on December 6, 2011 at 1:29 am

    I loved this blog as I’m a history nut, and in particular, military history. I first went to Andersonville when I was around 27 years old. The site was a bit run-down at the time and has since gone through a major renovation. But I loved it then and have been planning to return. Your blog had reinspired me to take another visit to this historical site, albeit a site representing the most horrific human misery. Being from Alabama, I lost a lot of family during the civil war…two great-great grandfathers, whose deaths created genuine anguish and misery and near starvation for their wives and children left to fend for themselves. Neither grandfather wanted to fight, as they were older men (one 34 and the other 44) but they had to join up or risk prison for failure to do so. I traveled to Franklin, Tennesee to visit as that costly battle signified the end of the Army of Tennessee, as well as the end of one of my grandfathers. Terrific carnage. My grandfather and his friends ended up throwing DIRT at the Yankee fighters as their commander would not allow them to have bullets as he was so angry at their captain… Anyhow, didn’t mean to get started on that — just wanted to tell you that your site looks great and I really did enjoy the visit. Best of luck with your books, Jean Sasson

    • Chuck Barrett on December 10, 2011 at 10:31 pm

      Thank you for your input, I hope you’ll venture here often.

  2. greg mays on March 22, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    The thing that’s amazing about Civil War battles, is it’s very difficult to get our minds around the fact that both sides accepted their own lethality beyond what seems reasonable. It was because West Point had never altered their theories on Infantry tactics, even though technology had become a game changer. The ball round and field artillery should have meant that shoulder to shoulder charges were out the window. But they didn’t know how to adjust to that reality. They didn’t even realize that indirect artillery fire was vastly superior to direct fire. Even though the French had been practicing it since Napolean. It shows how isolated the US military was to what other countries were doing.
    What’s interesting though, is the Army never made that mistake again. They still talk about all this at West Point. And you see that by the time of the Spanish-American War, and certainly by WWI, the US had at least parity with everyone else. And putting distance between soldiers and seeking cover became a permanent fixture among the Infantry, as early as the 1870’s.

  3. Joe McGrath on March 18, 2014 at 10:23 am

    I’m just coming to the end of a ten week course on the American Civil War. I’ve been learning about the tragic slaughter that occurred. Let’s hope our politicians can learn to think smarter and avoid future slaughter.

  4. Bob Mayer on December 30, 2014 at 7:40 am

    I visited there some years ago when stationed at Ft Benning. I’ve traveled to most of the Civil War battlefields, but this was a different kind of battle. Of all the places I’ve visited, Andersonville affected me the most. You could literally feel the agony rising up out of the ground.

Leave a Comment