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.