Andersonville National Historic Site
Andersonville, GA - May 25, 2003

Andersonville National Historic Site
Located 10 miles north of Americus, Georgia on GA Route 49.

It was a welcome weekend in the midst of a grueling work project when I decided to spend the day driving from my base in Augusta, Georgia to Andersonville to see the famed confederate prison camp otherwise known as Camp Sumter. It was here on these peaceful fields that almost 13,000 Union soldiers died from disease or malnutrition due to the abhorrent conditions. Rumor has it that the battlefield is haunted, so of course, I could not resist!

On my drive across Georgia, I stumbled across a nice little churchyard cemetery at the Providence Baptist Church and had to stop to take a few pictures. I also detoured during my drive through Macon to admire some of the great old Southern architecture. I also saved a turtle from certain annihilation on the road but for some inexplicable reason I didn't see fit to take a picture of the carapaced creature for posterity. How dim of me!

Before too long, my leisurely southern drive had dead-ended at the infamous Andersonville Prison Camp itself. I first entered the National Prisoner of War Museum, which features a number of interesting relics from the camp, including a ledger which includes the names of some of the unfortunate northerners who died here, and some of the original posts and locking mechanisms from the camp. There is also a wealth of historic information here as well. (This one is too blurry to read, but states: "(Left) Jacob F. Goodbread, a native of Wurtemburg, Germany, was drafted into Company B, 147th New York Infantry, in August 1863. He was captured at the Wilderness and died in Andersonville in August 1864. (Right) Samuel George Fletcher, a private in Company D, 5th New York Artillery, was captured at Piedmont, Virginia in June 1864. He survived his imprisonment at Andersonville and returned for the dedication of the New York monument there in 1916.")

But the best parts of the museum are the creepy mannequins from various eras/wars depicting pale, emaciated prisoners in shackles or attempting to dig their way to freedom. These figures went a long way towards making you appreciate the Andersonville Experience. Of course, shackles by themselves are always fun, as are recreations of isolation cages and vintage handcuffs. On the whole, the museum was a quite satisfying experience.

However, the prison camp itself is what was really beckoning me, so I soon found myself wandering out the backdoor of the museum and into the beautiful courtyard that forms an exceptional bridge between the museum and the endless acres (well, 515 to be precise) of the camp grounds. This statue was very picturesque and on such an exceptionally hot day, I could really appreciate the running water!

Once I passed by the memorial fountain, the sun was unrelenting. I really wondered if it would be worth the bother to wander around these fields at all, but I couldn't let the opportunity pass me by. With a sigh, I began to walk the shadeless perimeter of the camp, documenting the scenery as I sweated and cursed the sun. And here is what I saw....

There are numerous placards explaining points of interest around the park. From this one you can see the rebuilt portion of the wooden fence that surrounded the perimeter of the camp. Ugh, it looks soooo far away...

Here's a closer view of the replica of the stockade that surrounded the camp. The prison camp was originally about 16 1/2 acres of land enclosed by a 15 foot high stockade of hewn pine logs. It was enlarged to 26 1/2 acres in June of 1864.

This placard features a photograph of the stockade in its prior incarnation. Here's what it says: "The unhewn logs with daylight between them betray the Confederates' haste to expand the north end of camp. In contrast, the reconstruction at the North Gate section shows the carefully planned design of the stockade's initial 16 acres, when officials planned for only 6,000 prisoners. The outer row of white posts marks the perimeter of the stockade; inner posts mark the deadline. The area between was a no-man's land. If prisoners crossed the deadline, guards in the sentry boxes had orders to shoot them."

Here is a good view of the stockade with one of the sentry boxes (or "pigeon roosts"). They were mounted every 100 feet along the stockade. The guards actually suffered from many of the same health problems - disease, malnutrition - that plagued the prisoners, resulting in a high death rate. Consequently, guard positions were filled by the very old and very young, leaving the seasoned troops for the battlefields.

They have also recreated the "shebangs" (meager shelters, not the William Hung song!) that the prisoners inhabited as well. The prisoners at Andersonville had to provide their own shelters. With sticks and pieces of clothing, the prisoners improvised leaky tents and lean-tos. Many prisoners had no shelter at all.

Protection from rain, dew and broiling sun became a matter of life or death. Exposure aggravated many illnesses and infections, contributing to the soaring mortality rate.

This is actually one of the nicer ones - practically a mansion by Andersonville standards!

This placard contained a photograph of the crowded camp in its "prime". I think I'd rather stay at the Motel 6, thanks!

Scattered throughout the camp are these cement and steel markers indicating the site of historic wells. Some of the soldiers would dig their own wells and would sell the water to their co-horts. You could also purchase "holdings" in the wells. It was a much better option than having to drink the water from the stream which ran through the middle of the camp, which was polluted by the Confederate cookhouse upstream. If you wanted to survive your imprisonment, clean water was a must.

It would be far too huge of an undertaking to build a replica of the stockade around the entire prison camp, so except for a couple of spots, most of the perimeter is marked by signposts like this one, which informs us where the deadline once stood.

"This photograph was taken in August 1864 from a sentry box. The photographer was A.J. Riddle, who was preparing a report for the Confederate government. Riddle's seven glass-plate negatives were apparently the only photographs of Andersonville taken during the war. Like a double exposure, the surviving photos superimpose the historic reality on today's pastoral scene."

Here's a nice view of that very land, taken from outside of the stockade, looking in. This shot shows the relationship between the stockade wall markers and the deadline markers. You can see some of the memorials across the field in the distance.

This view gives you a good idea of the size of the camp.

Another shot of the stakes which mark the perimeter of the camp.

"This downstream end of Stockade Branch was the site of the camp 'sinks' or latrines. According to the Confederates' original plan, prisoners would get drinking water upstream and use latrines downstream, where the current would flush sewage out of the camp. Inadvertently, the prison was designed for death. Stockade posts slowed the drainage, and during dry spells the creek became more swamp than flowing stream. Dysentery swept the camp."

Here's a view of the sinks as they look today. I stood here trying to feel the haunted vibes that others have described but instead I felt strangely peaceful. Obviously, it was a huge disappointment to me!

Another shot of the stockade and dead line near the sinks.

Here's a view from the far edge of the camp.

At the far end of the camp, I crossed the road up to the location of the Commandant's headquarters. "From these heights near headquarters, Capt. Henry A. Wirz could observe everything within the prison walls. Envision the white post perimeter as the stockade; 30,000 human beings within that area; the din of all those voices, the groans from the hospital, the shouts of the guards, the smell of unwashed clothes and bodies. Today's landscape of quiet grass softens for us the images of Andersonville. Wirz, the prison commandant, did not have that luxury."

"The Wirz execution, November 10, 1865. The prison commandant, Capt. Henry A. Wirz, was responsible for maintaining order and discipline, imposing punishment and providing rations. In search of a scapegoat after the war, the federal government tried Wirz for "murder, in violation of the laws of war" and sentenced him to death.

This placard is along the boundaries of the Star Fort:
"Within this stronghold stood the offices of the post commander and the prison commandant. Fort and headquarters were symbols of power, but the fully enclosed earthworks also reflect the authorities' besieged state of mind. Hampered by supply shortages and a constant influx of new prisoners, Confederates here were responsible for operating a prison camp under conditions they could hardly control. Four of the Star Fort's guns were trained outward to repel Union cavalry raids. The other five cannon were aimed toward the north slope of the prison camp."

Here's a vintage cannon at the Star Fort boundary.

There were a few "fantasy role-players" dressed up in 1860's era clothing walking about the battlefield as well. You can see a couple of them in this shot.

I thought this was quite a profound composition since, as we all know, war is definitely the "wrong way" to go about living. I know you're impressed with my profundity - you don't need to say so.

On the southern side of the camp are these markers - for the stockade wall and the south gate.

"This stream, a branch of Sweetwater Creek, was the prisoner's water supply. Today's neatly dredged channel is misleading. When the prison was built, the stockade posts slowed the current, turning the stream banks into acres of stagnant swamp. The prisoners' latrines stood downstream. Overcrowding soon fouled the water, and the sluggish current failed to wash sewage out of the prison. The stream's bacteria quickly became lethal."

This is a replica of the North Gate at the camp.

I was quite pleased - and frightened - to run into two genuine "the south shall rise again" rednecks!

This is Providence Spring: "During a heavy rainstorm on August 14, 1864, a spring suddenly gushed from this hillside. The prisoners were desperate for fresh water, and over time the event became legendary. Several men claimed to have seen lightning strike this spot just before the spring burst forth. This damp slope, with its many natural seeps, would appear to be a likely site for a spring. Workmen may have inadvertently buried the spring's outlet while digging the stockade trench. Whether an act of nature or divine providence, the effect of the stream was an answer to thousands of prayers."

"This pavilion was erected by the Woman's Relief Corps, Auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic. In grateful memory of the men who suffered and died in the Confederate Prison at Andersonville Georgia, from February 1864 to April 1865.

"The prisoner's cry of thirst rang up to heaven. God heard, and with his thunder cleft the earth and poured his sweetest waters gushing here.
Erected 1901."

"This fountain erected by the National Association of Union Ex-Prisoners of War in memory of the 52,345 comrades who were confined here as prisoners of war and of the 13,900 comrades buried in the adjoining national cemetery. Dedicated Memorial Day May thirtieth nineteen hundred and one.
James Atwell, National Commander.
S.M. Long, Adj't. Gen'l.
J. D. Walker, Ch'n. Ex. Committee."

After spending a few minutes at the peaceful fountain, I wandered up to take a closer look at the North Gate.

"When the inner gates swung open, new prisoners had their first vision of life inside. The noise, the stench, the crowd of emaciated men desperate for news, must have been overwhelming. New arrivals were known as 'fresh fish'. Anything of value - money, buttons, clothing - might be conned or stolen from them. Even worse was the sight of other prisoners in those skeletal forms and lifeless eyes; a new prisoner could foresee his own fate."

Like all proper Civil War battlefields, Andersonville has its share of monuments. In the foreground is the Tennessee monument which states, "In memory of her Union soldiers and loyal sons who died in Confederate prisons during the war of 1861-65. We who live may for ourselves forget but not for those who died here."

This is the impressive Ohio monument.

"To her 1055 loyal sons who died here in Camp Sumpter from March 1864 to April 1865 this monument is dedicated."

"Death Before Dishonor"

This was my favorite of the memorials - from Michigan.

This monument, from Wisconsin, has a sort of "Third Reich" feel to it, don't you think?

The ravages of time have destroyed most of the evidence of the human occupation of Andersonville. However, there are still a few holes that were dug by prisoners in escape attempts. Pretty cool!

Here's a view of some of the wonderful old trees that line the camp.

You can also still see evidence of some of the old trenches that surround the fort.


At this point, I left the prison camp site and drove to the nearby Andersonville National Cemetery for a walk around the final resting site for almost 13,000 of the prisoners at Andersonville. The cemetery was dedicated as a national cemetery on August 17, 1865.

This creepy statue of Andersonville prisoners is in the cemetery. The inscription states, "Turn you to the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope."

As you know, any proper military cemetery will have a memorial for the unknown soldier. This is the one at Andersonville. Kinda dull, huh?

Here are some of the typical tremendously tedious military-issue gravestones that cover the ground here. Military cemeteries don't exactly make for interesting browses, but the lines of stones are quite orderly.

Here it is again - that "Death Before Dishonor" statement, which doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but then again, I'll never understand the military mindset... This particular inscription is tied to the impressive memorial to the Pennsylvania dead.

I thought this Magnolia tree near the center of the cemetery was quite amazing.

Here's another of the impressive memorials: "In grateful memory of those heroic soldiers of Maine, who gave their lives that the Republic might life. And of those, who daring to die, yet survived the tortures and horrors of Andersonville Military Prison, 1864 and 1865."

Leave it to a military gravestone to bring out the feminist fury in me. Something just really pissed me off about this stone with its simple engraving, "Grace T. His Wife". As if she had no identity outside of being some dead soldier's wife. I had half a mind to just storm out of the cemetery at that point, but I had to finish the travelogue. Morbid duty, you know!

This might have been the "husband" of the above gravestone, but I can't recall. Anyway, this shot gives you perspective on the size of the cemetery.

Here's the lovely brown 1908 Indiana Memorial:

"Under authority of an act of the sixty-fifth General Assembly of the state of Indiana"

"Indiana mourns for her fallen heroes, the 702 brave sons, who for the cause they loved, gave up their lives in Andersonville Prison, from February 1864 to April 1865"

"Death did not affright them, nor fear subdue them nor could famine break their incorruptible spirit"

"Not theirs the matchless death by sword or shot; instead the agony of martyrdom"

More shots of the many rows of boring old headstones. My visit was right before Memorial Day, so that explains all of the American flags. I don't think the place is nearly so patriotic on normal days.

I thought this one (for Iowa's dead) was one of the lovelier and sadder monuments.

The Illinois monument was one of the most elaborate and well-composed.

The New York monument can be seen behind the placard which states the following:

"In1911 the state of New York erected this granite monument to honor its troops who died in Andersonville prison. Large monuments were a fashion of the time, built on a scale that would symbolize the prisoners' enormous sacrifice.

"There are 12 monuments in this cemetery and 11 at the nearby prison site. Each has a unique design. Because so little remains of the historic prison, the monuments form a prominent part of the Andersonville landscape."

Here are some graves of unknown soldiers.

Finally, here's the monument for the state of Minnesota:

"Erected A.D. 1916 by the State of Minnesota in memory of her soldiers here buried who lost their lives in the service of the United States in the war for the preservation of the Union A.D. 1861-1865"

And with that my trip to Andersonville had reached its end. I drove the several miles back to Augusta thinking about the ordeal that the soldiers had gone through in this camp, and wondering if their tortured souls had found peace. Somehow, I got the feeling while wandering those fallow but unforgotten fields that they had.

For additional information see:
Andersonville Civil War Prison

Anyone have any additional stories, tidbits or photos to add?
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Wicked Words...