During our month long stay (April) at U.S Army’s Fort Benning’s Uchee Creek in Georgia (or is it Alabama??), per recommendation of another RV’er and Active Duty Soldier, we rode our motorcycles to Andersonville, GA. We weren’t prepared for the history lesson we were about to learn; one that wasn’t proudly exhibited in our junior or senior high school history lessons. We’ve visited several Civil War Battlefields in the past, however, nothing ever came close to the experience we felt from visiting this site; Camp Sumter Confederate Prison Site.
“The Camp Sumter military prison at Andersonville was one of the largest Confederate military prisons during the Civil War. During the 14 months the prison existed, more than 45,000 Union soldiers were confined here. Of these, almost 13,000 died here. Today, Andersonville National Historic Site is a memorial to all American prisoners of war throughout the nation’s history.”
As we read the sign, we felt an instant shame; that our Nation, though divided, allowed such horrid conditions occur to our own citizens. Its no wonder our education systems don’t expound on this occurrence. As we walked the acres of where thousands perished, we felt an uneasy presence. Each step we took, we thought about every Fallen Soldier who died in such small stench-filled confines; some from disease, starvation, murders and succumbing to the elements. Even though what happened on this hill 150 years prior, we felt shame and embarrassment as Americans.
The photos below are exhibits of just a tiny fraction of how the prisoners lived. Note the stockade fence that barred them inside. Imagine this:
…a stockade built about 18 months before the end of the U.S. Civil War to hold Union Army prisoners captured by Confederate soldiers. Located deep behind Confederate lines, the 26.5-acre Camp Sumter (named for the south Georgia county it occupied) was designed for a maximum of 10,000 prisoners. At its most crowded, it held more than 32,000 men, many of them wounded and starving, in horrific conditions with rampant disease, contaminated water, and only minimal shelter from the blazing sun and the chilling winter rain. In the prison’s 14 months of existence, some 45,000 Union prisoners arrived here; of those, 12,920 died and were buried in a cemetery created just outside the prison walls.”
(from the NHP website)
Today, several monuments pepper the field in which once held these prisoners captive.
After we walked the hallowed grounds of Camp Sumter Confederate Prison Site, we rode a short way to the Anderson National Cemetery where tens of thousands were buried, though prisoners, they were buried with honor because they were Soldiers.
“The cemetery site serving Camp Sumter was established as Andersonville National Cemetery on July 26, 1865. By 1868, the cemetery held the remains of more than 13,800 Union soldiers whose bodies had been retrieved after their deaths in hospitals, battles, or prison camps throughout the region. Andersonville National Cemetery has been used continuously since its founding and currently averages over 150 burials a year. The cemetery and associated prison site became a unit of the National Park System in 1970.” (from the NHP website)
As we quietly walked through the cemetery, we noticed there were these six headstones that we questioned why were they separate from the others. Close by was a sign exhibit explaining why. They were the Raider’s Graves. It was then we appreciated why they were separate from the others and rightfully so. They committed crimes within the prison thus had no honor. They deserved no honor of being placed with their fallen brothers because they had no honor.
Note the two photos below:
But our day didn’t end here. We returned back to the last component of this National Historic Site; the National Prisoner of War Memorial Museum. We didn’t take many photographs of inside of the museum as we were absorbed in learning as many of our Nation’s POW’s from the Civil War, Both World Wars, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Out of respect to those who faced torment and uncertainty, we decided to just encourage all who read this to go visit and learn about them on your own. We did want to note that though there was no charge for admittance to any of the three components of Andersonville National Historical Park, we did feel an urgency to make a monetary donation in the box in the lobby.
This day was full and so were our hearts and minds. Another day of growing more appreciative of the brave men and women who made so much sacrifice to make our Nation whole.
We ARE grateful for all of them, no matter the sacrifice.