If you enjoy exploring Civil War battlefields and military landmarks, you need to make it a point to visit Andersonville National Historic Site in Georgia. Because Andersonville is one of those places where words don’t come easy and thoughts turn to sadness and anger. This Godforsaken place continues to haunt as you walk lightly upon the hallowed grounds where so many perished horrifically and unnecessarily. How could our Country allow such an atrocity to happen?
There’s so much to learn about the despicable transgressions that occurred in Andersonville, Georgia. Once known as the town where a Civil War prison housed tens of thousands of captured Union Soldiers, the National Park Service has turned this somber place into a positive learning experience. What’s astounding is the region’s quiet, pristine farmland hides the secret horrors that took place in a Civil War Prison near the center of town.
And amidst this hell on earth, Andersonville National Cemetery now reminds us all of the tragic loss incurred by failure of our Nation’s military leadership. That’s why you and your family need to experience this valuable history lesson in itself.
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Why You Must Visit Andersonville National Historic Site
Andersonville, was a small farming town in southwest-central Georgia’s Sumter County. However, the last sixteen months of the Civil War, Andersonville was thrust unwillingly into notoriety and infamy. It was the chosen site for a Confederate military prison from February 1864 until May 1865 during the American Civil War. Unfortunately, Andersonville became famous for all the wrong reasons; shrouded with shame, crime, death and disparity.
As of the 2020 census, the city’s population of 215; down almost 30 from 2019 and still declining. The actual Village of Andersonville is located in the southwest part of the state, approximately 60 miles southwest of Macon on the Central of Georgia Railroad.
The actual town or village is only .25 miles from the Confederate Prison Site, Camp Sumter. The village includes the same railroad depot where Union Soldier prisoners arrived. There’s also a 7-acre farm that dates back to the 1800’s.
Seemingly though, the the town’s distant past continues to shroud Andersonville. The population of Andersonville has been rapidly declining to being almost nonexistent. However, because of its’ notoriety, it has become a popular tourist venue being deemed a National Historic Site. Each year, over 80,000 tourists visit the town of Andersonville and the historic site.
Today, Andersonville’s blood-stained hallowed grounds continue to tell the haunting story that makes us step back and make certain that this history never repeats itself. This National Historic Site is well worth the visit.
National Prisoner of War Memorial Museum
We started our tour of the Andersonville National Historic Site by visiting the National Prisoner of War Museum.
The Museum contains various types of exhibits about prisoners of war from the Revolutionary War to current conflicts. Letters and videos give first-hand historical accounts by prisoners; displays contain personal items belonging to those who were confined here. The museum stands as a memorial to all Prisoners of War throughout the history of the United States. Their unique presentation doesn’t run chronologically but instead, displayed in themes.
We didn’t take many photographs of inside of the museum as we were absorbed in taking it all in. We learned about our Nation’s P.O.W.s from the Civil War, both World Wars, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, we ran out of time to view the two introductory films being shown in the theater room of the museum. The first “Voices from Andersonville” is about the story of the Andersonville Prison and the experience of American prisoners of war. And “Echoes of Captivity” is an introduction to the experience of prisoners of war throughout American history. Each film is no more than 30 minutes.
Let me just say this; you may shed tears as you pass through the exhibits. It’s truly an extremely emotional passage that leaves that lingering question, “WHY?”
Once you finish your tour of the museum, you’ll then want to make your way outdoors to the Camp Sumter Prison Site.
Camp Sumter Confederate Prison Site
Andersonville’s 26-acre Camp Sumter Confederate Prison was established to hold 10,000 prisoners under the command of Captain Henry Wirz (1823-65). Sumter was one of the largest Confederate war prisons to hold Union captives.
The original prison ground plans were approved and building began after the leaders of the Confederacy needed a plan to relocate many Federal prisoners being kept in the Richmond, Virginia area. The reason Andersonville was chosen was supposedly the town had access to a better food supply and security to harbor the prisoners. Unfortunately, the lack of proper leadership and taking on three times as many inmates resulted in tragic consequences.
During the 14 month prison existence, a quarter of those 45,000 total prisoners perished due to severe overcrowding, poor sanitation, malnutrition, and disease. At its most crowded, it held more than 32,000 captives. Think about that for a moment. Almost 13,000 deaths in a town unfit to take on such atrocity.
And since the prison consisted of, quite literally, just a tall stockade fence with no shelter inside its’ perimeters, the prisoners also perished from the intense summer heat and winter’s cold. Whatever the Soldiers had with them is what they made due with in making their own hooch and bed (photo below). Adding insult, many were brutally beaten or even killed by Confederate prison guards if they tried to escape or were confrontational.
Sadly, this infamous Civil War prison claimed more lives over the course in less than a year and a half than any others in Confederate and Civil War history. As well, the prison population topped all others during the war which later turned to extreme outrage within the stockade.
At the end of the Civil War, Camp Sumter was closed and the remaining prisoners were released to the Union. Because of the ineptness and loss of confidence of Captain Wirz’ leadership, he was tried and convicted as a war criminal and hanged in November of 1865. But, even still today, there’s much controversy of why he was tried for war crimes when all he was doing is following orders handed down from higher Confederate officials.
After reconstructing sections of the tall stockade walls, the National Park Service continues to maintain the landscape; including the monuments peppered throughout the grounds. Camp Sumter Confederate Prison Site continues ongoing preservation and remains a respectful hallowed ground.
Andersonville National Cemetery
Andersonville National Cemetery was established in July of 1865. It took three years to completely bury more than 13,800 Union Soldiers’ remains from Camp Sumter Prison (12,920). The rest were retrieved from perishing in hospitals, nearby battles or other prison camps in the region.
As we were walking quietly through what seemed like endless rows of small degrading headstones, we noticed a group of six headstones that are separate from the others. We learned that they are the burial remains of Raider’s Graves.
The Raiders were prison inmates who committed crimes within the prison. On July 11, 1864, six ringleaders of a gang known as the Raiders were hanged inside the prison stockade after a trial was held for their crimes of robbery and murder. They were all hanged as punishment for their crimes of robbery and murder.Thus, their alleged crimes sets them apart in the hallowed resting place of those who died with honor. Oddly, though they are separated from the tens of thousands of honorable Soldiers buried, they are not forgotten. Those six lonely graves give visitors perspective and to meditate on dishonor, desperation, and justice.
Then, 105 years later in 1970, Andersonville National Cemetery, along with the Camp Sumter Prison Site earned the distinction becoming a unit of the National Park Service. Today, there are 150 burials each year for those who qualify.
In downtown Andersonville, there are a few unique shops that sell antiques, crafts and unique curiosities. But notably and with much controversy, the Wirz Monument on Oglethorpe Street still remains in the town circle that reminds visitors and residents of the difficulty and hardships endured during this divisive Civil War. Speaking of which, the Wirz Monument is the only U.S. monument to a war criminal.
And, on Main Street, we highly recommend paying the small fee to explore the Drummer Boy Museum that’s open everyday except Christmas Day. The museum displays an Andersonville diorama, Civil War uniforms and relics.
Andersonville Civil War Village, located on Church Street, that’s been restored back to the point of disembarkation for Civil War prisoners on their way to Andersonville, the Confederate prison. A self-guiding walking tour of the village begins at the welcome center located in the Drummer Boy Civil War Museum.
Highlights include a seven-acre one-man farm depicting pioneer life of the mid 1800’s. And, you’ll want to check visit the 1927 St. James Pennington log church.
Before you go, we highly recommend watching the movie “Andersonville” to give a perspective of what happened there.
Plan your Visit to Historic Andersonville
The Andersonville National Historic Site Visitor Center is open daily from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM each day except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s days. There is no charge for admittance to any of the three components of Andersonville National Historical Park. However, there is a donation in the box in the lobby should you feel inclined to support this historic treasure.
You’ll also find at the Visitor Center:
- Ranger-staffed information desk where you can pick up a park brochure and walking tour map for the Camp Sumter Prison Site and the National Cemetery
- Audio Tour on CD or USB thumb drive (free to borrow)
- Theater showing the two films mentioned earlier
- National Prisoner of War Museum
- Ranger-guided tours
- Gift and book store
Best time to visit Andersonville?
The best time of the year to visit Sumter County and Andersonville is in the Spring. Be aware the summer months are intensely hot and humid, so you may want to wait until the Fall.
The town holds their Andersonville Historic Fair the first week of October every year. Hundreds of reenactors set up camp and stage mock battles. There’s also living history programs, live music, food, vendors, a parade, puppet shows and line dancing.
Check out Milo Pantone’s video of one of the Andersonville reenactments. He also gives you a brief look of downtown Andersonville:
Lodging in Andersonville
Unfortunately, there are no lodging located in the town of Andersonville. However, there are plenty in nearby Americus, Georgia; located only 11 miles from Andersonville.
Camping and RV Sites
If you’re wanting to tent camp or bring your RV, you’re in luck. The Andersonville RV Park has 23 campsites. Twenty of which are 30/50 amp full hookup sites. Their tent camping and RV sites are quite reasonable. They also offer Senior and Military discounts (no stacking discounts though). There is a public shower house off premises but in downtown Andersonville itself. Also, there’s two community fire pits less than a mile from Andersonville National Historic Site.
For More information or to make a reservation Please call the Andersonville Welcome Center at 229-924-2558 or visit their location at 109 East Church Street.
Other camping within driving distance:
If you’re a member of Hipcamp, there are plenty of private hosts who have campsites within easy driving distance to the National Historic Site and town. As well, there’s also a few RV friendly spaces at Boondocker’s Welcome and Harvest Hosts locations near the Andersonville area.
Where to dine in Andersonville
Since Andersonville is such a small town, the only dining establishment is the Andersonville General Store and Mama’s Kitchen on Church Street. They serve breakfast, lunch and beverages. But, they are the only game in town so plan accordingly. There are places in town where you can bring your picnic blanket and box lunch.
Wrapping up our visit to Andersonville
We’ve found through our extensive travels throughout the United States, there’s some places you have to suck in your gut and force yourself to visit.
We certainly didn’t prepare ourselves by knowing the history prior to exploring Andersonville. We’ve visited several Civil War Battlefields in the past, however, nothing ever prepared us for the experience we felt from visiting Andersonville.
It’s these unscrupulous places that teach us more than what happened there but of ourselves. We learned what not to be and how we, as a Nation, should learn from these atrocities of war and human rights. And, that we should never repeat them.
So, I close with this. GO! Visit Andersonville, Georgia. Take your children and show them how we, as a Country, have grown to be better for all.