Our trip to Naples, Florida
As we planned this trip over the last month or so we marked the Andersonville Prison of War site as a place we wanted to see. Then a few days ago we thought we might skip it as we knew our time would be pressed a bit. Following our tour of Americus we drove to Andersonville and were not sorry that we took the time for the visit. Space here does not allow us to cover the entire story that surrounds this location, but needless to say it touched a nerve as we looked around this National Park. The picture below is the courtyard behind the visitor’s center and museum. It is a memorial to all POW’s regardless of the war and is very respectfully presented without comment on war, politics, or the terrible things that happened during times the POW’s were held. We will do he same on this page.
The picture below needs a bit of explanation and I do apologize for marking the scene with a red arrow. Other than the rolling hills surrounded by pine trees I am sure you are wondering why this picture has any great significance. It shows exactly what touched a nerve with us. On the cleared ground you see before you, over 33,000 Union soldiers were held captive behind stockade walls, with about 13,700 soldiers dying from the horrible conditions. The stockade covered about 26 acres at the end of the war. I am standing near the north end of the stockade and the red arrow points to the corner of the south wall.
To better illustrate the outer perimeter of the stockade, the concrete posts on the right mark the outer wall. The posts on the left mark what was known by the prisoners as “The Deadline.” In actuality, the left posts represent a line of wood rail that marked the point that the prisoners were not to cross. Stepping over the line would cause the guards to shoot the offender.
The northwest corner also includes several monuments placed by northern states to memorialize those that died here. This is the Michigan monument, and like the others is very massive and highly detailed.
The stockade was built of pine logs that were hand hewn so that they fit tightly together and were set into trenches 5 foot deep. These walls were built by slaves from the surrounding area and the first prisoners arrived before they were finished. The gates shown below are the main entrance into the stockade and are known as the North Gate. They had a double opening so that prisoners entering the prison could be isolated to prevent escapes when the gates opened. These are of course reproductions of the original structure.
At the south end of the stockade (remember the red arrow marking the corner post) there was and earthen embankment that was called the Star Fort. This sort of protection was located around the stockade and offered protection from Union attack as well as a method of controlling prisoners if they tired for a mass escape. There are a couple of cannon in place for display and are aimed at the stockade.
The next picture shows the housing for the prisoners. Of course these flimsy tents and huts are reproductions, but walking among them reminded us of how desperate the living conditions were. Since the Confederacy was strapped for supplies the prisoners had to construct their own shelter and used anything they had on them or could get their hands on. They called this "Shebangs."
We rented a self-guided tour on CD at the visitor’s center and followed it around the stockade as well as the adjoining cemetery. If the prison grounds had not caught our attention the cemetery would had. This area contains the remains of the 13,700 dead, and they are marked with rows of white stones. The cemetery also contains many monuments from states with fallen soldiers, this is the Iowa Monument.
The rows of stones seem to go on forever, and the spacing is not an optical illusion. There were as many as 100 deaths a day and the dead were stripped of their clothing and buried shoulder to shoulder in shallow trench graves. The prison surgeon did enlist the help of a prisoner to record the names of those that died. In fact this prisoner kept a second set of books because he suspected that the confederates would not be honest about the number of dead and wanted to be able to tell the families of the fallen where there loved one was buried. Out of the total 13,700, only about 400 are not identified, these are marked with a headstone engraved with Unknown.
We completed our tour with a quiet drive back to the visitor’s center. The CD provided a moving rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic as we drove through the quiet Piney Woods surrounding the cemetery. We could only image the horrors that marked this site so many years ago.
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