Since the weather looks good for the next several days we decided to spend a couple of extra days at the Brickyard Plantation and see some of the sights in the area. We drove to Andersonville, GA the site of the Camp Sumter military prison. I have to credit the National Park Service web site for much of the following history of Andersonville. It was designated a National Historic Site as a memorial to all American prisoners of war of throughout the nation's history. Camp Sumter began as a stockade built about 18 months before the end of the Civil War. It was located deep behind Confederate lines. It was one of the largest and most notorious Confederate military prisons during the Civil War. At 26.5 acres, Camp Sumter was designed for a maximum of 10,000 prisoners. At its peak, it held more than 32,000 men, many of them wounded and starving. The conditions were horrific with rampant disease, contaminated water, and only minimal shelter from the blazing sun and the chilling winter rain. A stream, Stockade Creek, ran through the center of the prison. It was the prisoners’ main source of drinking water. Unfortunately it was downstream of the point where the guards disposed of their wastes and was contaminated which was the source of much of the illness in the prison. During the summer of 1864, it nearly dried up causing the prisoners to be desperate for water. On August 17, a heavy rain storm hit the area and a spring suddenly gushed from the hillside providing relief from their thirst. The appearance of the spring became legendary over time with many of the prisoners claiming they saw a lightning bolt strike the hillside just before the spring appeared. Whether the spring was an act of nature or divine providence, it was the answer to their prayers and was given the name of Providence Spring.
In the prison's 14 months of existence, some 45,000 Union prisoners arrived here, and of those, 12,920 died and were buried in a cemetery created just outside the prison walls. 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.
During the Civil War there was no official system in place to document missing or dead soldiers. As the war ended Clara Barton, the "Angel of the Battlefield", took it upon herself to fill this void. She began to receive letters from family members trying to find out the fate of their loved ones who had not returned home. Each of these letters led to a painstaking process of researching the whereabouts of these missing soldiers and to respond to the family members' inquiries. In June of 1865 a young clerk named Dorence Atwater contacted Barton and requested copies of her lists of missing soldiers. Atwater had been a prisoner at Andersonville and had been paroled to work in the hospital, where he diligently maintained a copy of the death records. Barton contacted Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and asked to accompany the US Army's expedition to Andersonville to identify the graves there.
At Andersonville in July and August of 1865, Atwater and Barton poured through the letters she had received, and began to search for these missing soldiers in the Andersonville Death Register and captured hospital records. While laborers worked to erect headboards in the cemetery, Barton wrote dozens of letters informing families that their loved ones had died at Andersonville. At the end of the expedition, Barton was given the honor of raising the American flag for the first time over the recently established Andersonville National Cemetery. After returning from Andersonville, Barton set up the Missing Soldier's Office in Washington in 1865. She hired numerous clerks, including Dorence Atwater, to respond to the more than 60,000 letters that she received. By the time the Missing Soldiers Office closed in 1867, Barton and her staff had identified more than 20,000 missing soldiers, including nearly 13,000 who had died at Andersonville Prison.
Former prisoners of war partnered with Andersonville National Historic Site to create and develop the National Prisoner of War Museum, the only museum solely dedicated to interpreting the American prisoner of war experience. The National Prisoner of War Museum is dedicated to all prisoners of war in America's past who have served their country with dignity and distinction, so that current and future generations will be inspired by their service and sacrifice. Since the late 1980s, various groups from WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, and Persian Gulf Wars have placed bronze tablets in remembrance of their comrades who were POW’s. I was surprised to see a plaque dedicated to 7 Army Air Force and 2 US Navy POW’s who were killed when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The exhibits inside the museum covered the history of US POW’s from the Revolutionary War to the Persian Gulf War. America’s sole POW from the Afghan War, SSG Bo Bergdahl, is remembered in a slide show in the museum. Some of the more interesting displays had examples of things that the POW’s made during their imprisonment ranging from diaries to crystal radios that were used to keep up to date on news. One group in a German POW camp even produced a play, Hit the Bottle. Carl Cossin, a Korean War POW, has provided quite a collection of wood carvings to the museum.
In the center of town is a rather large monument to Capt. Wirtz, the commander of the Camp Sumter, and a resident of the town. He was held responsible for the deplorable conditions of the camp after the war was over and was hanged in sight of the Capital in Washington.
We had dinner at the DD Country Kitchen. The special for the night was pot roast with mashed and peas. On the way home we stopped at the Jimmy Carter Regional Airport to see a memorial to Charles Lindberg commemorating his first solo flight in 1923. The “Lone Eagle” came to Souther Field, a WWI training center, to purchase a surplus air plane. After practicing take offs and landing for a week, he fueled up the plane and flew to Montgomery, AL to begin his barnstorming career. Four years later, he took off from Long Island in the “Spirit of St. Louis” for his solo flight across the Atlantic to Paris and into aviation history.