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Old 02-23-2012, 05:30 PM   #1
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And this is Andersonville.

---------“My heart aches for those terrible wretches, Yankee though they are, and I am afraid God will suffer some terrible retribution to fall upon us for letting such things happen. If the Yankees should ever come to Southeast Georgia and go to Andersonville and see the graves there, God have mercy on the land.”---------

(A Southern woman, who observed Andersonville from atop one of the guard towers)

2011 marked the 150th year since the beginning of the Civil War. Those that are not Americans may not understand the significance of this event, but it was a, if not "THE" defining moment of our country. The war cost the lives of 620,000 Americans and freed almost 4 million slaves, but it did more. Shelby Foote said it best when he said "The Civil War made us an is". Prior to the Civil war the United States was a loose collection of states and was normally spoken of as "The United States are". After the war people said "The United States is". It changed the very nature of how we saw ourselves as a country. Over the last year I have toured all of the major civil war battlefields, so this week I decided to ride down to a more infamous location. Andersonville Georgia, site of the southern prisoner of war camp. Nothing in modern history can describe the horror that was Andersonville.

Prior to 1863 the North and South would routinely exchange prisoners as they were taken. The Emancipation of the slaves by President Lincoln in late 1862 changed all of that. Blacks were now allowed to serve in the Union army. Predictably, the south refused to recognize black troops as soldiers, and the system of exchange broke down. Initially the south had several prisons close to Richmond, but as the number of captive men increased they were seen as a threat if they should escape. In Feb of 1864, a 16 acre rectangle was laid out in Andersonville Georgia. The area was surrounded by an 18 foot stockade that was originally intended to hold 10,000 prisoners. Four months later the rectangle had been expanded to 26 acres and the site was holding 33,000 men. In addition to the stockade wall, there was a fence laid out 18 feet inside the wall. This was the dead line, and any man touching or across the dead line was shot without warning by the tower guards watching over the encampment.

The first view of the prison seen as troops entered the gate.

When the men entered the sally port the gate behind was closed and then the inner gate was opened, giving the "new fish" their first look at the atrocity that was the prison at Andersonville.

----------"As we entered the place, a spectacle met our eyes that almost froze our blood with horror, and made our hearts fail within us. Before us were forms that had once been active and erect;—stalwart men, now nothing but mere walking skeletons, covered with filth and vermin. Many of our men, in the heat and intensity of their feeling, exclaimed with earnestness. "Can this be hell?" "God protect us!" and all thought that He alone could bring them out alive from so terrible a place. In the center of the whole was a swamp, occupying about three or four acres of the narrowed limits, and a part of this marshy place had been used by the prisoners as a sink, and excrement covered the ground, the scent arising from which was suffocating. The ground allotted to our ninety was near the edge of this plague-spot, and how we were to live through the warm summer weather in the midst of such fearful surroundings, was more than we cared to think of just then."

The view from the inside including the small fence that was the "Dead Line"

Looking south from the location of the commanders quarters. From this location the entire prison can be seen. The small white posts indicate the location of the stockade wall as well as the deadline. The portion of the wall and gate can be seen in the distance.

The only water available to the men came from the sweet water creek that ran through a valley in the center of the camp. The layout was such that the latrines or "sinks" for the prisoners was located at the far end of the creek so that the water would sweep away the human waste. Unfortunately when the stockade was built it blocked the water so that there was little flow, and the low area turned into a putrid swamp of human excrement. The stench of the camp was such that locals in towns as far away as 15 miles complained of the smell.

The location of "the sinks"

Prisoners at Andersonville suffered from dysentery due to the unsanitary conditions. Scurvy was also rampant as well as simple starvation. There was little food to feed the south let alone POW's. Prisoners were given no shelter. The men were forced to make shelters out of whatever was at hand. Some men went as far as digging out caves. Occasionally a man was killed when his cave collapsed during a heavy rain storm.

Today the park has re-created some of the living conditions of the prisoners.

Every day prisoners died in the camp. At first they were given pine coffins, but as the death rate rose to 130 men a day, trenches were dug and the dead were laid shoulder to shoulder. A wooden marker at the head of each man. In 1878 the wooden markers were replaced with the stone markers seen today. Over 12,000 prisoners died at Andersonville between Feb 1864 and April 1865.

I know these are supposed to be "ride reports" but I have purposely left out pictures of my motorcycle. I have traveled to all of the major Civil War battle fields and they each have their own "feel". This place was different. It was somber and very unsettling. There were no courageous charges or brilliant military maneuvers. The only thing at Andersonville was disease, death and immense human suffering.
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Tn. Walrus screwed with this post 02-23-2012 at 05:36 PM
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Old 02-23-2012, 05:47 PM   #2
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extremely interesting post, thanks for sharing!
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Old 02-23-2012, 06:00 PM   #3
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Thank you for the report, I've heard of the prison but these pictures and your words really drive home the conditions and suffering.
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Old 02-23-2012, 06:08 PM   #4
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I am a history buff and have always wanted to visit all of the Civil War Battlefields. Thanks for sharing your experience and writing about it so thoughtfully.

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Old 02-23-2012, 06:35 PM   #5
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For some balance. It's a long read.
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Old 02-23-2012, 06:36 PM   #6
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Read the whole thing. Thanks for posting.
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Old 02-23-2012, 06:57 PM   #7
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Andersonville and the accompanying POW museum is very sobering and a worthwhile trip.
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Old 02-23-2012, 07:03 PM   #8
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Thanks for sharing. Well done.
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Old 02-23-2012, 07:27 PM   #9
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ya shoulda been a history teacher
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Old 02-23-2012, 07:49 PM   #10
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Been there & your RR did it justice.
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Old 02-23-2012, 07:56 PM   #11
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Thanks for posting! Our group of riders has gotten together every year for over 10 years now on some epic rides.

This year, at the request of our most senior member, we are doing a War of Northern Aggression Ride to Vicksburg, Shiloh, Chattanooga and Chicamauga, and Kennesaw, and whatever else we find along the way, whatever we can work into a week's ride in the southeast. This is a great read and very interesting. Wish we had time to go that far south and east on this ride.

Thanks for the link!
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Old 02-23-2012, 09:07 PM   #12
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Thanks, that was a nice post.

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Old 02-24-2012, 07:48 AM   #13
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Over the years I also visited many CW battlefields. I read Foote's trilogy twice to better understand each battlefield I visited. Besides Gettysburg (which I knew well before I ever saw it), I found Shiloh Church the most visual. So much dying on such a compact field. Chickmauga Creek, on the other hand, was a more costly battle, but the field was hard for me to visualize troop movements.

Though I spent lots of around Savannah, I could never get myself to visit Andersonville. After your post, I know I never will. Too painful.
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Old 02-24-2012, 11:34 AM   #14
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I am not sure the balanced version is all that balanced. If you believe the testimony given at the military trial of Henry Wirtz, a Swiss emigrant who was camp commander from 2/64 to the wars end, conditions worsened under his leadership.

Prisoners were not given the rations of the guards. They were given 1 meal a day consisting of 1/2 cup of ground corn(including the cobs) 2 ounces of bacon and 1/2 spoonful of salt. Thousands of prisoners died of malnutrition, typhoid fever and scurvy. The camp averaged 100 deaths per day.

Prisoners were not allowed to build shelter or improve the water source. Wirtz stated he "he did not care a damn whether the water got through or not or if there was any at all". Northern supplies meant for the camps were diverted for the Commanders own purpose or sold.

He also gave 30 day leave to any guard that killed a prisoner crossing the interior line. 1 example was the direct order to kill a 1 legged prisoner who stumbled and partially crossed into the forbidden zone.

Wirtz was convicted before a military tribunal and hung 11/3/1865 and his body buried next to the Lincoln assassins
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Old 02-24-2012, 08:07 PM   #15
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Thanks everyone for looking and the nice comments. It was a good trip and I'm glad I made it. I would encourage anyone who has the time to go there and see it for yourselves. The POW situation wasn't unique to Andersonville or to the south in particular. The north also had some horrible prisons. This place was simply the worst of the lot.
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