Andersonville National Historic Site is located about 60 miles southwest of Macon, GA and preserves one of the largest Confederate prisons of the Civil War. The site houses the National Prisoner of War museum, located inside the park’s visitor center. The museum is rather large compared to a lot of the museums normally found in National Park Sites, so be sure to reserve some time to walk through the museum. We went rather quickly since we were short on time, spending about half an hour there. We found the museum informative, but also depressing since there were so many exhibits talking about the dangers and perils that prisoners of war face. Behind the museum is a small memorial honoring prisoners of war that is quite moving.
Aside from the museum, there are two aspects of the park. Andersonville National Cemetery is about a quarter mile drive from the visitor center. There are numerous statues scattered throughout the cemetery, and then rows and rows of white gravestones of many of the prisoners from the camp at Andersonville, as well as other service men and women.
We drove back behind the visitor center where the prisoner camp, Camp Sumter, was. Visitors can either drive a loop road (about one mile) or walk along it and visit several different sites. The first stop along the road are several monuments commemorating some of the prisoners of war. The second stop features a reconstruction of Camp Sumter’s gate and walls, which gives visitors a nice perspective of how tall the walls of the fort were and how enclosed the prisoners inside would have felt. There is also a spring near the gate, a spring which actually emerged while the prison camp was in operation, giving the prisoners a new source of water and some relief. The third stop along the road is a fort outside the camp’s walls, which is where some of the Confederate’s guarded the prison. The fort is a a nice example of forts built during this time, with large earthworks snaking around the ground. There are some other earthworks around the loop road. The final stop is another reconstruction of the wall, this one built in a different style, reflecting the more hastily built wall constructed later during the war to expand the prison camp. This section of the wall also illustrates the sentry boxes built into the wall in order to keep prisoners from becoming unruly or trying to scale the wall. The area inside the wall features an example of what the tents may have looked like, which the prisoners would have used to try to get some cover (I say “try,” because the tents were so threadbare and poorly constructed that they provided virtually no cover for a mouse, let alone a human person).
Perhaps the most astounding fact about the prison camp is its size. The camp was large, and visitors are able to see its size because there are small posts that show where the prison walls used to be. However, when visitors find out that more than 45,000 prisoners were held here, the confines of the camp look terrifyingly small. Descriptions of the camp from those who were held there confirm what a horrifying place the camp was. Of the prisoners who were there, almost 13,000 of them died. Visiting Andersonville is an interesting and sobering experience, but it’s worth the sadness that you feel as you leave because of the information and understanding that you also leave with.