The day ahead was expected to be a warm day. But that was not unusual, after all, it was August in Georgia and what a good day to travel to Andersonville.
The six members of John B. Gordon Chapter 383 UDC were led by Sheila Tucker, who had planned the day of touring. Those who went on the trip were chapter President Mary Margaret Quiggle, Dot Maxwell, Emily Smith, Franci Carter, Luretta Bliek and Tucker. The chapter has been enjoying short trips that are concerned with the War Between the States history era for the past couple of years.
When the group arrived in Andersonville, they headed for the Drummer Boy Civil War Museum. Museum guide Henry Ledford (better known as Skinny) provided special information about the museum and the artifacts on display. There were 15 mannequins wearing 15 different authentic WBTS uniforms, both Confederate and Union. There were numerous 1850s and 1860s revolvers, carbines, muskets and swords on display along with original flags from the period. The visitors saw an extensive collection from the estate of General Thomas T. Eckert, president of Western Union and chief of the United States Military Telegraph Department under President Lincoln. The museum also included Mary Surratt’s black bonnet that was removed from her head and handed to Eckert in preparation for her hanging with the others convicted in Lincoln’s assassination conspiracy.
After lunch at Mama’s Kitchen in Andersonville, the UDC members were then given a special private tour by John Gray of Camilla. Gray, at one time, worked at the Andersonville National Prisoner of War Museum, prison site and Andersonville National Cemetery. He has also volunteered his expertise with others sharing this important part of our Southern history. This national historic site is a National Park Service under the U.S. Department of the Interior and established in 1970.
The members began the tour at the museum by watching a video about the Andersonville Prison and Cemetery. The members followed Gray outside under a shaded tree as he told them facts and information about the prison camp. They learned that the camp had been quickly built to relieve the crowding of Richmond prisons. The Union soldiers had to be relocated. When the first prisoners arrived in February 1864 the prison was unfinished and undersupplied. The prison was intended to hold 10,000 men at the time; but, by August over 32,000 men were imprisoned. The prison was a 16 1/2-acres pen with 15-foot-high stockade walls. Nineteen feet inside the stockade was called “the deadline.” Guards stationed in sentry boxes were ordered to shoot anyone beyond that line. Later the stockade was extended to 26 1/2 acres.
Gray said that Captain Henry Wirz was put in command of the Andersonville prison. Because of the horrendous conditions, many prisoners died. There were not enough rations, clothing, or shelters to furnish for those in the prison. The South wanted to exchange prisoners; but the Union refused. After the war, Captain Wirz was held accountable for the conditions at Andersonville. He was hanged publicly on November 10, 1865 in Washington, D.C.
Next, Gray led the UDC tour group was led to the Andersonville National Cemetery. He told them the first interments occurred in 1864, those being the prisoners. By 1868 more interments happened, making over 13,800 buried in the cemetery. Today there are over 20,000 interments in 18 sections and one memorial section. There are now soldiers buried in this cemetery from the American Revolution, Spanish American War, World War I and II, Korean War, Vietnam and the more modern wars such as the War on Terror and Gulf Wars.
Dorence Atwater was 19 years old when he was captured and taken prisoner to Andersonville Prison. He was detailed to work at the prison hospital. He secretly copied the name and location of every prisoner who died and was buried at the prison. He smuggled out the list when he was released. That is how there is such bountiful information available today for people to research and study.
The trip was bittersweet to the tour group. They all believe that we should learn from the past. History is important for people to study so that they can become a better person and nation.