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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Thursday, March 24, 2011

"It takes 7 of its ocupiants to make a Shadow"

Andersonville-- a Pulitzer Prize winning novel that I never read---a name that conjures up the worst possible hell on Earth ever experienced by a Union soldier in our Civil War---a place where the men were so emaciated that it would take 7 of them to make a shadow, according to Sgt David Kennedy of the 9th Ohio Cavalry. Fort Sumter which was the official name of the prison in Andersonville, Georgia was opened in 1864 when the Confederacy decided to move Union soldiers from around Richmond to a more remote, secure location. It was built to accommodate 8000 men but once the exchange program between the combatants collapsed both the Union and the Confederacy found themselves with an untenable number of prisoners of war on their hands. Andersonville, in the 14 months--only 14 months!--it operated saw 45,000 men enter its gates, of which about 13 000 never left alive. The highest number of prisoners there at any one time was 32 000. In my pictures you can see that the stockade was built between two steep hills on which cannon were mounted--more to repel any Union Calvary attack but equally able to shoot into the compound if needs be. The disturbed earth running through the middle of the indentation is a small steam--Sweetwater Creek--my God, who named it? The waste of the officers who resided on the hillside ran into the stream and down into the compound--the soldiers were so ill that they did not go to the sinks or the other end of the stream which they were to use as latrines! No food, no clean water, make shift shelter, incredibly close packing together and it is a wonder any of them survived the starvation and disease that killed so many.

Then, as now, there were men severely lacking in morals or ethics who became gangs of roving bullies and thieves--The Raiders. They appeared at the gate whenever new POW's arrived and if caught preying upon them the Raiders were made to run through a gauntlet and were severely beaten. Even with this disciplinary action they still ran rampant through the camp. Finally, some of the men went to the commandant and asked to be allowed to capture the ringleaders. This new group, the Regulators, were able to identify six men, who were then tried and convicted and hung in the middle of the encampment. At the request of the POW's they were not buried among the rest of the dead--they aren't very far away but they are distinctly separate from them.

As the men died they were taken out of the camp and taken by wagon to the cemetery where they were buried by the hundreds each day in long trenches. Each was given a wooden marker on which was placed a number. A young 19 year old prisoner was given the job of recording the name, rank and group to which the deceased belonged. As the prison was liberated he smuggled a copy of this info out,thinking that he would perhaps we able to get notification to the families of the dead. Unable to get any assistance from the government he went to Clara Barton who had worked so hard to get food and supplies to the prisoners and she was able to get a work party together. She, the young man, Dorrance Atwater of the 2nd NY Calvary, and the workers were able to identify and mark the graves with stone markers. Through their efforts only 460 of the over 12000 graves are marked unknown.

In addition to the site of this notorious prison, Andersonville National Historic Site is also the site of the National POW museum. By the time I got to the section dealing with the Vietnam War and the atrocities imposed on our military I was too emotionally disturbed to be able to read the rest--the museum took an hour to read and look at everything from the Prison Ships used by the British in the Revolution ( so bad that Washington wrote Gage and told him that America would treat British prisoners in the same fashion--our soldiers suffocated to death on the ships they were so packed beneath decks) through the Vietnam War. The movie that ran for 27 minutes covering the same period in our history had interviews with survivors of captivity from WWI through the Gulf War. By the end, I was in tears and could not speak to the man with whom Bill was chatting--he had been a child in the internment camps in the Philippines --the Japanese imprisoned Europeans and Americans in the Philippines but because these were civilians they are not considered POWs.

One of the men interviewed in the film was a handsome man with a head of beautiful thick white hair. He had been a POW in Vietnam and said that with all the hardships etc the thing he remembered the most was the love and loyalty of his fellow prisoners. He was well-spoken, handsome and lucid. What a horrible shame that Ross Perot decided to use him in his presidential campaign and allow him to be maligned and mocked because he had become old and less lucid. I'm convinced the experience was more demeaning to him than his experience in Vietnam, of which he said " part of my identity is that I lived part of my life as an animal." In 2005, Admiral James Stockdale died at 81 years old having struggled with Alzheimer's Disease. What a sad end of one of our heroes.

After leaving the park Bill told me that, while he took the walking tour with the Ranger and when they came to the monument on which several states are listed, including NH and Vt, the guide stated that these were ALL border states in which there was a large faction of Southern sympathizers and spy activity. A couple from Montreal and Bill questioned this portrayal of the two states and he cited the bank robbery in St Albans as an event that had the assistance of insiders in Vt. HMMMMMM--not the way we've heard it. There was Southern activity in Montreal and an attempt to get Canada to support the South--not sure there was very much sympathy there or in Vt.

Ah, well, off we went through several small towns, similar to Plains which don't seem to have changed much since the Civil War. Lots of peach trees and pecan trees and some sod farms. Lovely antebellum homes and train depots no longer sites of arrival and departure of passengers--prisoners or otherwise. Arrived at Perry and our motel and went to eat in Applebees--I now know why people eat at Micky D's etc--you are sure of what you are going to get and I wanted to have food I could depend on--ribs and queso blanco. Fattening but recognizable!LOL

When we returned we found that our next door neighbor was also in Americus last night. A commercial truck from New Rochelle marked only Ivy Classic. Will have to research what that is-- a spy following us?

Tomorrow Macon--I think we are due to hear some good Southern music and maybe look at some prehistoric Indian mounds. What do you think? Night from the road, until then!

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