Have any of your ancestors been a prisoner of war? If they were, you will want to visit the Andersonville National Historic Site in Georgia. Admittance is free.
The 514-acre park, which includes the infamous Andersonville prison and cemetery, became part of our National Park System in 1970 through the efforts of President Jimmy Carter.
In 1998, the National Prisoner of War Museum was added. The museum honors all soldiers in our country who have been held captive by enemies.
The decision to build the POW museum at that site was appropriate. Andersonville Prison, first known as Sumter Prison, was one of the largest and worst Confederate prisons. It was used from February 1864 to April 1865. During those 14 months, around 400 Union prisoners arrived by train daily.
Although the prison was designed for a maximum of 10,000 men, it held as many as 32,000 at times.
The 26.5-acre prison was located on two hills overlooking a creek that served as the source of drinking water. The creek also served as a latrine and place to bathe. As expected, mosquitoes, maggots and flies were prevalent.
Of the 45,000 men who were sent there, around 13,000 died. Many deaths resulted from dysentery, diarrhea, scurvy, hookworms and typhoid fever.
The men had no wood for fires for cooking or to keep them warm, nor did they have tents or adequate food. To protect themselves from the blistering sun, the men often built shabangs for cover using sticks, coats and sheets. Because many prisoners had no shoes or clothes, those items were removed from those who died and were reused.
When deaths occurred, bodies were buried in trenches in an adjacent cemetery.
Thankfully, a young prisoner named Dorence Atwater worked in the prison hospital. He recorded the names of those who died. He snuck the list with him when he was released, and he arranged for the list to be published after the war.
To learn about Civil War POWs, check the U.S. Government Civil War Prisoners Database at https://www.nps.gov/civil war/search-prisoners.htm.
Ancestry.com, a computer service available at most libraries, also has Civil War POW databases.
Also check POW databases provided by the National Archives and Library of Congress.
Comments or Suggestions? Contact Frankie Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org.