Battlefield Guide Services

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Related Lands - Andersonville Prison, Macon and Sumter Counties, Georgia

On May 14, 1864, Pvt. Jesse A. Adams of the 10th New Jersey Infantry Regiment was captured by Confederate forces overwhelming his unit during fighting on Myer's Hill, near Spotsylvania Courthouse. The above image features an original photograph of Adams taken shortly after his enlistment, November 14, 1861, by the regimental photographer, J. B. Brown.
Adams was sent nearly 700 miles south to the Andersonville, GA prison camp.

Today, the former prison is now the home of the National Prisoner of War Museum,
administered by the National Park Service.

This is the reconstructed northeast corner of the stockade that contained the prisoners. The view is looking southwest. Towering above the walls are representatives of the guard towers that monitored the prisoner activities inside the compound.

Inside that compound today are a sampling of makeshift shelters that prisoners struggled to maintain inside the 26.5 acre rectangular enclosure. Barracks that had been originally planned to house the prisoners were never built due to shortage of materials and manpower.

A photograph taken on August 17, 1864 from one of the guard towers, looking northwest. The top of the stockade wall is running along the right hand edge of the image. At ground level, just to the left of the stockade, is the infamous "dead line", which if crossed, would mean being shot by the guards above.

Here is the rebuilt "north gate" into the compound on the west wall of the stockade. Its name derives from being on the "north" side of a creek that flowed through the compound. A fellow inmate of Adams wrote of the horrors new prisoners witnessed upon arrival, "Once inside... men exclaimed 'Is this hell?' "

One of the NPS interpretive signs inside the gate.

Looking across the site of the compound from near the southwest corner. The location of the stockade walls and dead line are indicated by white stakes. The location of the rancid creek flowing through the prison runs along the low area between the high ground. It served as a drinking and bathing water source as well as the latrine. Dysentery was rampant. Of the near 45,000 men held here, 12,913 would die from starvation, malnutrition, and disease.

Among the dead was Jesse Adams, who succumbed to pneumonia on August 2, 1864,
 a mere eleven weeks after his capture. His remains rest under the soil of Georgia.

For myself, as a student of the Civil War for now over forty years, my visit to the Andersonville Prison site in 2008 was a profound experience. I have visited many battlefields and had been to the location of POW facilities in Richmond, Virginia, chiefly Belle Isle, where approximately 1,000 prisoners died out of 30,000, and the former location of Libby Prison, but visiting Andersonville changed it all for me. I can't see the war in its entirety in the same light as I did before. It is no longer simply the strategy and tactics of battles or the clash of political ideals. It is no longer "Still Rebels, Still Yankees" as Donald Davidson opined.


Richard said...

"I can't see the war in its entirety in the same light as I did before. It is no longer simply the strategy and tactics of battles or the clash of political ideals. It is no longer "Still Rebels, Still Yankees"

I felt the same way when I visited Andersonville.

Todd Berkoff said...

Hi John. Great post. Thanks for the pics of Andersonville. I have not yet been. Does the creek still run through the site today?

John Cummings said...

Good to hear from you Todd. Yes, the creek still flows and is inhabited by snakes. There are warning signs posted. Providence Spring is also still active near by. At the POW Museum you can buy small, glass bottles, pre labeled, so visitors can go to the spring and fill them as a souvenir.

Southern Lady said...

Do you believe the conditions were deliberately made horrible at Andersonville or just forced by war?

John Cummings said...

I do not believe the conditions at Andersonville were ever a deliberate effort to be cruel to those being held. The circumstances of the war made it more difficult to care for such large numbers in the southern prisons. Northern prisons, such as Elmira (near a 25% death rate), and Fort Delaware (over 20% death rate), operated under strained conditions as well. Andersonville had a near 29% death rate.
One of my Confederate ancestors was held at Fort Delaware in the final months of the war.
The breakdown of the exchange system did not help the situation of course.
Former Andersonville commandant Henry Wirz was found to be guilty of war crimes after the war and was hanged by the Federal government, yet a great debate lingers today as to the extent of his true "guilt".

Anna B said...

weren't the conditions terrible as well for the guards staying in camps outside the actuall prison? I believe I have read that they suffered from a chronic shortage of food as well. Is that correct?

John Cummings said...

Anna, you are correct. Conditions were strained for guards as well as prisoners. A noose was tightening around the Confederacy, and by the summer of 1864 supply lines were strangling.

Andy Bowen said...

Hi there, John. Thanks for your post. My g-g-grandfather, John G. Bowen, was also a private in the 10th New Jersey. I appreciate being able to read about Private Adams' experiences.

John Banks said...

John,... this is a really, really good way to tell a story. May borrow this for my blog. great job. always enjoy your stuff. john banks