When Ted mentioned several weeks ago we should ride over to Andersonville so I could write a story on the National Historic Site there, I admit to wondering if that was a story I really wanted to tell. We live, as the crow flies, no more than 30 miles from this infamous Civil War prison, and I have heard about Andersonville – the historic prison and the National Cemetery – my whole life and have visited there many times. In 1998 the Prisoner of War Museum became the third feature of the site, and Ted and I toured it several years ago. The prison and the POW museum are testaments to just how horribly humans can treat other humans. The cemetery is a quiet place of honor where veterans of military service may still be interred.
The weather was beautiful on Sunday – blue skies, warm enough that only light jackets were needed, the hint of spring in the air. We picked up Dawn and Stevie a little after lunch and were in the National Park within 30 minutes. We toured the entire facility, and I’ve decided to write about the newest feature first – the Prisoner of War Museum. Tomorrow I’ll cover Andersonville – the prison, and the National Cemetery.
Andersonville National Historic Site is the only National Park System area to serve as a memorial to all American prisoners of war. When Congress asked for the museum to be built, it stated that its purpose was “to provide an understanding of the overall prisoner of war story of the Civil War, to interpret the role of prisoner of war camps in history, to commemorate the sacrifice of Americans who lost their lives in such camps, and to preserve the monuments located within the site”.
From the brochure, Andersonville: “Capture as a prisoner of war often comes as a complete surprise and is frequently accompanied by injury Internment is a physical and emotional ordeal that is all too often fatal. American prisoners of war, throughout history, have confronted varying conditions and treatment. Sometimes conditions are dictated by climate and geography; sometimes treatment is dictated by something as simple as the whim of an individual captor. International rules require that prisoners of war be treated humanely. But history has taught us that the interpretation of those rules vary with different cultures and nations.
In every war, American prisoners of war have suffered and seen fellow captives die from disease, starvation, exposure, lack of medical care, forced marches, and outright murder. They have been victims of war crimes such as torture, mutilation, beatings, and forced labor under inhumane conditions. But at times they have suffered simply because their captors were not adequately prepared to care for them.”
The photographs taken Sunday afternoon inside the museum and on the museum grounds do not even begin to tell the full story of this beautiful facility. I only hope to tweak your interest in coming for a visit.
The Prisoner of War Museum at Andersonville tells a story of sacrifice and courage, and you can truly spend hours within its walls if you look at the art, watch the video presentations, and study every exhibit, document, and photograph. If you come for a visit, I encourage you to do just that. You will come away saddened, but you will also come away filled with a sense of gratitude and almost reverence for what our captured military personnel have endured, and in so many cases survived and triumphed over.
Some Americans have experienced the prisoner of war ordeal for a few days, others for years – but all have experienced the loss of freedom. The most important story told at Andersonville is that this loss of freedom makes us cherish freedom even more.
“None who have always been free can understand the terrible fascinating power of the hope of freedom to those who are not free.” . . . Pearl S. Buck