Posted by: bree1972 | March 10, 2010

Not in Vain . . . 03/11/2010

On February 2, 1864 Adam Swarner became the first prisoner of war to die at Andersonville and the first to be buried there.  Within 14 months, 12, 914 prisoners had died. 

Dorence Atwater

Dorence Atwater, a 19-year-old Andersonville prisoner, accepted the task of keeping the hospital death register.  When a soldier died in the stockade, Atwater assigned a number to the body, which was then moved to a small structure built of tree branches outside the South Gate of the prison.  From there, bodies were carried by mule-driven wagon to the cemetery for burial.  The soldiers were buried, shoulder to shoulder, in three-foot trenches, and a wooden cross bearing the number Atwater had assigned was erected at each soldier’s gravesite.  Whenever possible, Atwater also registered each man’s name, company, regiment, and date and cause of death.  Atwater meticulously made a copy of the death register, hoping to one day be able to notify the relatives of the nearly 13,000 interred at Andersonville. 

At the end of the war, Atwater headed North with his copy of the register hidden in his personal belongings.  He tried unsuccessfully to have the register published, but after many delays, he took the register to Civil War nurse Clara Barton.

Clara Barton

Clara Barton led the efforts to get medical supplies, aid, and care for the troops.  President Abraham Lincoln authorized her to gather information on missing soldiers to inform their relatives.  When Barton received Atwater’s register, along with the Confederate death records captured at the end of the war, she had what she needed to begin to accomplish that task.  During the summer of 1865, U.S. Army Capt. Jameson Moore, accompanied by Clara Barton, former prisoner of war Dorence Atwater, and a crew of 34 men, traveled to Andersonville.  Their task, to identify and mark more than 12,000 graves, was completed in less than two months. 

In August of 1865, Clara Barton raised the first U.S. flag to fly over the burial grounds, and on Nov. 25, 1865 Andersonville was declared a National Cemetery. In 1877-78 the original wooden markers were replaced with white marble headstones. 

The cemetery is also an honored burial-place for veterans of all subsequent wars.  The National Park Service maintains 14 National Cemeteries nationwide.  Only two of them, Andersonville and Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greenville, TN, are classified active,continuing to bury veterans and their dependents.  Around 100 veterans or their dependents are buried at Andersonville each year.

The cemetery is only a short drive (a minute or two) from the prison site.  William Thompson’s sculpture at the entrance honors American prisoners of war in all conflicts.


Although the “14,000 dead” has been drummed into my head at the prison site, I am still always unprepared for the sea of graves.  They stretch in every direction, as far as the eye can see. 


Monuments have been erected here, as they have at the prison site, by states whose soldiers are buried at Andersonville.

This area is for veterans and dependents from the "modern wars" - World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

In this area you will see some graves with names on both sides of the grave marker.


When a veteran requests burial at Andersonville, his/her spouse may be buried there also. They are buried in the same plot, one casket above the other. This Marine was a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He died and was buried in 1998.

Five years later, his wife was buried above him, and her life's history is etched on the other side of his tombstone.


The graves of the soldiers who died at Andersonville.  Buried shoulder to shoulder, their grave markers almost touch.

The graves of the soldiers who died at Andersonville prison.


Buried shoulder to shoulder, their grave markers almost touch.

With the aid of Dorence Atwater's register and Confederate death records, only 460 of Andersonville's prisoner of war graves are marked "Unknown Soldier".

Six graves stand alone in the cemetery. William Collins (known as Mosby) was the Union prisoner of war leader of a group of six men known as Mosby’s Raiders. The group beat, stole from, murdered, and terrorized fellow Union prisoners before they revolted. In a trial conducted by prisoners, and endosed by Prison Commander Capt. Henry Wirz, the six “Raiders” were found guilty and hanged. Their remains were interred away from the other Union soldiers who died at the prison.


An Andersonville mystery. There is only one marble marker that is different from the others belonging to the war dead of Andersonville prison. It is grave #12,196, and it belongs to Lewis Tuttle. Tuttle was a Corporal in Company F of the 32nd Maine Regiment. He was captured in May of 1864, crossing a river in Virginia. He died on Nov. 30, 1864 in the prison hospital. We know he was 29 years old and that he left a wife and two daughters behind. The mystery is the appearance of a stone dove on the top of his grave marker. The dove was discovered on the grave many, many years ago, and its meaning remains a mystery.

There is also a section in the cemetery for memorials.  On the left and right of a circular driveway toward the rear of the cemetery, there are markers, but no one is buried there.  Here soldiers who did not make it back from their war are remembered.  An example is a memorial to Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Luther Story.  Story was last seen during the Korean War, seriously wounded and holding off the enemy single-handedly so his comrades could escape.  

A beautiful monument on the grounds of the cemetery . . .

. . . engraved with the inspired words of President Abraham Lincoln - the same words inscribed on a monument in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

John Cory said that war is the cemetery of futures promised.  Standing in the cemetery at Andersonville, your heart breaks for all these young men who died so young.  Some were married with children, and some had not even begun that part of their lives.  We will never know what they would have gone on to accomplish – their promised futures died in Andersonville.  They died as captives from a war fighting for freedom, and when you study Andersonville, you understand that the entire park is a monument to that freedom.   

Oh, that there was a way to ensure that blessed privilege without the horror of war.  


Wow!  I told Ted this morning that I’ve had deja vu this week.  I feel like I’m been back in high school, working on an “A” in Paul McCorvey’s history class.  I hope my history lovers have enjoyed this week on Andersonville.  There are so many fun places to go in south Georgia – and all of them are happier than this week’s subject.  But as draining as this week has been, I learned a lot that I didn’t know, even after visiting this National Park for years.    

OH MY GOSH – today is Thursday, and I haven’t asked for recipes.  I’m thinking CHICKEN DISHES.  Ok – there is NO TIME to proscrastinate.  I have to have your recipes by late afternoon TODAY!   Hurry, hurry, hurry!  Email them to me at   HURRY!  

“Happiness is not so much in having as in sharing. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life out of what we give.” . . . Norman MacEwan



  1. After reading this I had to look up Lewis Tuttle. The dove intriqued me . It seems he also had 2 brothers in the war. I won’t go into details but it was interesting to find out that Illinois itself has several different prisons that were used during the civil war. Not quite as famous as Andersonville tho, but something that I never knew. I might just have to read more. Very interesting stuff. Thanks Brenda for sharing.

  2. When I was a child growing up in middle Ga. Andersonville was my daddy`s favorite place to visit. At least once a month he`d load us up in the car and off we`d go on the hour long trip over to Andersonville stopping in Montozuma for ice cream before we journed on to our destination. Once there, we`d scamper all over the cemetery, reading headstones and wondering about the lives of the boys and men buried there. My mom and dad would both have tears running down their faces. I thought I knew this place pretty well, but you`ve brought up things I didn`t know and memories I`d forgotten. Well done, Brenda.

    • I know, Marianne. I’ve been there so many times, but never really STUDIED it. There was so much more I could have written. I’m ready to go back again.

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