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, 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 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.
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.
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 email@example.com. 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