"Wuld that I was an artist & had the material to paint this camp & all its horrors or the tongue of some eloquent Statesman and had the
privleage of expresing my mind to our hon. rulers at Washington. I should glory to describe this hell on Earth where it takes 7 of its ocupiants to make a
(Sgt. David Kennedy of the 9th Ohio Cavalry, a prisoner of Camp Sumter, in Andersonville, Georgia. )
For two years, while working on a story for this board, I did quite a bit of reading on the Civil War and in particular, the experiences of soldiers in POW
camps. I'm not unique in this - there have been many fine stories that have explored the horror of war through the point of view of our favorite
characters. The best of these have presented universal themes of brotherhood, humanity, and courage.
In part because of these stories and my own, I felt compelled to visit Andersonville, the most notorious prison camp from the Civil War. For the thoughtful,
Andersonville is a sacred site, consecrated with blood, courage, and suffering.
Few artifacts mark the prison site. But the few reconstructions are enough. Those with the eyes to see can gain a vision of past horrors, using observation,
empathy, and imagination. Plus the advice of a famous fictional lawyer - Atticus Finch. I tried to stand in the rags and tatters and worn-out shoes of a
prisoner of Andersonville.
Standing in the shoes of an Andersonville soldier, I saw my friends become so emaciated I could not tell if I was seeing withered flesh or bare, brittle bone.
(Witness the photographs and listen to the testimonies in the introductory film).
Standing in the shoes of an Andersonville soldier, I saw 45,000 men and boys broiling in summer, shivering in winter. (Witness the variety of reconstructed
lean-tos and shebangs.)
Standing in the shoes of a soldier, I saw desperate attempts to gain freedom. (Witness the fenced-in remains of tunneling attempts).
Standing in the shoes of a soldier, I saw terrible choices - to stray past the deadline and have a quick, merciful end to the suffering, or to remain in
bounds, and have a slow, torturous path to the grave. (Witness the posts delineating the deadlines; read the numbers of casualties - approximately 13,800.)
Standing in the shoes of a soldier, I saw a tiny muddy creek fouled by human waste, drying up in the heat of a Georgia summer.
I saw 14 months of desperation, disease, dysentary, despair. I saw loved ones waiting at home for brave men who would never return. I saw broken survivors
never being able to pick up the pieces of their lives.
How can one feel the story?
Standing in my own shoes, I stepped inside the gate and used my imagination. I heard the gate closing behind me, perhaps forever. I felt the lice burrowing
into my skin, the foul water cramping my guts, the maggoty food staving off starvation. I gazed into the busy "street" of a prison camp, where mud
and filth and hunger would be my daily companions, because other companions would die or betray.
Today, as I stood in my own shoes on the hallowed ground of Andersonville and a soft breeze slipped in through the cracks of the stockade, it was more than a
breeze that left a chill on my soul.
Standing in the shoes of a family member, I saw a sea of gravesites - brothers in arms, buried shoulder to shoulder by the thousands. I searched for the grave
of a loved one, blessing the clerk who was able to record the names of Andersonville dead so that the remains could be marked after the war with cold white
tombstones. Standing in the shoes of a patriotic American, I helped raise money to put up monuments and memorials, that we might never forget the sacrifices
others made for country and freedom.