A Story in Stone is a video series that highlights stories of some of the more than twenty thousand individuals buried in Andersonville National Cemetery. These videos are written, filmed, and produced by park staff and volunteers. These videos can be found here.
On February 1, 2014, a Second National Flag of the Confederacy was raised at the star fort, site of the Confederate headquarters, to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederate operations here. This flag will fly throughout the sesquicentennial of Camp Sumter Military Prison at Andersonville.
Learn more about the flags of Andersonville at http://www.nps.gov/ande/historyculture/flagsandersonville.htm
Richmond was a city at war. By 1863 it’s prewar population of 38,000 had more than doubled as the city was inundated with soldiers, government officials, bureaucrats, businessmen, and speculators all engaged in the Confederate war effort. All of this strained the city’s infrastructure and shortages of food and other materials became commonplace.
In the summer of 1863 the prisoner exchange system broke down. Confederate offi-cials were forced to find permanent facilities in which to house thousands of prisoners captured in the campaigns throughout the second half of the year. More than 20 loca-tions around Richmond held more than 16,000 prisoners of war by the end of the year. One out of five people living in Richmond was a Federal prisoner being held in camps like Belle Isle, Libby Prison, Castle Thunder, or one of the many warehouses around the city.
The large numbers of prisoners in Richmond alarmed the military leadership of the Confederacy.
[Robert E. Lee]: “I would respectfully suggest that the city of Richmond is not a suitable place for the accomodation and safe keeping of these prisoners. I think the presence of a large number there is, for many reasons, very injurious. It increases largely the amount of supplies to be transported to the city, and thus employs transportation which might be used for the benefit of the citizens. This has a tendency to increase high prices and cause distress among the poorer classes... Robert E. Lee, October 28, 1863
The city was pushing to the breaking point as the inhabitants of Richmond could no longer support themselves, the nearby armies, and the prisoners. A humanitarian crisis began to emerge, especially on Belle Isle in the James River. Shortages of food began to have a disastrous effect on prisoners in the city, and supplies sent from the north were in some cases distributed to needy citizens and Confederate soldiers.
[Dorence Atwater]:“Enough clothing was received to have furnished every prisoner with a complete suit and change of under-clothing, blankets, and over-coat, but no prisoner received these articles; if he were furnished with a blouse he must go without a shirt; if with pants he had to go without drawers...” Prisoner Dorence Atwater; Belle Isle, VA.
The disaster occuring in the prisons coupled with the struggles of the city finally prompted action. On November 24, 1863, Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon gave instructions to Captain W.S. Winder to travel to rural southwest Georgia in order to secure a new prison location near Americus. He settled on an area near the rail depot at Andersonville to serve as the new prison site.
The pending re-location of more than 16,000 prisoners brought optimism to the city. On December 30, 1863 the Richmond Sentinel reported that:
"It will not be long ere many of the Yankee prisoners, now in confinement on Belle Isle, will have an opportunity of breathing the salubrious air farther South, the Government having made selection of a spot in Georgia, near Andersonville, Sumtar county, for their reception and safe-keeping, their present place of confinement being rather over-crowded. The location is on the Southwestern railroad, between Oglethorpe and Americus, where no difficulty will be encountered in supplying their wants."
A prison crisis gripped the city of Richmond for the last half of 1863. The number of captives overwhelmed the city’s ability to care for not only the prisoners, but civilians as well. In order to meet these challenges in 1864, Andersonville would be the solution.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that "all men are created equal."
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow, this ground—The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.
It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us —that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Narrator: Over 260 volunteers joined staff at Andersonville National Cemetery this weekend to help place flags in front of headstones. An American Flag is placed in front of headstones to commemorate Memorial Day.
Girl Scout 1: We went to Andersonville to put the flags down on the people’s graves who died for their country.
Girl Scout 2: I feel it’s important because we need to honor those who died for their country and just remember all who died, even if they’re unknown and some people may not realize who they are.
Cub Scout: I’m five, I’m a Tiger Scout. This is my second time.
Narrator: The act of decorating graves at Andersonville National Cemetery for Memorial Day began in 1870. Approximately 20,000 individuals are buried at the national cemetery at Andersonville National Historic Site.
Operated for only 14 months near the end of the Civil War, the military prison here at Andersonville held nearly 45,000 prisoners of war. A lack of shelter, adequate food, and clean water led to the deaths of 13,000 men here. Can you picture yourself at Andersonville? I'm Ranger Brad Stribling. Take time during National Park Week to contemplate the stories of sacrifice in America's national parks.
The flight suit worn by Brigadier General (then Major) Rhonda Cornum (Gulf War POW) is on display in the National Prisoner of War Museum. Brigadier General Cornum was captured during an attempt to rescue downed pilot Captain Williams Andrews, who also became a POW.