View of wooden markers at Dayton National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers cemetery, now Dayton National Cemetery; Entrance to Alexandria (VA) National Cemetery, circa 1865; Rostrum, circa 1890, Loudon Park National Cemetery
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Civil War Era National Cemeteries: Honoring Those Who Served

Andersonville National Cemetery

Andersonville, Georgia

Andersonville National Cemetery
Andersonville National Cemetery
National Park Service
The Andersonville National Cemetery in Andersonville, GA contains the graves of more than 13,000 Union soldiers. Most of these enlisted soldiers died while held in Camp Sumter, a Confederate stockade prison known more commonly as Andersonville.  The Confederate prison, located south of the cemetery grounds, was infamous for its poor living conditions. Prisoners suffered from not only battlefield injuries, but also disease and inadequate sanitation, clothing, and food.  The mass graves of prisoners became a national cemetery in 1865. Andersonville National Cemetery continues to be an active cemetery. The cemetery is one of 14 national cemeteries managed by the National Park Service and is part of the Andersonville National Historic Site. The site interprets the stories and sacrifices of American prisoners of war through the cemetery, stockade grounds, and a modern museum.

Prior to the construction of Camp Sumter, the Confederacy held prisoners of war in Richmond, Virginia.  With the city’s food supplies dwindling and citizens' increasing concern about the potential for a prison break, Confederate leaders chose to build a new prison at Andersonville.  The tiny Georgia village featured a remote location, ample water supplies, and proximity to a railroad line. Slaves and Confederate soldiers began the prison’s construction in January 1864. The first prisoners, 500 in total, arrived a month later, prior to the prison’s completion.

The slaves and Confederate soldiers constructed a stockade of heavy upright timbers enclosing a field of approximately 16 acres. A “dead line,” delineated by a low wood railing, formed an inner perimeter.  Guards were instructed to shoot any prisoners crossing the line to approach the wall.

Confederate Captain W. Sidney Winder designed the prison, which he felt could hold 10,000 prisoners.  By June 1864, Andersonville held more than 26,000 prisoners. Work began to enlarge the stockade, adding 10 more acres, bringing the total size to 26.5 acres by July.  In August, the number of prisoners jumped to its highest point, with more than 33,000 Union soldiers held at the stockade.

With growing numbers of prisoners and dwindling supplies, conditions in the camp rapidly deteriorated.  Although Confederate guards provided meager rations of cornmeal and meat, initially prisoners were not provided utensils for cooking or eating.  Rough shelters of branches and cloth provided inadequate shelter.  Some prisoners were nearly naked because their clothing was so worn.  The stockade’s water supply, a small stream running through the prison, quickly became polluted. The unsanitary conditions, compounded by disease and malnutrition, led to the death of more than 12,000 prisoners. Over 900 prisoners died each month. The dead, both Union prisoners and their Confederate guards, were laid in mass graves at a site 300 yards north of the stockade.  Trenches three feet wide and 200 feet long accommodated hundreds of bodies, laid shoulder to shoulder.

Seven months after the prison took in its first inmates, Union General William T. Sherman captured Atlanta.  Able-bodied inmates were transferred from Andersonville to prisons in Savannah and South Carolina.  The most infirm and ill stayed at Andersonville, which remained in operation until April 1865.

The U.S. government appropriated the burial ground in July 1865, establishing the property as a national cemetery.  A month later, the famous Civil War nurse Clara Barton surveyed the cemetery to identify and mark the graves of the Union dead. In 1868, Union soldiers temporarily buried in the local vicinity were reinterred at the Andersonville National Cemetery, increasing the number of Civil War graves to nearly 13,700.

Site Plan

1893 Site Plan of Andersonville National Cemetery.
Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
(click on image to enlarge)

After the war, the prison site returned to private ownership and reverted to agricultural use. The massive timbers of the wooden stockade rotted away or were torn down, and the various buildings on site demolished.  Ownership eventually fell to the Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans' association, which purchased the former prison site in 1890. After making a number of improvements and erecting monuments at the site, the Grand Army of the Republic donated the property to the National Woman's Relief Corps in 1896. The NWRC subsequently donated the property to the U.S. Government in 1910.  In 1970, Congress designated the Andersonville prison site a National Historic Site, and transferred management to the National Park Service.

Today the Andersonville National Cemetery is surrounded by pine trees.  A four-foot-tall brick wall, constructed in 1872, encloses the cemetery’s 27 acres. Two drives divide the property into four quadrants; crossing at a diamond-shaped intersection near the center of the property. The cemetery is divided into 17 sections.  A majority of those who died while imprisoned at Andersonville are buried in sections E, F, H, J, and K.

A superintendent’s lodge, constructed in 1872, is located on the western edge of the property.  The lodge was extensively modified during the 1930s with the addition of a kitchen and the complete demolition and reconstruction of the second floor. Opposite the lodge on the cemetery’s east side is a rostrum built in 1941. The stone structure, capped with a metal roof, serves as a speaking platform for ceremonies.

Between 1905 and 1916, nine Union states erected monuments honoring those who died while being held prisoner at Andersonville: Maine (1904), Pennsylvania (1905), Connecticut (1907), Illinois (1907), Indiana (1908), Iowa (1908), New Jersey (ca. 1910), New York (1914), and Minnesota (1916). The monuments, ranging in height between six and thirty-six feet, are constructed of a variety of materials and are adorned with statues and funereal symbols.  More recently constructed monuments include the Georgia Monument, dedicated in 1976 to commemorate all American POWs, and a memorial to those held in German POW Camp Stalag 17B during World War II.
Plan your visit

The entrance for the Andersonville National Historic Site, which includes the Andersonville National Cemetery, is located on Georgia Rte. 49, approximately one mile north of the intersection of Rte. 49 and Georgia Rte. 228, in Andersonville, GA.
The cemetery and prison grounds are open for visitation daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm.  The visitors center is located in the site’s National Prisoner of War Museum.  The museum is open daily from 8:30am to 5:00 pm, and is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. For more information, visit the National Park Service Andersonville National Historic Site website or call the park’s visitors center at 229-924-0343.  While visiting, be mindful that our national cemeteries are hallowed ground and be respectful to all of our nation’s fallen soldiers and their families.  Additional cemetery policies may be posted on site.

Andersonville National Historic Site is a unit of the National Park System and is dedicated to preserving and interpreting the Confederate prison site while also educating visitors about the experiences and hardships of prisoners of war. Through exhibits and other interpretive tools, the National Prisoner of War Museum tells the story of Civil War era prisons and POWs, in addition to the sacrifices made by American POWs in World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.  A brief history of the Andersonville prison and the cemetery is available on the History & Culture page of the National Historic Site website.

The Confederate stockade at Andersonville is the subject of an online lesson plan, Andersonville: Prisoner of War Camp.  The lesson plan provides additional information on prison camps in the South, the living conditions Union soldiers endured, and additional historic context.  The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.

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