Because of differing schedules, my wife and I were forced to travel separately on a recent holiday trip to Georgia. After showing the proper amount of remorse at our divergent itineraries, I gradually realized that I had been blessed with an infrequent opportunity to visit some of the numerous sites that apparently interest me alone within my family group. No matter, I packed my bag, grabbed my camera and set out early on a Thanksgiving morning to my brother’s home four hours away. Being a holiday, there were no attractions open so I made the shortest journey in my recent history by driving straight through with nary a stop along the dark gray ribbon of I-75, arriving in time to enjoy the noontime repast and give thanks with my family. Still, I was anxious to get to my parents’ house and set up my basecamp for the itinerary I had formulated during my trip south.
Bright and early the next morning I was up and at ’em, chomping at the bit to get on the road. Ever on the lookout for a chance to introduce my kids to a bit of history, even if it needs to be force fed at times, I woke my youngest son who had traveled down with me the previous day and hustled him into the family minivan. Like a modern-day Odysseus, and with promises of gooey, syrupy ingestibles for breakfast once we got underway, I sighted South Georgia through my windshield and headed down old highway 16 to parts unvisited by me for quite some time.
The ninety-something miles of driving took me past road names and through towns that jarred long-forgotten memories of my youth, a prodigious amount of which I spent burning up these four and sometimes two lanes of asphalt. Lost in those snapshots from the past, and with the aid of a sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich, the time seemed to fly by and we pulled into the parking lot of our destination before I realized it.
Andersonville National Historic Site had been a long-time resident on my list of places to visit. Taking advantage of our relatively close proximity, I made good on my effort to get this one crossed off the “to-do” list and over to the “finally made it there” group. The visitor center houses the National Prisoner of War Museum so after getting my park passport book stamped, purchasing a souvenir mug, and viewing the informative films in the park’s theater, we started our journey by winding our way through the exhibits on display.
Completing our tour, we exited the rear of the visitor center, walked past a monument to prisoners from all wars, and approached the location of one of the most infamous prison camps in American history. A small section of replicated camp illustrated the barren existence endured by the inhabitants of the stockade. The rest of the 26.5 acre site is immaculately manicured and broken only by monuments to the hapless prisoners along with a handful of cannon emplacements at various points around the old camp’s perimeter.
Finishing our circuit around the park, we drove through the adjacent Andersonville National Cemetery with its nearly 20,000 graves. The first internments were for victims of the horrors of the prison at Andersonville. Others who have given the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country have been laid to rest since.
Once again travelling twisting back roads through endless stands of Southern Pine trees, the return trip to Griffin was spent in quiet reflection. The horrors of the “civil” conflict a century and a half ago took on a new and enlightened perspective after viewing the museum exhibits, the park grounds, and the thousands of orderly grave markers. I looked at my son, wondering if he grasped the darkness of the situation as I had. Probably not. Thankfully he has not been exposed to the murky horrors that men are capable of inflicting upon each other. So as we headed back to the relative comfort of his world, where the fallen re-spawn in video games and a media empire founded by an animated rodent dictates values to our most receptive members, I think of future generations and wonder what insights we have gleaned from our past and how, or if, those lessons will be passed along. While the tangible evidence of their heritage slowly fades from the face of this old world, obscuring the measurable cost of their birthright, I silently resolve to introduce my children to what remains of it.
© 2013 G. Scott Brinkley. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.