As part of my National Cemeteries tour I visited Andersonville National Cemetery in South Georgia. The cemetery is the final resting place for some 13,000 Union prisoners of war that were held in the adjacent Camp Sumter Civil War prison more widely referred to simply as Andersonville. The cemetery is an active burial site and now contains the graves of almost 20,000 American service members, men and women.
The burial grounds were first used in 1864 to inter the remains of Union prisoners who succumbed to the 27% mortality rate in the prison. A death rate matched closely by the Union prison camp for Confederate POWs at Elmira, New York with its equally ghastly death rate of 25%.
After the war, a log book kept by one of the prisoners was used by Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, to identify and mark the graves of the prisoners interred within. The site was officially declared a National Cemetery on June 26, 1865 and today is maintained by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
At odds with the long and neatly spaced graves is a small group of six graves set apart from the rest of the burials. These graves hold the remains of the leaders of a group of outlaw prisoners known as the “Raiders” who terrorized other prisoners within the compound.
I had the opportunity to walk through the site of the nearby prison camp and have read journals from those that were incarcerated during the camp’s fourteen months of operation. The scale of brutality didn’t fully sink in though until I experienced the rows of graves in the cemetery. The visual representation of the suffering and death attributed to the camp is sobering. No matter what political view a person has of the Civil War the many grave markers bring the reality of the struggle home. May they all rest in peace.
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