Andersonville is now a sleepy little town in southern Georgia. But during the Civil War, it was the site of the notorious Camp Sumter Prison. Here, thousands of captured Union soldiers perished, often from the miserable conditions. Today, the National Park Service maintains the National POW Museum where the prison once stood.
The first Union prisoners arrived here on February 24, 1864. What awaited them was simply an open field surrounded by stockade walls. At first, overcrowding was not an issue, until the Confederacy began to imprison hundreds of soldiers there daily. There were no shelters provided, food was incredibly scarce, and a small spring in the field provided the only drinking water. Survivors reported being so hungry that they would eat any insect that crawled on them, including the many lice that plagued them.
By August of 1864, in the blazing heat of a South Georgia summer, the number of men crammed into this living nightmare had swelled to 33,000 men. Daily, the prison administrators rolled in a wagon to carry away the corpses. By the war’s end, 13,000 men perished at Camp Sumter. Captain Henry Wirz, the commander of Camp Sumter, was eventually executed on charges of “murder, in violation of the laws of war.”
The fatal field is behind the National POW Museum. Today, it’s pocked with monuments left by various veterans groups to memorialize those who lost their lives here. In a couple of places, the NPS has erected a section of stockade wall to give visitors of sense of the site’s deadly past.