Counting at Andersonville

Andersonville National Historic Site

Andersonville National Historic Site

It’s easy to be seduced by the latest use of technology in our museums and other historic sites to get across the Civil War experience and the human cost. They are powerful tools and can be incredibly effective, but once in a while, we are reminded that the simplest approach works best. Such is the case at Andersonville National Historic Site, where they are keeping track on a daily basis the number of new prisoners admitted as well as the latest deaths and burials. It’s incredibly powerful.

I am not sure where this is situated in the visitor center, but I hope it is one of the first things that people see when they enter. It is often difficult for people to wrap their heads around large numbers, but this little display makes it easy to identify recent losses in the context of the life of the prison. If I was visiting I would immediately inquire into the names of the men who died on this day 150 years ago. How did they arrive at the prison? Where were they from? Those men would serve as my guides through the site.

I’ve never been to Andersonville, but I hope to visit one day. I applaud the NPS staff. This is a challenging commemoration, but from what I can tell they’ve got the right people on board.

14 comments… add one
  • EK Mar 8, 2014 @ 5:45

    NPS is always impressive, but the the staff and the interpretation at Andersonville is simply amazing. If I recall, they’re going to visualize the growth of the cemetery to show each day’s additions with flags or some moveable markers. Simple, creative, and powerful. They’re also highlighting the labor force, including slaves and some black prisoners of war, who built and maintained the prison.

    Kevin – This is the year you should visit Andersonville.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 8, 2014 @ 5:47

      Kevin ā€“ This is the year you should visit Andersonville.

      No argument there.

  • Parker Mar 5, 2014 @ 15:37

    Yeah, yeah, that’s it! If only all those cotton and tobacco planters would have immediately shifted to planting corn, wheat, and other foods, Lincoln would have instantly issued orders stating that all plantations which had formerly produced cotton and tobacco, and we’re now planting foodstuffs, were to be left in peace! Sheridan would not have destroyed the Shenanndoah Valley! Sherman would not have raided and looted his ways through Georgia and up the Coast! The naval blockade would have been let food imports through! The Confederacy would have been fed! And the prisoners at Andersonville would have needed to enroll at Jenny Craig!

  • RE Watson Mar 5, 2014 @ 14:50

    What is the URL to obtain the daily update ?

    • Kevin Levin Mar 5, 2014 @ 14:53

      I’ve been copying and pasting pics from Facebook. Don’t know if there is a direct link.

  • Paker Mar 5, 2014 @ 14:22

    The suffering at Andersonville is a prime example of rough justice. Inasmuch as the USA utilized starvation as a tool of war, it could hardly then complain when the starvation tactics were so effective that they ultimately reached the POW population. Basically, the soldiers at Andersonville got exactly what they deserved, and exactly what they went South to do to others. No apologies are needed or should ever be offered for Andersonville.

    • Jerry McKenzie Mar 5, 2014 @ 14:47

      Certainly the decision of Southern plantation owners to plant more tobacco and cotton rather than food could not have had anything to do with Southern starvation (which is nothing like Andersonville, Salisbury, or Richmond).

    • Kevin Levin Mar 5, 2014 @ 14:49

      No apologies are needed or should ever be offered for Andersonville.

      Who said anything about “apologies” being needed in any direction?

    • EK Mar 8, 2014 @ 5:28

      If you can field an army, you can feed the prisoners. If you can efficiently transport prisoners away from areas of fighting, you can transport an adequate supply of food to that same population. Humanity was simply not a high priority in a nation based on the premise that all are in fact not created equal. The white southern population never died of starvation except in hyperbole–even in Shenandoah and even in Georgia and the Carolinas.

  • Nathan Towne Mar 5, 2014 @ 12:57

    I still have never been to Andersonville prison, but I definitely plan on going at some point in the near future. I have a feeling it is going to be a somewhat difficult experience though.

    The changes to the site look great.

    Nathan Towne

  • Eric A. Jacobson Mar 5, 2014 @ 9:54

    Simple and powerful indeed. I am intimately familiar with Andersonville, especially since so many men captured at Franklin ended up there. Even more sad is that some of those men ended up on the Sultana. It really is one of the most haunting (perfect word as used in a prior comment) places I have ever visited. It has an overwhelming sense of sadness and desperation that I have never felt on ANY battlefield.

  • James F. Epperson Mar 5, 2014 @ 4:05

    I’ve been once, in honor of my great-grandfather, who spent a year there (but survived and lived until 1914). It is a haunting place.

  • Eric Leonard Mar 4, 2014 @ 17:40

    I can confirm that the whiteboard is prominently placed in the lobby of the National Prisoner of War Museum, where it is among the first things a visitor sees.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 4, 2014 @ 17:41

      Hi Eric,

      I didn’t really doubt that. šŸ™‚

Now that you've read the post, share your thoughts.