Saturday, June 13, 2009

Andersonville Prison, Georgia

Andersonville Prison (A.K.A. Camp Sumter), near Americus Georgia, is often brought up as an example of the brutal conditions of Civil-War era military prisons. The prison was really little more than wood and cloth temporary structures surrounded by a stockade wall, patrolled by armed guards who were generally willing to kill anyone who passed the "deadline" - a line that created a buffer between the prisoner's area and the prison's walls.

Like most prisons of its day, the camp was plagued by poor sanitation, crowding, and violence both among the prisoners and between the prisoners and guards. One notable group was "Mosby's Raiders", a group of prisoners led by Mosby Collins who would terrorize and take advantage of the other prisoners. Eventually, the warden allowed the prisoners to put several of the "raiders" on trial and execute them.

Up to 13,000 prisoners died during the prison's operation. The prison population could equal 20,000 prisoners at any one time. In 1864, with Union soldiers pushing their way into Georgia, most of the prisoners were vacated from Andersonville and moved to other locations. A group of approximately 1,500 prisoners was left behind, guarded by a skeleton crew of Confederate soldiers. The prison was closed down in 1865 due to the end of the war.

In the century and a half since the closing of the prison, numerous frightening stories have been told about the place. Phantom soldiers have been said to appear and vanish. Overnight campers, taking part in civil war reenactments, have reported developing a strange sickness during the course of the night and feeling an overwhelming malevolence that compelled them to leave. Other visitors have reported being physically pushed by unseen forces; hearing the sounds of screams, marching, and gunshots; seeing figures faintly during fog, accompanied by sounds of screaming and moaning; Hearing voices calling for specific individuals known to have been at the prison; and being overwhelmed by a strong charnel-house smell.

One noteworthy apparition is that of Captain Wirz - the designer and warden of the prison, who was put on trial for war crimes after the end of the war. He was summarily executed.

One popular story holds that a soldier in era-uniform has been seen walking down the road near the prison, visible by the light of the lantern he carries. When the Hometown Tales guys began to speak with people about this story, they quickly found the likely origin of this particular story. One of their contacts, a Civil War re-enacter, was walking along the road during an event-related camping trip. When a truck passed by, the driver appears to have caught a glimpse of the uniformed man and nearly crashed, but took off again without finding out what was really going on.

Commentary: The Civil War occupies a unique place in the American mind. Although inter-state antagonism is not unusual, most people within the nation will identify themselves primarily as citizens of the United States, and secondarily as Georgians, Floridans, Californians, Hoosiers (residents of Indiana), etc. Although this story was different during the late 18th and early 19th century, this hierarchy of identities has long been typical of the people of the U.S.A.

As such, the Civil War represents a breakdown of the perceived natural order. And it is a festering psychic scar on the American consciousness, one that has come to represent different things to different people. To most of us, it represents the final death knell of slavery within the U.S. To a small, but vocal, group, it represents the tyranny of industrial progressives over God-fearing rural people. Of course, neither mythologized view is quite correct, but that doesn't stop them from maintaining popularity.

The Civil war is also significant in the American mind in that it is one of only two wars in which a significant number of people died on U.S. soil, the other being the Revolutionary war (smaller conflicts resulted in deaths on a smaller scale, or a large number of deaths but over a larger period of time - such as wars against Native American groups), and of these two, the Civil war was by far the bloodier. As a result, sites associated with the Civil War take on great significance even amongst those who do not subscribe to supernatural beliefs.

To those who do subscribe to such beliefs these locations are hallowed and haunted ground. Stories of civil war ghosts run the gamut from rather prosaic stories about seeing a single individual in uniform appearing and vanishing to stories about battles being re-enacted by spectral armies. Although Gettysburg is the best known example, others are in ready supply throughout the south, mid-west, and on the east coast.

That Andersonville should have weird events attributed to it is not surprising. Aside from being significant in terms of its ties to the Civil War, it is also a place that witnessed considerable misery and cruelty. Even those who do not believe in ghosts may feel themselves creeped out by such places.

...and another video treat from you, from the rather groovy fella's at

Hometown Tales:

...and another one from another source...

Sources: Hometown Tales, Internet, Internet, National Park Service

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