Visit to Andersonville a lesson in all POW history, not just Civil War

Q: I'm a Civil War buff and next spring I'm going to Georgia to see Andersonville prison, which was a famous prison where Union soldiers were kept. Can you tell me anything about the location and what there is to see and do?

A: Andersonville, probably the Civil War's most infamous prison, is now the Andersonville National Historic Site, located about 10 miles northeast of Americus, Ga., on Route 49.

The park also serves as a memorial to all American prisoners of war throughout our nation's history and is the only park in the National Park System that honors POWs.

Originally known as Camp Sumter, Andersonville was one of the largest of many Confederate military prisons established during the Civil War. It was built in 1864, a 16-acre site designed to hold 10,000 prisoners. However, during the last 13 months of the war 40,000 Union prisoners of war were confined there. Conditions in the prison were so bad that some 13,000 men died of disease and exposure to the elements.

In addition, the Confederates were running out of medicine and food for their own soldiers, leaving little for the prisoners.

Confederate Capt. Henry A. Wirz was the officer in charge of the prison, and his actions during the time Andersonville existed have remained a controversial subject. Was he a war criminal or a hero? The Union saw him as a war criminal, and he was tried and hanged in Washington, D.C., after the war ended. However, the Georgia division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected a monument honoring Wirz in the center of Andersonville, where it still stands today.

Ultimately, the site became the national location for POW records of all Americans who served the United States in any war. In 1998 the National Prisoner of War Museum opened dedicated to the men and women of this country who suffered captivity. The museum tells their stories.

Located about two miles outside the town of Andersonville (population 300) is a restored village that once was the point of disembarkation for Civil War prisoners on their way to the Confederate prison. The village includes a pioneer farm, an old log church and the Civil War Drummer Boy Museum. Although the village is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Drummer Boy Museum is only open from Thursday through Sunday. There is a small admission charge.

Americus has the Habitat for Humanity International Tour Center and Museum at 417 W. Church St. This is the starting point for guided tours of the headquarters for the humanitarian organization that is in partnership with volunteers and religious organizations to help build or renovate affordable housing.

Detailed information is available by checking the Americus-Sumter (County) Tourism Council Web site at

Send your questions at least sixweeks prior to travel to MadelynMerwin in care ofTravel,Daily Herald, P.O.Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006, or

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