Monday, March 28, 2011

An American Concentration Camp

This man did not survive a concentration camp in Europe during World War 2. Andersonville is not even the first place that comes to mind when asked to name a concentration camp. The name alone is too Anglicized, most think, and certainly such a place could not have existed in the United States of America. Until the reality that it did exist in the U.S. sinks in the vast majority will insist on more well known places such as Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald, Treblinka and Sobibor. During the Second World War those camps and dozens of others like them were used to eliminate or at least imprison political opponents, ethnic minorities, gays and the Jewish people. Soldiers were killed or left to die on the battlefields of Europe or in death marches across Southeast Asia. In 19th Century America slaves died in the fields and on the run while soldiers died in battle or in places like Andersonville.

Andersonville did not have gas chambers but it was a "konzentrationslager" in just about every sense of the word and, along with its sister camps in both the North and the South during the Civil War, it operated on American shores. "Camp Sumter" as it was officially known was built east of Andersonville in February of 1864 and would receive roughly 45,000 Union prisoners. In 13 months of operation the heat, humidity, starvation, parasites and lack of sanitation and poor treatment at the hands of the guards and each other contributed to outbreaks of scurvy, exposure, dysentery, diarrhea and other diseases led to the deaths of nearly 13,000 of those soldiers.

The entire camp is hidden behind tall trees as I drive up through the main entrance off of Pecan Lane and Georgia Highway #49. A massive field is dotted with memorials and other markers from the different regiments of the various states whose men were imprisoned here. Tall ones, short ones, squat ones and simple ones lay strewn around the grounds almost haphazardly, representing Michigan, Massachusetts and Rhode Island to name a few.

The grounds within Prison Site Road that rings what was "Camp Sumter" near Andersonville, Georgia appear well cared for and neatly trimmed which of course is what entices tourist from all over the world to visit the place. At the same time it does little to evoke the true squalor and conditions of the place when it was in operation. Part of the 15-foot high wooden stockade fence has been restored as have a few of the prison tents half-buried in the ground for temperature control along with some office buildings from the time. The stream that served as both water supply and latrine babbles bucolically downhill towards the southeast, fresh clear water gurgling and bubbling through its roughly ten foot wide pathway. There is no stench of feces, urine and decay, no swarm of blue flies that rose in to the air like a waving curtain of misery. There wasn't even much in the way of heat in the air given that this was early December when I rode through.

Rest assured, however, the camp sits in what remains rural Georgia cotton country so humidity is never far away.

Gotta go.

6 comments:

  1. Hej from Sweden!
    What a disgraceful history you have uncovered. I never knew this! shameful!

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  2. The very first sentence states that "This man did not survive a concentration camp in Europe during World War 2." The article then goes on to discuss prisoner of war camps during the Civil War in America. You are sensationalizing victims of Holocaust Atrocities during the WWII to make your case. That is what is disgraceful!

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  3. I had a great great grandfather who was a prisoner here a few months before the war ended. He survived, but was in a camp hospital for 2 or 3 months in Vicksburg before boarding a steamship home to Indiana. That steamship was The Sultana. It was incredibly overcrowded with soldiers on their way home. The boilers exploded North of Memphis, the ship caught fire and sank. More people were lost in this tragedy than were lost on Titanic, but it was right after Lincoln was killed & not well covered in the newspapers. I found an eyewitness document stating that my GG grandfather was last seen sleeping on the stairs directly above the boilers. He was 32 & left a widow with 4 small children to raise. The Civil War was a terrible tragedy in our county's history. It may be improper to compare it to The Holocaust atrocities, but these men endured some horrible things!

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  4. Statistically a higher percentage of Southern troops died in northern prison camps.
    And the north had food and medicine, it was wilful neglect, calculated to kill helpless prisoners.

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  5. This was horrific and the soldiers were just as bad of condition. The North had cut off all food supplies. It was not intended, but was caused by the North. The Yankees had camps in which they purposely starved, and beat Southern soldiers. People seriosly need to learn history!

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  6. The North propagated more atrocities than the south ever did.

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