Andersonville National Historic Site

by Bob Hoelscher 2. April 2013 22:58

National Prisoner of War Museum

One of the most moving of NPS sites commemorates the infamous Confederate Civil War prison camp at Andersonville, officially known as Camp Sumter, which is located 26 miles west of I-75 Exit 127. During the scant 14 months that the camp existed more than 45,000 Union soldiers were imprisoned here, 13,000 of which died from disease, malnutrition or exposure. 

Although camp was originally designed to house 10,000 prisoners, the pen was enlarged from 16.5 to 26.5 acres in June 1864.  During the following month, a sergeant of the 9th Ohio Cavalry wrote in his diary “to describe this hell on Earth where it takes seven of its occupants to make a Shadow.” 

In late 1890, the site was purchased by the Georgia Department of a Union veterans’ organization, the Grand Army of the Republic. The prison site was donated to the people of the U.S. in 1910, until it became a unit of the National Park Service in 1971. 

Today, the prison site includes walking and driving tours, a historic cemetery, many state monuments and the extensive National Prisoner of War Museum. Both an orientation film and the museum detail the ordeals facing American POWs throughout the history of the nation.

"Shebangs" (prisoner shelters) and stockade

State Memorials

Andersonville National Cemetery

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Traveling I-75 through Georgia

Surveying the Civil War

by Brian Jewell 10. April 2012 00:54

There are few places in the United States so impacted by the Civil War as Atlanta. The city famously burned after Union general Sherman captured it in 1864. Today, nearly 150 years later, the events are still a striking part of the Atlanta story.

There are plenty of places around the city that shed light on the Civil War battles that happened here and the scars that they left. But for visitors who want to get a broad overview of the war, its causes and effects, the best place to start is the Atlanta History Center. This museum has a variety of exhibits that deal with Atlanta's past, including a large section called "Turning Point: The American Civil War Experince."

"This is one of the one of the largest collection s of Civil War memorabilia on display in the country," said Brandi Wigley, the museum's senior manager of community initiatives. "It tells the human side of the Civil War."

The exhibit has all of the common display pieces that you would expect to find: guns, uniforms, cannons, maps, photographs, etc. But it also does a great job of distilling the major causes and movements of the Civil war into easy-to-understand pieces. Visitors begin in a section calld "War of Ideals," that deals with the motivations of each side that led to the outbreak of war. As the experience progresses, displays mark the turning points that took place in each year of the war, and mark the important shifts in strategy, economy and national attitude that eventually led to the Union's victory.

I really appreciated the way that the museum made the war easy for me to understand. And the artifacts on display helped to illustrate some of the realities of the conflict that aren't apparent simply from reading a text pannel. One of the most striking images I came across was a collection of "war ordinance" -- dozens of shells, mortars and cannonballs that were used in battle. The small ones were the size of a grapefruit; the larger ones could be twice the size of a modern bowling ball. The size and number of these weapons helped me to understand just how scary action on the battlefield must have been, and how much bravery was displayed by those who fought.

The exhibit ended with a poingant discussion of reconstruction, reconcilliation and the legacy that the war left on Atlanta and the nation. Many of the issues at play in the mid-19th century still affect us today. But great, moving exhibits like this can help us all to understand just how far we've come.


The exhibit showcases both artifacts and attitudes.

War Ordinance

Re-creation of a Confederate encampment

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Roswell's Southern Trilogy

by Brian Jewell 9. April 2012 23:55

Barrington Hall

Roswell, Georgia, has all of the characteristic elements of a Southern village — a picturesque town square, a lush green park with a white bandstand and a historic river mill. But Roswell also has something that most of the other small towns around Atlanta don't — a trio of antebellum homes.

"Roswell has three antebellum homest ath are open for tour three days a week," said Marsha Saum, tourism sales manager at the Historic Roswell Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We call them the Southern Trilogy."

Civil War buffs know that Atlanta and much of the surrounding area were largely destroyed by Sherman and his troops in 1864. But Roswell escaped the path of Sherman's destruction, and today the Southern Trilogy gives visitors perhaps the best look into what the lifestyle of the Atlanta-area elites would have been like in the time before the Civil War.

During the short time I had to tour Roswell, Marsha and I made stops at all of the homes. The first, Bulloch Hall, is a temple-style Greek Revival mansion built in 1839. The family that lived there were influential members of the area — Margaret Mitchell once wrote about them in a newspaper article — and ancestors of president Theodore Roosevelt. The home has furnishings from the period, along with the stories of both family members and slaves that spent time at the estate.

The second member of the trilogy, Barrington Hall, is another classical Southern mansion. The most notable aspect of this home is its antebellum garden — curators and local gardeners have gone to great lengths to re-create the garden that the home's original owners planted in the back yard. The garden features historic heirloom botanicals, planted in the same arrangements that the property's first gardener created.

An estate called Smith Plantation rounds out the trilogy. Smith Plantation features 100 percen original furnishings, so groups visiting today will see a home interior that looks just the way it did when the Smith family lived there. The home also has 10 intact outbuildings, including slave's quarters, an ice house, corn crib, guest cabins and a covered well.

On a perfectly sunny spring day, these beautiful homes and the flowers blooming around them made Roswell seem as picturesque as possible.


Barrington Hall's antebellum garden

Dogwoods blooming on the grounds of Smith Plantation

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Hallowed Ground

by Brian Jewell 21. May 2010 20:28


On a Friday morning, the air around Manassas is soft and quiet. Dew drops shimmer on the green rolling hills outside of town, and all is peaceful. But it was not always so.

In July of 1861, young and inexperienced troops from the Union and Confederate armies met for the first time on the fields outside of Manassas, and engaged in a fierce battle that would shatter their illusions about the glory of war. In this, one of the early battles of the Civil War, and the first one so close to Washington and Richmond (the confederate capitol), army recruits from both sides found themselves in the middle of a baptism by fire.

Today I visited Manassas National Battlefield Park, which preserves the ground where the first and second battles of Bull Run were fought. Also known as the Battles of Bull Run, both of these encounters were victories for the South, as they beat back Union forces and sent them retreating toward Washington. For modern travelers, a visit to the park gives a remarkable perspective of what the fight meant for our country's young men, most of whom were taking their first steps into warfare.

The ground of the battlefield is scenic and peaceful, but throughout the park, a number of monuments, markers and other objects tell the story of the fighting that took place there. Visitors can see a number of cannons from the battle that have been set up on top of the hill overlooking the park. There is a large monument set up to honor the Union troops who died here, as well as a statue honoring Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, who earned his nickname during the first battle here.

For me, the most moving part of the visit was the film shown at the visitor's center, which brings the conflict into human terms by telling the stories of individual soldiers, officers and civilians from both sides. Many of the young men in both armies expected the fighting to be quick, painless and relatively easy. Most thought that the conflict would end after just one battle. After a few hours of fighting, all of the surviving soldiers walked away with their lives forever changed.


Artillery cannon in the distance at Manassas Battlefield.

A monument to Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.


A monument erected by Union veterans to honor their dead at Manassas Battlefield.

Hero or villain? The Jesse James Farm

by Brian Jewell 5. May 2010 08:17

To many students of history, Jesse James is one of the most notorious villains ever to live in the United States, robbing banks and killing enemies all over the country for decades during the mid-1800s. But for a fair number of his contemporaries in western Missouri, James was a freedom fighter and folk hero.

I learned a fascinating story about James life and motivation for his violent actions at the James Farm, a historic site in the small town of Kearney, Missouri, where James was born and lived much of his early life. During a tour of the museum, I learned about the violent Civil War-era events that motivated Jesse and his brother Frank James to begin their life of violent crimes. The James boys and their family, who supported the South in the Civil War, saw significant abuse at the hands of Union sympathizers. After the war, when a new Missouri constintution disenfranchised and marginalized those who had supported the rebel cause, the James brothers began robbing pro-Union banks as a form of vigilante justice.

After seeing an introductory video and touring the small museum, I took a guided tour of the James house, which was built in the early 1800s. During the tour, I heard stories of the family's life there, including some of the attacks that the boys' mother and siblings endured by federal marshals pursuing the outlaws. The boys' mother lived there until the day she died; after that, Frank James came back and lived in the home as well, giving tours of the farm to curious passers by who came to see the birthplace of the already-infamous Jesse James.

After he was killed in St. Joseph, Jesse James was brought back to the farm and buried there, where a gravestone and memorial still stands. Reading the inscription on the headstone, you would think that Jesse James was a first-rate hero. It's a good reminder that history is never quite as simple as it seems. And after visiting the home and hearing its stories, I have a new appreciation for the difficult time in our history that this family's struggle represents.


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Missouri: Jesse James and More

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