Imagine a football stadium, maybe the bottom half of a two-decker. Cram 45,000 people into that arena, then lock the gates. Nobody can leave. Keep the people enclosed there for months, maybe a year. If anyone gets close to an outer wall of the compound, they have entered the Dead Zone and are immediately shot.
No one leaves.
Twenty-five acres total for thousands and thousands of God’s children crowded together. The only water available is a tiny, two-foot wide muddy rivulet that runs through the center of the newly formed camp. The stream serves as drinking water and sewer. Every day is worse than the day before. More men. More disease.
Nobody can leave.
Very little food is available for those within the walls of the stockade.
Nobody can leave.
Andersonville is a Prisoner of War camp. These are not, in spite of my metaphor, sports fans forced to live together in a confined space after a football game for a few hours or a few days, but United States soldiers being held captive in 1864. There’s not enough food or supplies for Southern troops, much less enemy combatants.
These prisoners are not criminals. They fought honorably.
Of the 45,000 imprisoned at Andersonville, 13,000 died. Within months. Dysentery. Starvation. Murder.
Through the years, I’ve often read about and seen at least one documentary concerning the Andersonville Prison. You can find videos on YouTube. I’ve wanted to visit there for the same reason I wanted to see a Nazi Concentration Camp—to be reminded of the horrors of war. I don’t ever want to be complacent about human atrocity. I want to be at least a small voice in the wilderness crying, “Stop. No. Enough.”
It’s strange how many Americans can tell you the names of Buchenwald and Auschwitz but who’ve never heard of Andersonville. It’s always easier to confess someone else’s sins.
I’m not a pacifist. But violence should be a last resort. There are codes of human decency, even during combat. I’d be glad to explain the Just War Theory to anyone who isn’t familiar with it. What happened at Andersonville was not just. It was evil, one of many immoral, criminal, foul results of the belief that some human beings are less human than others.
Attached to the Andersonville Prison site is a Prisoner of War museum. You can see both places in a single morning or an afternoon. But what you see there, I predict, will stay with you for a lifetime.