Remnantology

Dedicated to the examination of the remnants. Phil Levy's words in reference to history, archaeology, Judaism, academe, music, outdoorsing…

Andersonville Prisoner of War Camp and Covid-19.

Lauren
Lauren Piccinini is a Master’s student with the University of South Florida. Her area of concentration is American History with a specialization regarding American Prisoners of War.
Andersonville Prisoner of War Camp and Covid-19

As the world slowly turned to a grinding halt due to the rapid spread of 2019-nCoV, commonly known as Coronavirus, the historical community began racing to find a way to continue “front-line education.” In this defining and unprecedented time, the world must find a way to move forward without actually moving, thus social media has stepped into the forefront as a source of delivery for museums, national parks, and educational institutions. Utilizing this technology and platform, historical institutions have been able to reach a whole new audience during this time of quarantine and social distancing.

One such institution that has embraced this way of meeting with the community is the National Prison of War Museum, which sits on the remains of the Andersonville Prisoner of War camp. Andersonville Camp, formerly known as Camp Sumter, was built as a Union Prisoner of War camp during the American Civil War and was designed to hold roughly 10,000 prisoners. Andersonville 1When it opened to receive prisoners in April, 1984, the Confederacy was ill-equipped to deal with the Union prisoner population. This is clearly evident as the camp was not fully completed when the first prisoners arrived. Nonetheless, the camp continued to accept prisoners and by August, 1864, the population within the camp swelled to over 33,000 men. As a direct result, the conditions within the camp deteriorated and mortality ranks surged, to almost 13,000 Union soldiers. The leading causes of death within the camp were chronic diarrhea, dysentery, and scurvy. While Andersonville was only in operation for fourteen months, it received over 45,000 soldiers and is notorious for being the largest and most deadly Confederate Prisoner of War camp. [1]

Following the American Civil War, Clara Barton and Dorence Atwater, a former prisoner, returned to the site in order to categorize and rebury all of the deceased men. Since that time, the camp and the burial grounds have fallen into the hands of the National Park system. In recent years, the camp dedicated a museum on the grounds to inform the public on the perils of being a prisoner of war and expanded the scholarship beyond the American Civil War. Annually, the camp hosts Living History weekend, night tours, and educational seminars that are designed to engage the average citizen into the topic of prisoners of war.

When the novel Coronavirus began to spread in the United States, the park took notice and by March 18, 2020, the camp made the decision to close the museum for the safety and wellbeing of their guests, volunteers, and employees. Andersonville 2On March 24, 2020, the camp, having been influenced by the Center for Disease Control and the state of Georgia, closed the park grounds to visitors and they have suspended all military honors during burials at the National Cemetery, which is the burial ground that Atwater and Barton established and sits on the camp grounds. In an effort to remain connected to the individuals who intended to attend a workshop or visit the museum, the park service has engaged the public using livestreaming capabilities on social media platforms, such as Facebook or Instagram.

On the morning of March 28, 2020, Ranger J with the National Park Service at Andersonville greeted thousands of people who were interested in taking a virtual tour of Andersonville. As I sat comfortably on my couch, I saw people checking in from places near and far: Florida, Kentucky, Ohio, New York, Illinois, Utah, Iowa, South Dakota, England (UK), Switzerland, and Afghanistan. While geography certainly was not a commonality with the viewers, the topic of Andersonville prison site certainly connected all of us. For the next 40 minutes, Ranger J introduced an unimaginable amount of people to the history of the camp, the players involved with the camp, and answered questioned posed by her viewers. By midday on March 29, 2020, Ranger J’s livestream had been viewed over 17,000 times. I believe that it is safe to assume that this is largest amount of people who have “visited” the camp in a single morning. Due to the overwhelming popularity, the camp has decided to dedicate Saturday mornings to “Social Saturdays,” with the next stroll occurring on April 4, 2020. This upcoming stream will focus on the burial grounds and the history associated with those interned.[2]

As the world changes, historical institutions have to adjust in order to deliver their content to a new population. During these uncertain times, it appears that the use of livestreaming tours has generated new life into old topics. While quarantining seems boring and lifeless, it is an excellent time to learn something new, of which Andersonville National Park has delivered. Make sure to tune in this, and all upcoming, Saturdays for information on the site, the prisoners who suffered and those who were responsible.

[1] Information on Andersonville POW camp obtained from: McPherson, James, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1988)

[2] Information on Andersonville National Park obtained from: “Causes of Death” Available from https://www.nps.gov/ande/learn/historyculture/causesofdeath.htm, “Alerts & Conditions” Available from https://www.nps.gov/ande/planyourvisit/conditions.htm & “Camp Sumter/Andersonville Prison” Available from https://www.nps.gov/ande/learn/historyculture/camp_sumter.htm

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