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Friday, April 24, 2009

Walking Through Andersonville

I find it very fulfilling that people are willing to share important, personal information on the Internet with others who would likely never read such accounts on any other forum. My faith in the power and in the good of net communication is becoming stronger each day.
I have told students about the importance of the written word, and I try to practice what I preach. Excuse the cliche'. The ability to write allows us to explore our understandings and extend our knowledge to limits unknown. Feel free to e-mail me with posts to publish at frank.thompson51@yahoo.com.
Dennis Hawkins, again sharing his writing on the blog, provides readers a unique opportunity to explore infamous Andersonville, the largest Confederate military prison during the American Civil War. There, prisoners dealt with cruel guards, disease, starvation, and exposure to the elements. Almost 13,000 people died at Andersonville. The site was eventually purchased by the Federal government in 1910. The prisoners' burial ground at Andersonville has been made a national cemetery, in which are 931 graves marked "unknown."
Dennis's writing reveals his deep understanding of the importance of sharing his family's unique story with others. Also, this piece confirms his faith in a higher power. Here is the writing of Dennis Hawkins. Enjoy this voyage into American history. And, check out the movie about Andersonville. I have seen this excellent film. Again, thank you, Dennis. The writing is truly amazing.
Before I began recording any of my family's history, I would listen to a few of the stories told me by my Grandmother, Birdie Bailey Hawkins Stevenson Dunn, her sister, my Great-Aunt Bea, (Bertha Lee), Bailey Porter, and a few stories from their father, Melvin Bailey, the son of Daniel Bailey. They each told me that Daniel had been taken prisoner in the Civil War and had been held in a prisoner-of-war camp. They each further told me stories about Daniel. I do not remember, today, which person told what part of the story, but, together, they told this story. They said that Daniel didn't fare well, and because he had been given coarsely-ground field corn to eat, he died of internal problems after his release from the camp, after the war. They further told a story that I thought had become a family legend, and, probably, wasn't altogether true. They told of a place where too many men were confined together. Prisoners did not have proper shelter; they did not have proper food; they would be shot if they walked in the wrong place; they did not have enough good water. As the prisoners' time there, in that place, lengthened, the conditions worsened. The men became ill from the bad water. Several of the men prayed for water. A storm came up one night. Lightening struck the ground. From the place where the lightning struck, water sprang from the ground. The men were saved. They called the place spring "Providence Spring". All this was a wonderful story. I wanted to believe it all, but, something told me that it just couldn't, possibly, be true. Some time passed. I joined the military. I became further interested in finding the truth about my ancestor. Brother, Phil started to search family history in a serious manner. Phil found that Great-Great Grandfather, Daniel had, in fact, been taken prisoner at the Battle of Nashville, and had been held at the dreaded Andersonville. Daniel's archived record stated that he did die of intestinal problems from the food he had eaten while incarcerated. I, somehow, secured a copy of the Emmy and Peabody winner, "Andersonville Trial", which was directed by George C. Scott and had an all-star cast which included Martin Sheen, William Shatner and Richard Basehart. In this film, many of the same conditions of which my ancestors had spoken were discussed in the dialogue of the trial of Camp Commandant, Wirtz. This further heightened my interest. (Captain Wirtz was executed for war crimes because of his treatment of prisoners at Andersonville. He was the only person to have received this punishment for war crimes committed in the Civil War.) I went to Georgia, a few years ago, for the commissioning of my, then, son-in-law as a Second Lieutenant in the Army at Ft. Benning. I decided to go on to Andersonville. Finally, after many stories, and some research, I visited the site of Andersonville Prison. I knew this was the same place that my family had described. It was a though I was walking with them and Grandfather Daniel on the same ground he had walked so many years before. And the stories about the corn and ill treatment, they were true. There were pictures everywhere. Photographers were permitted to take pictures, in the day...and the photographs had been preserved. There was one story that I found particularly interesting. The water-starved prisoners had prayed for water because they had no clean water. A storm came up. Lightning struck the ground. A spring came up from the ground. It's called, "Providence Spring". The spring still runs, today. I know. I've been there. This 'Doubting Thomas' put his hands in that spring and started to take a drink. I stopped, abruptly, when I noticed a small sign, hanging from the top of the spring house. It read, "Water Unfit For Human Consumption". The tears still well in my eyes after all these years and many, many tellings of this same story. I believe God allowed me to find this truth to make me realize the importance of remembering our family's experiences. ~ Dennis W. Hawkins "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." ~George Santayana
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