Andersonville National Historic Site

Center for the State of the Parks: Park Assessments

Published May 2004


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"Five hundred men moved silently toward the gates that would shut out life and hope for most of them forever. Quarter of a mile from the railroad we came into a massive palisade with great squared logs standing upright in the ground. Fires blazed up and showed us a section of these and two massive wooden gates with heavy iron hinges and bolts. They swung open as we stood there and we passed through into the space beyond. We were at Andersonville."

-John McElroy, upon his initial imprisonment in 1864

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Andersonville National Historic Site, officially known as Camp Sumter during the American Civil War, held captive more than 45,000 prisoners of war and was one of the largest and most notorious Confederate military prisons. Beginning in 1864, and throughout the camp's 14-month existence, 12,912 Union soldiers died within Andersonville's walls as a result of poor sanitation, disease, malnutrition, exposure, and overcrowding.

Located in southwestern Georgia, Andersonville National Historic Site was established by Congress in 1970 to "provide an understanding of the Civil War prisoner of war (POW) story, to interpret the role of prisoner of war camps in history, and to commemorate the sacrifice of Americans who lost their lives in such camps …" (Public Law 91-465).

The site consists of Andersonville Prison, the National Prisoner of War Museum, and the national cemetery. The museum opened at Andersonville in 1998, and it is dedicated to all brave men and women of the United States who have suffered captivity. More than 18,000 soldiers and their families are buried in the cemetery at Andersonville.

Today, this 515-acre historic site is a tribute to the prisoner of war experience. Etched on memorials throughout the park, and throughout the prisoner of war experience in American history, is the phrase, "Death Before Dishonor," symbolizing the American resolve to uphold the value of freedom and liberty in the face of adversity. The importance of Andersonville in today's global context inspired the National Parks Conservation Association's State of the Parks program to complete an assessment of the condition of park's resources and the staff's ability to care for and share these resources with the public.  

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