We saw two major landmarks today. The first is a symbol of horror to any passing student of the Civil War: Andersonville, site of one of most fatal and notorious prisoner-of-war camps. The Union soldiers there thought it a living hell, and over 13,000 of them died. The entire park is dedicated to all prisoners of war, and the exhibits are harrowing.
Lovers of language will be interested in the design of the fortifications. There was an outside stockade wall, and an inner barrier, known as the dead line. According to Lossing’s History of the Civil War (1868): “Seventeen feet from the inner stockade was the ‘dead-line’, over which no man could pass and live.” The guards in the roosts above would shoot any man who crossed it.
There is a school of thought that our concept of a deadline and certainly that of “being under the gun” owe their origin to Andersonville. It is a quiet place now, with some of the stockade reconstructed, and all the outer and inner barricades marked. It was stunning to imagine 45,000 soldiers confined here, with little food, only the shelter they could create, and terrible sanitation. If the body survived, many minds did not.
Flash forward one hundred years, and not so many miles away to another history-making location – Plains, Georgia. This is truly a small town, and it does honor and illuminate its famous son very well. The Carters still live here, in the house they built in the 1960’s, and when he is in town, Jimmy Carter still teaches Sunday school at his local Baptist Church.
Regardless of your politics or view of his presidency, you will have to admit that this is a man who was always true to his beliefs and who never forgot where he came from. And that should stand for something in this day and age.
We also stopped up the road a bit to see the original home of Habitat for Humanity, still headquartered in Americus, Georgia. Tonight, we are in Columbus, surrounded by soldiers from Fort Benning.
All in all, a day for reflection on military service and public service.