Last Tuesday, after we left the Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, GA, we drove about an hour south to the Walmart in little Americus, Georgia where we spent a quiet, uneventful night. The plan was to visit a nearby National Park on Wednesday, then head south into Florida that same night. Wednesday morning we woke up, left the truck and 5er in the Walmart parking lot, and drove 20 minutes north of town to the Andersonville National Historic Site, which is the National POW Museum.
The beautiful grounds and facility are dedicated to all prisoners of war, not just the Civil War era even though this is the site of the famous Andersonville prisoner of war camp, where Union troops were held, and many perished.
The weather was overcast, but it wasn’t overly windy or rainy, which also meant that it wasn’t too hot. It seemed the perfect day to explore the park grounds.We first picked up Jr. Ranger booklets at the information desk just inside the main doors. The park shows 2 different 25 minute films on prisoners of war, so we next watched both. During the second one, I had to take Caleb out, and when I was coming back inside, this was flashing outside the theatre…Big deal – lots of tornado watches are given. The weather wasn’t what we would think of as tornado weather (like we know tornado weather). Still a great time to check out the grounds and then come back for a short walking program led by one of the rangers.
After the films, we did a fairly quick walk-thru of the museum so that the kids could get a start on their booklets and just so we could have an idea of the exhibits. We planned on coming back later to explore it more.After our quick walkabout, we checked out an audio tour cd from the information desk and drove through the park listening to the tour. We checked out a few of the memorials (though there aren’t many memorials compared to Vicksburg or Gettysburg).The weather did not seem menacing to us, and we had a good time exploring the grounds while we ate lunch. We stopped at several places and got out to look around better. This is a reconstruction of the south gate into the fort. Andersonville was built to be a prisoner of war camp, and it was designed to hold between 6 and 10 thousand men. Over the 14 months that it was in service as a pow camp, over 45,000 Union soldiers were held within it’s walls, on average 30,000. During those same 14 months, 13,000 of those 45k men died.
The fort would have been sufficient to retain the amount of men that it was initially intended to hold, but it could not provide enough space and water for so many soldiers. The camp was over-run with sickness, hunger, and thirst.
Our favorite part of the park (well, what we did see of the park), was Providence Spring. The story behind the spring is that the summer of 1864 was a scorcher; it was extra hot, and with so many men being held in the camp, they were suffering from excessive thirst. It got so bad, that even those men without faith began crying out to God to deliver them. On a hot, humid day in August of 1964, during a heavy rainstorm, lightning hit the hill, just inside the ‘dead zone’ (as in a step-foot-in-and-you’re-dead zone). Just seconds after the lightning strike, a spring shot forth from the earth, and water ran down the hill forming a new stream for the men to get water from.
Initially, the men would get water from the stream by tying cups to sticks to reach inside the dead-zone to reach the small stream that had been created. Eventually, the guards let the men dig a trench to redirect the water through the camp. Providence Spring, aptly named, still flows today… (though it is signed ‘not fit for human consumption’!)We drove the loop through the park, saving the Andersonville Cemetery until after our ranger-led walk. We stopped and checked out the earthworks.From the parking lot at the earthworks, one gets a great overview of the camp grounds. The outer wall is marked by white posts, as is the deadline located 20 feet inside the wooden fort walls.This is a reconstructed corner of the fort, including a few sample shelters. Shelters were not provided by the Confederates for Union protection from the weather and sun, but were made up by the prisoners using whatever materials they could scrounge up.After our drive through the park, it was nearly 2:00, and time to go back to the visitor’s center for our educational walk with the ranger. It was a little windy, but not too bad, so the bigs were looking forward to a not-littles-appropriate ranger lesson! We were met at the door by one of the rangers, who apologetically, but unceremoniously, handed us a small bag and told us that he was afraid that we would have to leave as they were closing the park immediately. He assured us that they were kicking everyone out, not just us! LOL! The tornado warning had been upgraded to a tornado watch, which means that there had been tornado activity in the surrounding area. They were closing the park so that employees could get home and be with their families.
Inside the bag that the ranger handed us, were, among other things, trading cards and the kids’ badges – I did make them finish as much of their books as they could, which was not all as we did not have access to the information in the museum, and we never were able to make it to the cemetery.We tried to assure them that they didn’t have to close on our account – that we were happy to stay here as opposed to going home (lets see, the shelter of a thick, block bathhouse vs. an rv in a Walmart parking lot!?!?!), but apparently they wanted to go home instead of hanging out with us here, and they followed all of us visitors out of the park and locked the gate! 😉 We had remembered to return the audio cd even though we had planned to finish the cemetery part after the walk, but we forgot to buy a bumper sticker (majorly bummed when we realized it on our way back to the camper!).
We still didn’t think it looked very ominous – not at all creepy compared to what the kids and I drove through in Alabama last spring! LOL!Evicted, we headed south, back to the RV. Once we got there, we weren’t quite sure what to do! Do we make a run for the south since we seemed to be on the southern edge of the storm, or do we wait it out??? We watched weather maps for half an hour before deciding to sit it out. We were not familiar with the territory, and there were lots of minor roads between us and Florida – what if the wind gusted up and we didn’t have any place to pull off the road… just too many unknowns – besides, it was all supposed to go just north of us.
Over the course of the next few hours, we alternated between the inside of Walmart (because Walmarts are so safe in tornadoes! LOL!), and the RV. There was a Lowe’s across the street, so Vaughn went over and got a few parts for minor fixes he had been planning to do the RV; he replaced the sink drains, and reinforced the ‘new’ closet in the back. I think that keeping busy helped him to ward off the nagging questioning of whether he had made the right decision about staying, or not.
Several times, the city sirens went off, warning of tornado activity. During what we thought was the worst time of the storm, the kids and I went into Walmart and went grocery shopping (for 90 minutes! ) and talked with the employees who seemed none too worried about the storm. After a LONG time in Walmart (even I can only grocery shop for so long!!) we decided that the worst was over, and the kids and I headed back out to the RV; we got most of the groceries put away, and a frozen pizza stuck in the oven (we make 3 + popcorn (and dessert) – growing up my fam always had popcorn with pizza, so now we do too!).
As soon as we had settled in again, a strange siren sounded over the town. Vaughn went outside to hear the announcement, which was something about a Code Red Alert, and seeking shelter immediately, and evacuation… He sent us right back in to Walmart (because it’s so much safer, remember? hehehe!!!). On our way in, we passed a woman on her way out who was talking on her phone, telling her kids where to lie down in the house, and to not move until she came and got them; we decided that maybe there was something to be concerned about. It was really interesting to us – we weren’t afraid, it was more of a ‘wow – so this is what it’s like…’ time. I had grabbed tired Molly’s pjs on our way out of the RV, so I changed her into them in the restroom, then we spent the rest of the time
bugging visiting with the great folks at the Citizen’s Bank inside Walmart, keeping them from their work (Hi Guys!!! ). After about 20 minutes, just in time to take the pizza out of the oven, we went back to the RV.Last year, when we were in St. Louis with all the tornado activity, we had purchased a SAME radio – one that automatically gives current local alerts. During our afternoon in the Americus Walmart parking lot, it was constantly going off, screeching that horrid alert, and giving monotone updates. When we went back out, after the code red alert, it was as if Vaughn had shut the radio off – we didn’t hear another sound from it, even though we left it on all night!
For the rest of that evening, we watched the weather on the laptop, and heard about the tornadoes both north of us and also south. We were mighty glad that we had just stayed put!
~and that is why we will always remember our visit to Georgia!!! ROFL!!!