An Object Lesson

Women's Relief Corp

After the Civil War, the fate of Andersonville prison site was not clear. In 1896, the property was given to an organization called the Woman’s Relief Corps (WRC), an auxiliary group of the Union veterans organization, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). The WRC was tasked with preserving and beautifying the site. The women quickly set about transforming the neglected property, formerly the site of tremendous suffering, into a place of commemoration and reflection.

This badge is currently on display in our temporary exhibit featuring these dedicated women. Worn by members of the WRC, it features the Maltese Cross attached to a bar with a red, white and blue ribbon. At the center of the cross the badge features five figures who are flanked by two American flags and wreathed with stars. The figures represent: the Goddess of Liberty, a soldier, a boy, a woman, and a child.

The soldier symbolizes fraternity. As an auxiliary group of the GAR, the WRC sought to acknowledge the tradition of brotherhood. The boy symbolizes loyalty to the United States of America, and hope for the future of the country. The woman represents motherhood, giving, mercy and charity. The child is emblematic of the WRC’s dedication to inspiring patriotism in future generations. The cross also features the year the WRC was founded, 1883 and the letters “FCL” which stand for “Fraternity, Charity, and Loyalty,” the motto of the WRC.

Come take a look at this item and others related to the WRC at the temporary “Women Who Saved Andersonville” exhibit currently on display in the National Prisoner of War Museum.


John D. Becchiola's Backpack

While assigned to catalog the collection of John D. Vecchiola, I came across an object simply labeled as “Backpack”. Expecting something like a modern backpack what I found instead was a square, forest green bag with a brown and black cowhide flap. This piqued my curiosity. How had John Vecchiola acquired this item? By reading his accession file, I learned about his time as a POW, his escape from captivity and finally, how he came across this backpack.

John Vecchiola was a ball turret gunner on the B-17 “Pappy Yokum”, part of the 15th Air Force, 817th Bomb Squadron, 483rd Bombardment group. He flew bombing missions over German held areas from Italy. On July 30, 1944, flak tore off the tail section of his plane.  He was captured and then brought to Stalag Luft IV in Gross Tychow. During a forced march further into Germany, he managed to escape with a fellow POW, avoiding capture for five days until meeting up with the advancing British 11th Armored Division. During his days evading capture, John Vecchiola had come upon a dead German soldier and taken his boots and backpack.  The backpack cannot go on exhibit without extensive conservation. The leather piping on the sides of the cowhide flap is peeling off and the canvas fabric that makes up most of the backpack is fragile and stained.  To help preserve the condition of the backpack, I made a special box to keep the bag stabilized so that none of the spots that are actively deteriorating are rubbed. I also made a custom insert for the backpack to rest on so there is less strain on it.  Someday this backpack may have its moment within the museum on display. Until then it has been fascinating to learn and share with you the history of this object.


The David Long letters

“I now sit down with a heart of sadness…”

By: Andrew R. Miller, Park Ranger

The latest donation to the National Prisoner of War Museum collections is a set of 26 letters written during the Civil War by Private David T. B. Long to his family, primarily to his parents Jacob and Barbara Long, of Armstrong County, Pennsylvania.

David Long enlisted on October 15, 1861 and was mustered into service as a private in Company I, 101st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The regiment participated in early battles of the Peninsula campaign in 1862 before being transferred to the North Carolina coast.

David Long’s letters are filled with observations of life, people, his environment, and his opinions. David’s service was frequently interrupted by prolonged sickness. Writing from the Pennsylvania State Lunatic Hospital, David wanted to let his family know he was sick, but he remained hopeful. “I have been under the care of the doctor for some time now but have been out for some time, but I think that I will be able to go to camp in a few days.” David hoped he would be spared to come home and be with his family once again. “Mother and Father, brothers and sisters, if God spares my life health and strength to get home once more then I will live and die with you.”

David Long reenlisted in Plymouth, North Carolina, as a veteran volunteer, in January 1864, for three more years of service. While he was stationed in North Carolina, David wrote extensively about his experiences. David’s final letter in the collection is dated in March 1864.

One month later, Private Long’s regiment was part of the Federal garrison stationed at Plymouth that was captured in April 1864. Since David was an enlisted man, he was sent to Camp Sumter. The large group of prisoners arrived at the very end of April and beginning of May 1864 to Camp Sumter prison camp. Dubbed the “Plymouth Pilgrims,” due to their new uniforms, these men fell victim to the infamous “raiders” who deprived these men of their basic essentials for survival. Many of Plymouth Pilgrims died from a variety of maladies at Andersonville including David Long who succumbed to disease on July 30, 1864. His remains were brought to the cemetery where he lays today.

Robert Calahan, US Army WWII POW

POW Descendants Visit Museum’s Curatorial Building To See Donation

By: Christine Hoffmark-Coffey

Recently, Andersonville National Historic Site’s Collections had the pleasure of hosting Amy Fogel and her mother, Colleen Fogel who requested to see the donation made by Robert Calahan, a US Army WWII POW. Mr. Calahan was Colleen’s father and Amy’s grandfather.

The Fogel’s drove south from North Carolina to surprise Colleen on her birthday week to see her father’s donation to the museum. Mr. Calahan donated his jacket, his letters, a pouch he made while a prisoner, a matchbook, a small bible, and his memoir about his time as both a soldier and a POW during WWII, which he wrote with the help of an interviewer named D.R. Stevenson.

Mr. Calahan was a Sergeant First Class when he was captured in Percy, France. He was captured on August 1, 1944, and liberated by Russian forces on January 31st, 1945, after being imprisoned at Stalag III C, near the border of Germany and Poland. During his capture, Mr. Calahan’s Eisenhower Jacket was replaced with “an old English Jacket to replace our Army jacket that was taken from us when we were captured. The POW Jacket has a black triangle on the back that denotes you are a POW.”  The jacket is now a part of the collection at Andersonville with the black triangle still on the back in between the shoulders of the jacket.

Amy and her mother were most interested in the letters Mr. Calahan donated. Colleen remembers her father as a very private man who didn’t share much about his experiences as a POW, so these letters were very interesting to them, as it gave a fuller picture as to their father and grandfather’s time as a POW. It’s always a wonderful thing to have the family members of donors come and visit their loved ones’ donations and we always welcome their visits.