Superintendent’s Corner

Dear Friends of Andersonville,

This past year has been both challenging and rewarding. We have seen numerous changes in staffing, budgets, and other resources. We have experienced unique events that have affected the park in various ways. Yet we remain undaunted in our mission to preserve and interpret the stories of Camp Sumter Military Prison, Andersonville National Cemetery, and all American prisoners of war (POWs).

For much of the past year, I served as Acting Superintendent of Jimmy Carter National Historic Site (JICA) in addition to serving as Superintendent of Andersonville NHS, and spent a portion of each week at each park. However, Jill Stuckey became the new Superintendent of JICA on March 3rd, 2019 and consequently my detail responsibilities ended. I was honored to oversee the wonderful programs and resources of JICA, and I feel confident that Ms. Stuckey will do a terrific job as their new Superintendent. I now look forward to focusing on exciting new projects at Andersonville NHS and leading the park as we approach our 50th anniversary in October 2020.

National POW/MIA Recognition Day in September 2018, held in partnership with The Ride Home and the Friends of Andersonville, was a great success. It included remarks by World War II POW William Pebly and the family of Michael Hoff, Vietnam MIA. Just a couple of weeks later, the park was struck by Hurricane Michael. The park has experienced tropical storms before, but this was the first to arrive as a hurricane. The park closed for several days due to power loss and damage, but I am proud to say that staff from every division pulled together and worked tirelessly to remove downed trees and reopen the park as soon as possible. Even while the park was closed, staff went above and beyond the call of duty to quickly clear an alternative route for a veteran’s family and funeral home to enter the park and bury their loved one as scheduled.

The December 15th, 2018 Wreaths Across America (WAA) event set a record as well. Due to the efforts of Bennett International (see back cover), the Taylor Foundation, Friends of Andersonville, the Civil Air Patrol, and WAA, Andersonville National Cemetery received over 15,000 wreaths. WAA Ambassadors were designated to help ensure the momentum begun last year continues through 2019 and beyond. Our new goal is to receive 20,000 wreaths by 2020.

One week after the WAA event, a lapse in federal appropriations and partial government shutdown occurred. As a result, most of the park was closed. Andersonville National Cemetery was accessible but no visitor services of any kind were provided. Specific park staff were called in as needed to conduct funerals. The shutdown lasted 35 days and was a difficult and uncertain time for employees, interns, volunteers, and partners. It ended and operations resumed on January 26th, 2019.

In March, Living History Weekend brought volunteers from around the region to portray Union prisoners and Confederate guards. Special programs included cannon and infantry demonstrations, programs about the role of religion in the prison and contributions of women, and more. This popular event, perhaps more than any other, draws families and children to the park. It gives us the chance to encourage them to not only learn about the Civil War, but also to tour the National POW Museum and learn about POWs of other conflicts.

Memorial Day commemoration in May began by raising the Avenue of Flags with help from Robins Riders and a youth crew from the American Conservation Experience (ACE) organization. On Saturday, May 25th, about 300 volunteers placed flags on over 19,000 graves in Andersonville National Cemetery, creating a stirring and patriotic landscape. Sunday’s Observance featured Captain William Robinson (USAF retired), a former Vietnam POW. Memories he shared of brothers in arms who fought alongside him but never returned brought home the personal and inestimable losses suffered by the families of those buried in Andersonville National Cemetery.

Major rehabilitation work has been done at Providence Spring. The spring house and its associated fountains and runway have been in need of intensive repairs for some time. The spring house roof, which was deteriorated and painted with lead-based paint, has been replaced. Three trees impacting the brick runway were removed, and two failed water lines have been located and replaced. In April, a specialized National Park Service (NPS) team from the Historic Preservation Training Center did more restorative work, treating the marble fountain and repointing portions of the spring house. They also took apart and completely rebuilt the brick runway. Providence Spring looks better than it has in a long time, but additional work is needed on the marble fountain, French drain, and other components of the memorial. We hope to acquire additional funding to address these treatment needs in the near future.

A two-year archeological study of the prison site is coming to an end. NPS Southeast Archeological Center staff conducted ground-penetrating radar and other surveys to try and find the specific location and other information about the third hospital site and other areas. We hope the study will provide valuable insight into the third hospital site and other areas that can be used for research and to better interpret what happened at Camp Sumter.

With the support of the Friends of Andersonville, we began a much-needed project this spring to replace all informational and directional signs in the park, many of which are faded, damaged, or out of date. These signs give visitors their first impression of the park as well as key information. This project will reduce the park’s maintenance backlog, improve traffic circulation in the park, and enhance visitor experience. It will also bring park signs into compliance with new NPS sign standards. With the help of the ACE crew, over 20 signs have been replaced so far. Each new sign will be installed on new, more durable posts that require less maintenance. Additional signs will be purchased and installed to complete this project. Our goal is to ensure all directional and informational signs in the park are of high visual quality and provide clear, consistent information to all park visitors.

Also thanks to the Friends of Andersonville and others, important legislation has been passed that will provide a wonderful new benefit to veterans buried in Andersonville National Cemetery. This much-needed legislation fills a gap that has existed for decades, under which vault liners are provided to veterans buried in other national cemeteries but not to those buried in NPS managed cemeteries. The park fully supports this new legislation, and we look forward to offering this new benefit as soon as we receive needed guidance from Washington.

The American Ex-Prisoners of War (AXPOW) has expressed interest in partnering to increase outreach and education about POWs of World War II and other wars. Their interest coincides with recent park efforts to grow our education program. A new Education Technician position will focus on expanding education and youth-focused programming. This year we received a National Park Foundation grant to help cover costs for in-class and on-site programs for two area schools. We are excited about the opportunity to partner with AXPOW to develop our education program, reach more schools, and create programs on POWs of World War II, Vietnam, and other wars. The Victory From Within traveling POW exhibit is on display at Heroes Hall in Costa Mesa, California until mid-September. The exhibit will then travel to Baton Rouge, Louisiana for display at the Old State Capitol. If you are in either area while the exhibit is on display, please take the opportunity to see it.

Friends of Andersonville POW Research Grants were awarded to three individuals this year. Raffael Scheck of Maine’s Colby College will research trials against American POWs in Nazi Germany. University of Oregon researcher Timothy Williams will investigate Civil War prisons and the intellectual life of the Confederacy. And Andrew Fagal of Princeton University will conduct a research project entitled “The Myth of the Jersey: Estimating Mortality on British Prison Ships, 1776-1781.”

From providing volunteers with uniforms, to replacing park signage, to supporting POW research, the Friends of Andersonville is instrumental to the success and continuation of many park programs. We would not be able to provide the current quality and range of services and programs to veterans, families, former POWs, and other park visitors without your unwavering partnership and support. We are grateful to have worked with the Friends of Andersonville for over 30 years in our mission to preserve and share the stories of POWs, Andersonville National Cemetery, and Camp Sumter. As we approach the park’s 50th anniversary, we look forward to continuing our partnership with the Friends of Andersonville for many years to come.

Charles Sellars