Dear Friends of Andersonville,
This past year has seen a change in leadership at Andersonville National Historic Site with Superintendent Charles Sellars’ departure to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park in Kentucky. Jody Mays, Chief of Interpretation and Resource Management, filled in for over 2 months until my arrival as Acting Superintendent on October 15. I anticipate another Acting Superintendent to take the helm in early February 2020 before a permanent Superintendent arrives at the park in the summer. In the meantime, my plan is to provide continuity of park operations and programs, work on moving projects forward, and maintaining relationships.
Park staff continue to provide excellent visitor services with park programs, cemetery operations, cultural resource protection, and facility management. With such a small number of staff, each member of our team is vital to park operations and most have a number of collateral duties or serve as backup for other staff to keep the park operating smoothly. Each division does a fantastic job, and I have been very impressed by the teamwork and dedication demonstrated by the employees at Andersonville National Historic Site.
The park would not be able to offer the range of services to military veterans, students, and other visitors without the partnership of Friends of Andersonville. A number of projects were supported by the Friends of Andersonville in 2019. Two employees traveled to the National Archives and conducted valuable research on historic Army records related to Andersonville. A project to transcribe the oral histories of Vietnam veterans held in the park collections is now underway, and the Museum Curator is getting extremely helpful assistance with curation needs so she can begin to address the tremendous backlog of items that need to be cataloged. The museum program lost a permanent position and, with the departure of two part-time student employees, faces a serious staff shortage. The museum intern provided by the Friends of Andersonville has been invaluable in addressing this urgent need. Also in 2019, the park held nine special events and other programs that were fully or partially funded by the Friends of Andersonville such as Civil War Living History Weekend, National POW/MIA Recognition Day, Night Museum, and Wreaths Across America.
The 2019 Wreaths Across America event set a new record with 15,705 wreaths received at Andersonville National Cemetery. But the wreath count wasn’t the only record for the event this year. With the help of Jim Covington and the other Wreaths Across America Ambassadors, we had 3 forklifts and nearly 100 volunteers to assist with unloading the 3 tractor trailers that delivered the wreaths on Friday. Because of their help, unloading and setup took less than half the time it took the previous year. Then on Saturday, over 740 volunteers helped place wreaths at the event. Both days set new records for volunteer support.
We continue to work with Friends of Andersonville, Bennett Trucking, the Taylor Family Foundation, Wreaths Across America, and individuals in the pursuit of our 2020 goal of placing a wreath on each of the over 20,200 headstones in Andersonville National Cemetery. Wreaths Across America has agreed to donate one wreath to match each sponsorship of two wreaths. For more information, visit the Wreaths Across America Taylor Family Foundation site at www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/ga0213.
Andersonville National Cemetery is now the only national cemetery managed by the National Park Service that remains open to new burials of military veterans. In FY2019, a total of 182 veterans and spouses were buried in the cemetery. At our average annual rate, we anticipate remaining open for new burials for another 25-35 years provided we can regrade a large section of the cemetery (Section Q) that is currently unsafe for burial operations. We are currently working with the Army Corps of Engineers to develop and initiate this grading project so we can continue to provide burial services to our veterans for the long term.
This year the park will recognize its 50th anniversary! The park was established by Congress on October 16, 1970. We will commemorate this milestone with special programs throughout the year, including a special Civilian Staff Ride, former POW speakers, and a special black powder demonstration. The park staff kicked off the celebration on January 4 with an event to give a glimpse of the history of the creation of the park. Our signature event will occur on October 17-18, with former park superintendent speakers, a “tour through time”, and other activities. We will also partner with Dream Rocket to host an area youth art contest themed around the park’s history and mission. We will also offer a special Junior Ranger program and badge focused on the history of the park. Special social media series using the hashtag #Andersonville50 will help promote the anniversary and events. We invite you to join us for one of these events, and we look forward to continuing to partner with Friends of Andersonville for the next 50 years to further our mission of educating the public about the deadliest ground of the Civil War and preserving the resources and stories that illustrate the experiences of American prisoners of war throughout U.S. history.