by Jim Lawler, December 12, 2005
One hundred years ago, on December 7, 1905, dedication ceremonies were conducted for the memorial erected by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the National Cemetery at Andersonville, Georgia. A short time ago on December 7, 2005, an emotional re-dedication ceremony was conducted at the site of the monument. The re-dedication was organized by members of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Department of Pennsylvania, Gettysburg Camp #112 (http://126.96.36.199/sons/sonindex.html). Fortunately, a book produced by the state of Pennsylvania in 1909 documents the original dedication ceremonies as well as the series of events that lead to the creation of the monument. The book was compiled by Col. James D. Walker and is titled, "Pennsylvania at Andersonville Georgia, Ceremonies at the Dedication of the Memorial Erected by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the National Cemetery at Andersonville, Georgia."
According to the book, the monument was erected "To commemorate the heroism, sacrifices and patriotism of the Pennsylvania soldiers in the Union armies of the late Rebellion who died in Andersonville Prison, Georgia, while confined there as prisoners of war". [p 6] It states that "On no single battlefield of the Civil War was Pennsylvania represented by a greater number of the bodies of her sons than at Andersonville. ... They died not as soldiers die, with blade or gun in hand with face to foe in the shock of battle, but day after day through months of torture from heat, thirst, hunger and disease, with failing strength and wasting bodies ..." [p 57]
"Surviving honorably discharged Pennsylvania soldiers who were at any time during the War for the Suppression of the Rebellion confined in the prison at Andersonville, Ga." were eligible for railway transportation to be furnished by the state so they could be present at the dedication. Some 381 such soldiers attended, along with the Governor of Pennsylvania and his staff and various other dignitaries. [p 16-17] In addition, many other soldiers and civilians from Pennsylvania and various other states, as well as many local residents brought the number present to what some estimated at "between 4,000 and 5,000". [p 19]
The ceremony in 2005 was smaller in scale, with approximately 100 people participating. But what it lacked in strength of numbers, it more than made up for in strength of spirit. Those who attended TRULY wanted to be there. They journeyed to Andersonville from Pennsylvania and other distant states in the cold weather, a few weeks before Christmas, in the middle of the work week to commemorate the soldiers' sacrifices and suffering, to honor their commitment to duty, and to fervently hope that another re-dedication ceremony will be conducted 100 years from now.
Immediately preceding the re-dedication ceremony, a "March of Honor", led smartly by a Color Guard contingent known as the Gettysburg Blues, paraded from Providence Spring in the prison stockade to the Pennsylvania Memorial in the National Cemetery. Participants in the march each carried one or more small Pennsylvania state flags. Each flag carried the name of one of the roughly 200 Civil War regiments from Pennsylvania.
The ceremony itself included a Presentation of the Colors, the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, a rifle salute and Taps as well as comments delivered by National Park Superintendent Fred Boyles and Andersonville Lead Park Ranger Joan Stibitz. Perhaps the most moving speeches, however, were given by Jim Michaels and Bill Mock. Both men are members of Gettysburg Camp #112 and both had ancestors who were imprisoned at Andersonville. Jim is credited as the originator of the idea to conduct a re-dedication ceremony. He stressed that the struggles of our ancestors helped shape who we are today. Bill's speech included an unforgettable moment for all those present when he opened a small packet of Pennsylvania soil taken from the graves of his ancestors and spread it at the base of the Pennsylvania Monument so that those buried so far from home could be once again reunited with their home land.
Commander of the Pennsylvania Department of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Eric Schminke, was unable to attend, but his comments were read by David Sosnowski of Gettysburg Camp #112. Similarly, a proclamation from the Honorable Edward G. Rendell, Governor of Pennsylvania was read by Jim Lawler of Bradbury Camp #149. Wreaths were placed at the monument by women representing the Allied Orders of the Grand Army of the Republic, by John and Judy O'Neal of the Bradbury Camp and Bradbury Auxiliary, respectively, and by a local representative of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
In the audience was a couple from Lansdale, PA, who were tourists in the area. They had planned to visit Andersonville but not until the following day. They didn't know about the ceremony until they drove into the park and were alerted to it by one of the Park Rangers. The woman said that they were so honored and thrilled to be present for this once in a lifetime opportunity, it was as if an angel had led them to it.
A program book compiled by Dave Sosnowski and commemorative ribbon provided by the Allied Orders of the GAR were given to all attendees. Also available for sale were specially minted, numbered medals depicting the monument. These were produced on behalf of the Department of Pennsylvania, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.
Jim Michaels, Bill Mock, Dave Sosnowski and the membership of Gettysburg Camp #112 are to be highly commended for their outstanding efforts in organizing this event. Joan Stibitz and other National Park Service representatives also went out of their way to lend their assistance and to ensure that everything went smoothly. News stories about the event are currently available on-line at the following URLs:
Of course, December 7th is remembered by all Americans as Pearl Harbor Day. But from this point forward, I will also reserve a few moments on December 7th to remember the sufferings of all prisoners of war and especially those at Andersonville.