This August, on the 10th to be precise, my brother Max and I undertook a road trip. Our destination was the Andersonville National Historic Site in the (incredibly) sleepy town of Andersonville, Georgia. For those who are not familiar with the location, Andersonville was the name of the most infamous Prisoner of War camp during the Civil War. Officially named Camp Sumter, it opened in the waning years of the war and during the 14- months of operation it held just about 42,000 Union soldiers, of which approximately 13,000 perished due to disease and malnourishment.
It was indeed a strange and humbling experience to walk the field where the prisoners lived under tents, to hop over the stagnant creek where they drank from the disease ridden water, and to cross over the actual “deadline” that outlined the 26 acre compound. Adjacent to the field, was the National Cemetery where not only the 13,000 casualties were buried (most of them identified by the way thanks to the help of the one and only Clara Barton) but other American veterans to this day. And then, the main building/ entrance is the National Prisoner of War Museum- dedicated to all POWs from all wars. A very special thing to behold, for sure. I certainly came away from the park that day with a newfound respect and appreciation for not only soldiers but for the POW experience.
Now, for the road trip part of the excursion, that too was quite the ride. We left at 6:00 am on Wednesday morning and we weren’t on I-75 long before I veered off onto US-27. This two lane highway took us through some lonely, yet beautiful, country. While it was storming back in Orlando, by the time we reached these small towns, it was clear blue skies. In fact around 8:30 the sun started to rise and the warm glow of sunlight that swathed the woods and farmland is a picture I’ll never forget. Also, it didn’t hurt that there was even a family of deer on the road. Sights like this are why I much prefer the back roads on any sort of road trip. We winded through towns such as Fort White, Mayo, Newberry, Monticello, and Perry, many of which were literally comprised of a few houses, Dollar Generals, and Subways.
However, once we left US-27 and got onto the road to Andersonville, US-19, the towns seemed to disappear and for hours I drove through forest and once in GA, farms of cotton, pecans, corn, and tobacco. In fact, right across the street from the Andersonville park is a cotton field. Even this was a unique experience; once I drove past the border, I realized I had never traveled so far on my own. The image of Sam in Lord of the Rings came to my mind…
After spending a couple of hours touring the National Park, Max and I headed east until we got to Interstate 75. We were on a time limit now and couldn’t afford the leisurely pace of some highway. Nonetheless, we traveled south back to Florida and eventually settled in Tifton, Georgia- about an hour from the border- for the night. We stayed at a Hampton Inn but not before being turned away from a Days Inn and Hilton Garden Inn, all because I was not 21! Now, as far as I knew, the age to rent a hotel/motel room is 18, so you can see my frustration. Later I found out it was because they had a bar in the lobby…. that still doesn’t make any sense, but either way, we did find a place to crash for night because we were exhausted! After all, we were outside in the Deep South in the middle of an August day.
The next morning, we set out for Orlando, about four hours away. However, thanks to my research, I discovered that the largest Civil War battle in Florida took place in the small town of Olustee off of US-90, which just happened to be a short 20 miles from I-75! Needless to say, we took the detour and ended up loving the State Park as much as Andersonville. The Battle of Olustee (or Ocean Pond), was a conflict where about 2,000 soldiers were killed on either side, that ended up being a Confederate victory. So much history, right in our own backyard.
After that, we made it back to Orlando with the fact that we did something completely awesome and unforgettable. All in all, despite the more-than-expected costs, it was a trip that I urge to emulate as soon as possible. Whether it is for a Civil War purpose or not, history is to be had anywhere and everywhere, and even small towns in the middle of nowhere have a wealth of beauty to offer.
It is these towns and histories that I intend to seek out and explore.