When my youngest son was growing up, I decided to work on some father-son bonding and one of the things we tried was a special thing on his birthday. Each year I would take the day off and take him out of school for the day. The requirement was that whatever we did had to have an educational element. Because we lived around a couple of big cities in those years, we had a lot of different experiences including Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, Franklin Institute, Valley Forge, Fernbank in Atlanta, and the Jimmy Carter Museum.
The most memorable was Andersonville.
My son had watched the Turner Broadcasting production of Andersonville and became interested in and attached to one of the Union prisoners. I had heard of Andersonville but did not know much about it. I envisioned a large building of bricks and mortar with dark cells and dank conditions. I was amazed to learn that the prison was an open field surrounded by a wooden stockade.
We drove to the site and visited the park museum where we watched a video and my son had the opportunity to look up his soldier on a computer. He seemed astonished to find the soldier really existed and his grave number was identified. It was a somber occasion as we walked the graveyard filled with row after row after row of headstones that were just inches apart. Finally we arrived at the one we sought and stood silent as my son paid his respects to a man he had come to know in a film.
We walked to the prison where a portion of the stockade had been rebuilt. We saw the springhouse and stream that had been the only water source and was quickly contaminated by the use of so many prisoners (almost 33,000 at one point). We learned about deplorable conditions with short supplies of food and little or no shelter and how so many had died during their captivity (almost 13,000).
The ride home was mostly quiet with the occasional exclamation about the horrors of war and the will to survive of some and inhumanity of others. An educational day for both my son and me and one neither will forget.
[Andersonville National Historic Site, www.nps.gov/ande]