Andersonville Prison and the Woman’s Relief Corp

The Woman’s Relief Corp medal on the Lizabeth Turner Monument at Andersonville National Park

Earlier I posted about the work of the Woman’s Relief Corp. In that writing, I left out one of their most prominent works- the preservation of the Andersonville Prison site in Andersonville, Georgia. This organization is a key element in the preservation and memorialization of the Andersonville prison site.

By the late 1880s, veterans began to visit the site of the prison. The federal government had confiscated the land and continued to hold it after the war and had established the national cemetery. Very little had been done with the actual prison grounds. Some local freedmen lived on the site and much of it was grown over or tilled under.

The time spent at Andersonville by the Union veterans and the bitterness over the conditions of the prisoners during the war still evoked emotion. Those visiting the site were dismayed to see nothing was done to memorialize the hollowed grounds. In May 1890, the Georgia Grand Army of the Republic purchased 73 1/2 acres that had been the prison stockade.  They immediately began working on restoring the grounds. By 1897, the veterans realized that the cost of paying the mortgage and maintenance of the site was more than they could fund. The men offered the site to the GAR’s auxiliary organization the Woman’s Relief Corp.

The women voted to pay off the debt and preserve the prison site. The WRC put together a board of women to provide oversight. Lizabeth Turner, who served on the WRC Andersonville Prison Committee, received the honor of providing on0site management of the prison site.

Lizabeth Turner, a widow, was familiar with the South. Prior to the Civil War, the Connecticut woman had been married to a Georgian man and lived in the state for a short while with him. After her husbands death in the 1853, she moved to Massachusetts. Despite not having a spouse or close relative serving in the Civil War, Turner supported the war efforts. Like many women in the North, she rolled bandages, and sent care packages to the troops. In the 1880s, when a local corp of the WRC organized, she was one of the first to join.

The WRC built a large cottage just north of the prison stockade. The purpose of the 11 room cottage was to provide a place for the visiting veterans and state delegations to meet and fellowship. Each division of the WRC was responsible for providing furnishings for the cottage. Turner planted a rose garden out front and erected a flag pole to fly the American flag.

The WRC quickly began finishing and adding to the work started by the veterans. They erected a fence around the prison stockade site with a large entrance and gates. They planted shrubs around the surviving wells dug by the prisoners and placed wooden signs marking the dead line, the creek, providence springs and other prominent features. The buillt bridges over the creeks and improved the roadway around the stockade site to allow better viewing and touring of the prison.

In 1900, the women erected a pavilion over Providence springs. The spring, which arose from the ground in August 1864 during a storm, was said to be an answer to the prisoners cry for clean drinking water. Almost all the veterans who visited the prison stopped to get a sip of the spring and recall the miracle of the clear water years before. Because it was so important to the former prisoners of war, the women built a marble pavilion over the top and had an elaborate marble sculpture fount of an eagle deliver the water into an Italian marble bowl. The Ex-Union Prisoners of War and the Grand Army of the Republic helped with the creation and preservation of the pavilion.

Over the years, the WC assisted with the memorial day services in the National Cemetery. Former Union General John A. Logan, a Grand Army of the Republic leader, proposed the observance of a memorial day. Part of the Woman’s Relief Corp’s mission was to honor the Union soldiers and to observe Memorial day. Most importantly, Lizabeth Turner, as the WRC representative, hosted visiting state delegations and veterans. She attended monument dedications, often being asked to speak and unveil the monument.

In 1910, the WRC could no longer manage the site. Lizabeth Turner had died in 1907 and few women were willing to move to Andersonville to provide personal oversight. The women approached the United States Quartermaster Department about transferring the prison to them. The Quartermaster department already took care of the cemetery, it seemed only logical that they maintain and preserve the adjoining prison site.

After the transfer, the WRC erected several more monuments. They erected the Woman’s Relief Corp monument in honor of their efforts to preserve the site at the suggestion of the Army. The women also erected a monument in honor of the men from states who did not erect a monument- the Eight States Monument.The WRC also erected a monument to Clara Barton in honor of her service to the Union troops and the creation of the National Cemetery at Andersonville and a monument  detailing memorial day orders by John A. Logan.

For many years, the WRC president traveled to the Andersonville cemetery to visit and check on the cottage, which they organization continued to maintain for many years. Today, the WRC still operates a museum honoring the Union Soldiers, decorates the graves of US soldiers, and continues to promote patriotism.