A nonfiction expose of Andersonville back in junior high or high school is one of the books that sparked (or shocked) me into a life long interest in our country's history, especially those stories which often miss others' attention. Hopefully, most of us recognize that Andersonville was a Southern prison for Union captives in Georgia; it has taken a place in history as one of those events that must not be forgotten, lest it be ever be repeated. Over 13,000 soldiers died there during the last 14 months of the war due to overcrowding, lack of medical care, and overall inhumane conditions. Over a hundred years later, there is still no set consensus for why such an atrocity happened. Some point to shortages of food throughout the South, but reports show that there should have been adequate supplies. Blame for the atrocious lack of sanitary conditions and humane care were quickly pointed at one man, Henry Wiz, commander of the inner stockade, who was the only man convicted and hung for war crimes in the Civil War.
Author Tracy Groot, having learned about the life-saving actions of a few sentinels (guards) at Andersonville, has written a historical fiction novel which explores how the act of compassion can weaken those boundaries between enemies and restore love for one's fellow man. In the book, three staunch Confederates join forces to make conditions better at Andersonville, and in doing so, they call upon the small town nearby to reach out to those dying within the prison's walls. Sentry Darcy Pickett has witnessed the worsening conditions for months and can remain silent no longer as the stench, starvation, and filth fill his every thought. Confederate Corporal Emery Jones has just delivered a Yankee prisoner to the camp, a man he has come to know and admire as they journeyed for days from the point of capture to the prison. As he waits for his new orders, he sees for the first time the awful conditions and curses himself for ever delivering another human being into such a place. Violet Stiles, proud Confederate supporter, finds herself near the prison one day to pick up a package and decides to meet up with her doctor father for a ride home. The smell coming from the camp alone is enough to tell her that her father has been protecting her and her family from the truth about Andersonville. Impulsive and naive, Stiles believes that her neighbors will eagerly help her in a quest to improve the lives of the prisoners, but while she feels she is acting out of basic humanity, they see a Northern sympathizer. How can she forget that these prisoners were responsible for the deaths and disabilities of their loved ones? Why even her beau died by Union hands!
This book will have you thinking about others through history who have risked their safety to nobly act to protect and save the downtrodden and the underdogs -- those that others saw as only enemies. As the publicity for this novel states -- compassion has its cost, both when given and when withheld.
Personally, this story reminded me of a small, but significant action of compassion taken by mother in law back during World War II. At the time she was the mother of four (later to be six) on a struggling hillside farm. In the same Wisconsin county was a prison work camp for German POWs. From everything I've read those camps in the Midwest and even Canada were clean, safe, secure and humane; prisoners were well taken care of, but they were still prisoners. Anyway, one day a small group of them, probably young men in their twenties, were on roadwork duty, right outside the family farm. My MIL Gen, who often struggled to keep enough groceries in the house, was baking pies that day. Filled with compassion, she took a warm pie out to the road crew. Collaborating with the enemy? A Nazi sympathizer? No, she maintained through the years. She was a mother, doing what she hoped some other mother would do should if any of her three sons (eventually four sons) were ever in similar circumstances. Compassion erases our differences, compassion lets us speak with our hearts.
I obtained by copy of SENTINELS OF ANDERSONVILLE from the Winnefox Library System. Check your library for it or purchase it through a local Christian bookstore, Family Christian books, or Christian books