The Mass Graves in Our Own Backyard


I'm very proud of my students in South Carolina History who showed their characteristic thoughfulness during a cold and rainy visit today to the Florence National Cemetery and the site of the Florence Stockade, a massive prisoner-of-war camp from the waning days of the Civil War.


In most communities in the U.S., I imagine discussions of war crimes and crimes against humanity must remain rather theoretical, and ususally about somewhere "over there," such as Bosnia or Rwanda. But in Florence, South Carolina, where the Confederacy moved more than 10,000 Union prisoners from the infamous camp at Andersonville, Georgia, there are physical remains in our own back yard.


While the prison at Florence operated only from September 1864 to February 1865, during that time nearly 3,000 inmates died of filth, disease, and malnutrition. In fact, today's dreary weather was nearly perfect for recreating as much as possible of the grim scene from a century and a half ago. Most of the dead were buried in unmakred mass graves outside the walls of the open-air camp. Those graves became the core of the Florence National Cemetery, one of the original seven created by the U.S. government in the wake of the war.


Thanks again to my students, to the National Cemetery staff member who greeted us and gave us an impromptu but very informative tour, and to a local organization, the Friends of the Florence Stockade, who have placed excellent interpretive panels and begun to build a replica of the stocade walls. I hope that with better marketing this important Civil War site will become much better known and attract more visitors.




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