My son had a history assignment to take photos of a historical site. Most of his colleagues had chosen something closer by, but I decided to hijack him and take him to the site of the Andersonville prison, where 43,000 Union soldiers, among them my maternal grandmother’s maternal grandfather, were held captive during the American Civil War. 17,000 of these soldiers died while incarcerated under conditions so severe that they rivaled those of Auschwitz or Bergen-Belsen or the Soviet Gulag
The site was about 26 acres in size, and completely devoid of any sign of the prison that had once held tens of thousands of prisoners of war on this tiny plot of Georgia soil. There were a few small reconstruction at the extreme north end of the field, and near the spot where the gate was located, but everything else was gone, just the open field with the sluggish gate stream still flowing through it, at one time the only source of water for all those sick, starving men.
Viewing the prison site from the vantage point of the Confederate commander’s post, I was meditating on the vast amount of human suffering that had transpired on this poor piece of ground, that of my ancestor mixed in amongst it. I felt moved, made the sign of the Cross over that empty field, and offered a brief prayer, asking the Lord to have mercy upon any souls who after 145 years, may have been bound to that area still by resentment and desire for revenge.
As soon as I finished, my son tugged at my sleeve. “Look up there, Dad!” He pointed to the sky. Above the field of the prison, an immature bald eagle was flying. We watched as he circled the field, then flew into the sun.
I remarked about this to one of the park workers. He confirmed to me that there was a family of bald eagles in the woods surrounding the park site. “They don’t come out very often, but they’re in there,” he said.