Back Out There – Thru-Hiking the A.T.

March 25th is the date… the Appalachian Trail is the place… Fred Jolly – trail name: Santiago – is the guy… six months of hiking is the event.  Check out our new website – – which tracks Fred’s latest journey of thru-hiking the A.T. from March through October.

Fred is hiking in large part to give back to the national park system that gave so much to us during our 2-1/2-year road trip.  On our new website you will find links to donate to the National Park Foundation via either Facebook or Crowdrise.

Georgia [History] on our Minds

The warmth of Florida seems so far behind us now!  As we make our way up to northern Alabama to visit friends, we have planned our route to include a few more stops at some nearby national park units.  We visited Andersonville National Historic Site (NHS) and Jimmy Carter NHS while in Georgia a few days ago.  Here are my observations on each:

Andersonville National Historic Site is located at the site that was the Andersonville prison, known as Camp Sumter during the Civil War.  In this dreadful, god-awful place, over 45,000 Union soldiers were confined as prisoners of war by the Confederate Army, and nearly 13,000 of them died in the 14 months this over-crowded prison pen was in operation.  To be fair, the Union had its own deplorable P.O.W. camps, too, but this one was particularly terrible, and at the end of the war, Captain Henry Wirz, who oversaw this camp, was famously executed for war crimes for the way he treated, or more appropriately didn’t treat those held as prisoners here.  Starvation, malnutrition, diarrhea, disease, and exposure to the cold; nearly one-third of all those who were sent here died.  The prisoners called it “hell on earth.”

Andersonville POW Camp
Andersonville, the hell-hole prison pen that housed 45,000+ Union P.O.W.’s in 1864-1865 during the Civil War — desolation, despair, disease and death was all around
Andersonville Prison Site - prison pen to over 45,000 Union POWs during the Civil War
Andersonville Prison Site today – sacred ground for reflecting on the sacrifice these Civil War soldiers made for the country they strongly believed needed to remain unified

National POW Museum
Commemorative Walkway at the National Prisoner of War MuseumAnother portion of this site is the National P.O.W. Museum.  Andersonville is the only national park unit to serve as a memorial to all American prisoners of war, and it is dedicated to American soldiers who suffered captivity in all wars.  Two moving films in the Visitor Center shared 1) the story of Andersonville, and 2) the experiences of P.O.W.s who were held captive in various wars.  The very moving museum contained artifacts from prisoners’ time in captivity, smuggled journals, pictures and stories, and videos by the P.O.W.s and their families who shared the hardships they endured, what they thought of, what they wanted to do if/when they got released, and other poignant and chilling memories of their time in captivity.

Andersonville National Historic Cemetery
Andersonville National Cemetery

The third portion of this site is the Andersonville National Cemetery.  It is a final resting place for the nearly 13,000 men who died here, and for any other American soldier who wishes to be buried here.  Note in the photo, the prisoners’ headstones are only inches apart.  As the death rate at Andersonville escalated to 100 per day, officials could no longer use pine box coffins for burial; instead, bodies were buried shoulder to shoulder in trenches.  At first only numbered stakes marked the prisoners’ graves.  The dead may have remained unidentified except for the efforts of Dorence Atwater.  A former prisoner himself, he recorded the names and grave locations of the deceased, secretly made a second copy of the list for himself, then smuggled it out when he was released.  A battlefield nurse, one Clara Barton who would go on to start the American Red Cross, eagerly helped him mark the graves of the dead, and his death register, published in 1886, enabled many families to locate their fallen loved ones.  Thanks to his work, over 95 percent of the graves were identified.

Visiting Andersonville was a moving reminder of how terrible war is, and of the misery and human suffering many have endured in the name of flag and country and freedom.  This place is a symbol for all those who believe in our country and in our battles.  While some scenes were uncomfortable to view, perhaps that’s why we should come – to be uncomfortable… to have our emotions stirred… and to be aware and informed so we are, indeed, grateful for the sacrifices of so many.

Plains, Georgia
Downtown Plains, Georgia
Carter's Peanuts
Carter’s Peanuts – the family business
Inside the Train Depot - Carter's Presidential Campaign Office
Carter’s Train Depot Headquarters

Jimmy Carter National Historic Site preserves sites associated with James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, the 39th President of the United States.  His boyhood home… his school which serves as the Site’s Visitor Center… the railroad depot in downtown Plains that served as his campaign headquarters during the 1976 election… Carter is clearly the favorite son of Plains, Georgia (pop. 755 at last count) and the locals are proud neighbors and friends.  The house in which the now 90-year-old elder statesman and his wife, Rosalynn, have resided since the 1960’s when the house was built, is off limits as it is still under the protection of the U.S. Secret Service, but visitors can tour the Maranatha Baptist Church where it is reported that Carter still teaches Sunday School, and where he and Rosalynn will someday be buried.

In 2002, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Jimmy Carter “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”  And the Carter Center in Atlanta promotes those causes the former President and First Lady chose to support, including programs to alleviate human suffering and to promote human rights and world peace.

The National Infantry Museum

–”For over two centuries I have kept our country safe, purchasing freedom with my blood.  To tyrants, I am the day of reckoning; to the oppressed, the hope for the future.  Where the fighting is thick, there am I.  I am the Infantry!  Follow Me!”

Follow me!This credo greets you as you enter the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center in Fort Benning, Georgia.  Moving, indeed… welcome to the state-of-the-art facility that tells the story of the United States Army Infantrymen.

It is said that Infantrymen (those soldiers who fight on foot) own the last 100 yards of the battlefield, for throughout history, they have faced the enemy bayonet to bayonet.  Appropriate, then, to begin your visit here by walking up the “Last 100 Yards” ramp, where in an emotional march back into time, you are reminded of all of the battles brave infantry soldiers, together with their brothers-in-arms, fought so that we Americans are able to enjoy freedom.  Through the fields of the American Revolution… over the Burnside Bridge in Antietam… in battles during WWI, WWII, and in the Korean War… on a Huey in the jungles of Vietnam… in a Bradley tank that has been damaged by a roadside bomb in the the sands of Iraq.  Powerful stuff!

National Infantry Museum
Hand-to-hand combat in Antietam during the Civil War
National Infantry Museum
The Battle of Soissons in Northern France in 1918 during WW I
National Infantry Museum
WW II — Landing at Omaha Beach on D-Day on June 6, 1944
National Infantry Museum
Bayonet attack at Soam-Ni during the Korean War
National Infantry Museum
Soldiers come in for a landing on a Huey helicopter during the Vietnam War
National Infantry Museum
Tank damaged by a roadside bomb in Iraq

We spent an entire day here, and even when they were closing the doors we hadn’t yet taken it all in.  The museum houses an amazing display of artifacts from all eras of American’s military history.  A Vietnam Memorial, Heritage Walk and Walk of Honor serve as memorials to Infantry units… a Rifle Range and Combat Simulators allow you to train just like soldiers do and embark on a virtual rescue mission in a Humvee … there’s the WW II Company Street; a replica of a 1940 Army post that features seven original buildings open for touring… the Fife and Drum cafe served up a great lunch… there’s even an IMAX Theatre where we took in a Tom Brokaw-narrated film, D-Day, that provided one of the most engaging history lessons we’ve ever had!

National Infantry Museum
The beginnings of the American Red Cross
WW II propaganda to support the troops
National Infantry Museum

Fort Benning Training CenterThe Soldier's CreedIn addition to the various galleries depicting different aspects of, and times in, the history of the Infantry, the museum also shows the origin and development of Fort Benning.  It shares the special relationship Fort Benning has with the local residents of Columbus, features a family gallery, and takes visitors – many of whom are the proud parents of soldiers who graduate nearly every week on the parade field just behind the museum – through the gallery that depicts what Initial Entry Training (IET), or Basic Training, is like – from a soldier’s first buzz cut to the time s/he graduates and considers more advanced training such as Ranger School.

The National Infantry Museum is a place like no other I’ve ever been.  It remembers and honors the 239 years of service and sacrifice the United States Army Infantrymen have made for us.  To them and to all military personnel, we are eternally and profoundly grateful.  And to my father… thank you for your service when I was but a glimmer in your eye ~ U.S. Army, 1961-1963.

Sweet Savannah

Another city in the U.S. I’ve always wanted to visit is Savannah, Georgia.  It’s consistently ranked in the Top You-Name-It American cities… top places to visit, top places to live, one of the friendliest… and now I know first-hand why!

Charley's digs in James Island State Park just outside Savannah
Charley’s digs in James Island State Park just outside Savannah

Let’s start with where we stayed.  In a campground, of course, but this was another really cool coastal campground.  We spent three nights in Skidaway Island State Park – another first-rate (all except for the dated bath houses) state park that was not at all full… seems only us “full-timers” are camping here in the wintertime, and particularly the week before Christmas.  This site was a long, level pull-thru, making arriving and departing camp quite easy.  The tall moss-covered Live Oak trees created a nice shade canopy over our activities which, because the weather is really nice down here, included lunch outside at our picnic table.  :)

One of the many squares around which Savanah was laid out
One of the many squares around which Savannah was laid out

It was recommended to us that we take the Old Town Trolley Tour as that was a good way to get around and learn about Savannah, and on weekends our state park is a pick up and drop off destination, so we took advantage of this and took the trolley to Savannah!  While this was a hop-on-hop-off tour, we found it most enjoyable to ride almost all the way around while listening to our driver / tour guide tell us all about this glorious southern town.

Savannah’s Historic District dates back to 1733 when founder James Oglethorpe was sent by England’s King George II to settle an area south of the Savannah River and create a buffer zone against both the Spaniards in Florida and the French in the Louisiana territory.  Oglethorpe laid the city out originally with four park-like squares around which the settlement developed.  This plan was continued as the city expanded over the next two centuries.  Twenty-one of what at one time was 24 squares still remain, around which lovely homes were built.  Fortunately many of these homes still stand today because Savannah was spared from the devastation visited by Sherman’s troops as they tore through the south on their March to the Sea during the Civil War.  [I’m picturing Scarlet O’Hara watch as her beloved city of Atlanta burns to the ground at the end of Act I of Gone With The Wind.]

Southern cooking at its finest at The Pirates House
Homemade biscuits, pecan honey spread (for our fried chicken) and sweet tea – now THIS is Southern comfort!

Another couple of recommendations we took and were were happy for the advice:  first, we ate lunch at The Pirates’ House.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that the classic southern specialties we were served were the best southern food we’ve ever had!  Fried chicken, greens, snaps, sweet potatoes, zucchini au gratin, biscuits, and so much more washed down with iced cold sweet tea.  Paula Dean has a restaurant here in Savannah, as well, but happy were we that we were steered to this place.  The building itself dates back to 1733-34, just a scant block from the Savannah River.  Tales are told of men drinking their fiery grog with carefree abandon in this historic tavern, then waking to find themselves on a strange ship bound for ports half a world away; seems this was the remedy for shorthanded ships!

Leopold's Ice Cream - voted 5th best in the whole world!
Leopold’s Ice Cream – serving Savannah since 1919!

The other recommendation we weren’t going to miss was having a scoop of ice cream at Leopold’s Ice Cream.  We were pleasantly full from our lunch, but deemed it a good plan to walk around the city and walk off some of our lunch to make room for our ice cream.  But then we recalled niece Kelsey’s belief that you always have room for dessert because you have a separate ‘dessert stomach’ just for desserts!  We opted for both exercise, then dessert, and were not disappointed.  Leopold’s has been making ice cream since 1919, and Savannah’s resident crooner, Johnny Mercer, even wrote a famous song about one of their flavors – Tutti Frutti!

We walked around Savannah for much of the afternoon, seeing and enjoying the Historic District before trolleying back to our campground.  It was a truly enjoyable day!

I haven’t read the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil yet – Mom just gave it to me at Thanksgiving to read – but apparently in the movie [staring two of my favorite actors, Kevin Spacey and John Cusack; I can’t believe I haven’t seen this movie either!] there are some scenes filmed in an old cemetery.  This would be Bonaventure Cemetery, a peaceful setting that rests on a bluff of the Wilmington River east of Savannah.  It’s a charming site that has been a tourist destination for 150+ years due to the moss-covered oak-tree-lined roadways, and unique cemetery sculpture and architecture.  There’s folklore, too, associated with the site and the many notable people buried herein.  Fred roamed the grounds for a couple of hours taking lots of interesting photographs.  Me; I strolled through and saw what I wanted to see, then went off to enjoy a latte at Starbucks (a rare treat these days) for a while before returning to retrieve my Ansel.  He’s got loads more terrific shots from this mystic place which sometime soon we’ll post on a site of his own, but for now, you can see my photos below.

I know I’ve said it before in my posts about some of the other wonderful places we’ve visited, but when you’re down South, make sure you give Savannah two or three days of your itinerary – it’s a gem of a place you’re sure to enjoy just as we did!

Hover your cursor over the two photos, below, then click on the arrows to scroll through some photos taken at Bonaventure Cemetery: