Our entire group of students and faculty have enjoyed the honor of following one of Mr. Jon Parsons’ ancestors, William Tritt, during this Adventure. We began the trip at the monument to Tritt’s 21st Wisconsin Regiment near their surrender at Chickamauga. While there we were able to understand how the battle had fallen apart around these brave Wisconsin boys who were forced to surrender. Jon reflected on what his ancestor must have thought given Tritt was 43 years old and left a pregnant wife with 8 children back home in Northern Wisconsin. Why did he decide to enlist and fight in the Civil War with so much at home? Surely, he thought of them at Chickamauga. Did he think to try to outrun the Confederates or die fighting? This trip has provided incredible examples of humans making difficult decisions in the face of horror. Perhaps Tritt had no time to think in the chaos of battle but his decisions later in prison surely focused on the best way for him to get home to his family.
Tritt was taken to several prisons after Chickamauga which included Andersonville prison in Georgia. The National Park Rangers immediately knew William Tritt’s name when I called to make our tour reservation. They even posted Tritt’s quote from this entry from his incredible diary on their Andersonville Facebook page yesterday in his honor. It read, “Warm and sultry. Looks like rain…” William Tritt, 21st Wisconsin Infantry. Andersonville Prison, June 1, 1864. Yes, Tritt somehow kept a daily diary during his stay at Andersonville on a 3-1/2″ x 3-1/2″ pad of paper and it just happened to rain on us during this visit.
The Park Ranger provided everyone in our tour a small bio of a Union soldier held at Andersonville which helped provide an awesome interactive experience for our group. The Ranger stated, “one in three of you will not exit the camp.” He then highlighted various advantages some soldiers had over others. For example, soldiers coming in alone were at a severe disadvantage compared to whole regiments of men who knew each other and would look out for one another. One exciting connection from our trip was when Sam M. read that he was given a Navy Sailor who was held at the Old Charleston Jail prior to Andersonville. Our overnight in that jail provided an interesting comparison to this open field prison. The best moment, however, was when Jon Parsons was given a card with his Great-Great-Great Grandfather on it. Jon was already walking in Tritt’s shoes, now he had him in his hands in one of the worst places imaginable. I noted to Jon that the dozens of mosquito and bug bites on his legs from the slave cabin stays helped get him in character for this experience.
The Andersonville tour is simply incredible and credit goes to our Park Ranger who was fantastic. He made a startling connection with the news that an American soldier had just been exchanged earlier in the day in Pakistan. That made the group realize we are still dealing with issues of prisons and POW’s. A quote that stood out was from one prisoner who described the swampy area around the small stream, the camp’s only water source as producing “vaporous clouds of stench.” Perhaps the most dramatic moment occurred when we entered through the reconstructed North Gates (the exact spot where Tritt and these other prisoners walked). We were for penned in this log-structure for several minutes and with the bugs biting, students were getting quite antsy and frustrated. The sense of security was momentarily lost within the tall walls, it was very uncomfortable. Come to think of it, this trip has done a pretty good job of providing “uncomfortable historical moments” for everyone in our group. Near the end of the tour, the group found out if “their soldier” survived or not which was another sobering experience. For Jon, this was a powerful experience and our Adventure was made all the more special to be a part of it.
Below are photographs of William Tritt’s card given to Jon Parsons at Andersonville: