by Kathy Cannon Wiechman
(Kathy’s A to Z posts are tidbits of fact gleaned from her research for her historical-fiction novel LIKE A RIVER.)
Andersonville prison camp was first
constructed, it contained a branch of Sweetwater Creek. That creek was to be
used by the prisoners for their every need: drinking, bathing, washing clothes
and cooking utensils—and waste.
Wood “sinks” were built along one edge of the creek for men to empty their bowels directly into what was also the source of their drinking water. Before long, the stream became a contaminated, foul-smelling swamp that attracted flies by day and mosquitoes at night. The diseases spread throughout the camp from this creek were innumerable.
In August, 1864, a torrential downpour flooded the creek, which made matters worse—for a time.
When the flood water receded, it revealed a spring which bubbled from an underground aquifer too deep to have been contaminated by the stream. The prisoners proclaimed the water was clean and tasted sweeter than any water they had tasted in a long time.
But the spring sat on the wrong side of the dead line (see post for D). After contriving ways to reach the water with buckets tied to poles, some prisoners felt clean water was worth risking their lives for. Eventually, they were allowed to dig a reservoir for the spring to flow into, and men could drink clean water without fear of being shot.
The spring, which many attributed to a divine hand, was named Providence Spring. It still flows at the site of the prison. However the water is no longer safe to drink.