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A MIRACLE AT ANDERSONVILLE: Providence Spring Water on Display in Lansing.

The Confederate military prison Camp Sumter, better known as Andersonville, was the largest and most infamous prisoner-of-war camp of the American Civil War. Conditions at the Georgia prison were horrible--shelter was inadequate; supplies were insufficient; and, worst of all, the water was contaminated. Of the approximately 45,000 Union prisoners who were interred at Andersonville in 1864 and 1865, more than 12,000 died of disease, exposure, and malnourishment.

Many Michigan soldiers were confined at Andersonville, including John L. Ransom of the 9th Michigan Cavalry, who was a printer from Jackson. He wrote in his diary, "There is so much filth here about the camp that it is terrible trying to live here. New prisoners are made sick the first hours of their arrival by the stench which pervades the prison....Everybody [is] sick, almost, with scurvy--an awful disease."

The biggest challenge for the inmates at Andersonville was obtaining potable drinking water. A creek that ran through the middle of the prison served as both the primary source for drinking water and a sewage system. "Nothing can be worse or nastier than the stream drizzling its way through this camp," wrote Ransom.

As a result, prisoners began digging holes throughout the camp to find new sources of water. They were amazed to reach a clean spring of cold water that proved plentiful enough to supply nearly the entire prison. Ransom rejoiced that "God has not forgotten us." The inmates called their new discovery "Providence Spring."

Following the end of the Civil War, Union veterans who traveled through Georgia--especially those who had themselves been imprisoned at Andersonville--often brought home souvenir bottles of water from Providence Spring.

One such bottle dating to 1889 is currently on display at the Michigan History Center in Lansing. Visitors to the museum can learn all about Michigan's role in the Civil War, the experiences of Michiganders who fought and died for the preservation of the Union, and the notorious Andersonville prison. The museum also features artifacts and displays from all periods of Michigan's history that are presented through a statewide lens.

For hours and other details, call (517) 373-1359 or visit

Caption: Above; An 1882 sketch of the Andersonville prison was made by Union Army veteran John L. Ransom when he returned to Jackson, Michigan. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-17090.) Right: A bottle of Providence Spring water from Andersonville that is currently on display at the Michigan History Center. (Photo by Amy Wagenaar.)

Caption: A portion of the Civil War display at the Michigan History Center that includes a bottle of Providence Spring water. (Photo by Amy Wagenaar.)

Please Note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.

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Title Annotation:FACTS & FINDS
Publication:Michigan History Magazine
Geographic Code:1U3MI
Date:Jul 1, 2019
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