Andersonville camp serves as huge reminder

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 10, 2012

On a recent overnight trip to Americus, Ga., with a friend, we traveled through Plains, the hometown of our 39th president, Jimmy Carter. Among the historic sites there, I noticed a highway sign pointing to Andersonville.

In an instant, I was reminded of an article I once read about a minister, who in the 1920s, established a church in Granada, Minn. One night he received word that an elderly Civil War veteran wanted to see him.

The minister traveled almost 30 miles into the country to visit Colonel Trumble. When the minister reached the old soldier’s bedside, the dying man said, “I’m not going to make it, Preacher, and I want to tell someone about a miracle I experienced during the Civil War.”

In his weak voice, he said he had been a Union soldier who was captured and taken to the Confederate prisoner-of-war Camp Sumter at Andersonville, Ga. He recalled the scarcity of food and, worse, the scarcity of water. (I’ve read that as many as 32,000 men were held there in a space originally intended for 10,000. Almost 13,000 died at Andersonville from disease and malnutrition.)

There was one particular day he remembered when he and several other prisoners were desperate for water. They went to the western edge of the camp and knelt to pray. “We prayed that God would help us,” the old soldier recalled. “To our surprise, in a few minutes a huge black cloud came and stood above the stockade.”

According to the colonel, a brilliant flash of lightning suddenly burst from the cloud. It struck a rock and split it in two. A stream of water gushed out and continued to flow.

The minister thanked the man for sharing his story, prayed with him and went home wondering whether the story was the imagination of a dying man. For five years, the minister never mentioned the story.

In the spring of 1935, he was speaking at a church in Columbus, Ga. During his sermon, titled “The Water of Life,” he felt he should tell the soldier’s story. After the service, people in the congregation said they knew about the miracle.

The next day they took the minister to the site of Andersonville, about an hour from Columbus. At the former camp, a spring of water was still flowing from the rock. A stone springhouse had been built to cover it, and a sign over the door read “Providence Spring.”

If the Civil War miracle sounds familiar, it’s because this was not the first time water came from a rock. You can read a similar story in Exodus chapter 17 when God instructed Moses “you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink” (verse six).

You could say there’s something miraculous about the way a dying veteran, an eyewitness to a miracle, told a minister about his experience – and the fact that the minister later saw Providence Spring himself.