This water bottle was used in 1889 to collect water from Providence Spring. By then, the war was over, and the water was collected as a souvenir. (The bottle is on display at the Michigan Historical Museum)
It is August 1864. Union prisoners-of-war languish in Camp Sumter, Georgia (also known as Andersonville). The prisoners endure appalling conditions that are steadily getting worse. Shortages across the Confederacy contribute to a severe lack of food and supplies in the prison. Over 30,000 men are crammed into a 26.5-acre space enclosed by a log stockade and the infamous “deadline,” a fence that no prisoner can cross without being shot by the guards.
The site of the prison camp forms a deep “V” with a small creek running through the low point at its center. The creek, a branch of Sweetwater Creek, provides the only water to many of the men living in crude shelters on the land rising on each side. Proper sanitation is almost impossible, and much of the creek has long since become filthy. Though some prisoners have managed to dig wells, ultimately, nearly 13,000 will die of disease and other causes.
To add to the prisoners’ misery that August, a rainstorm strikes that is so heavy, some of the sick men who cannot pick themselves up from the narrow muddy paths are drowned. After the storm passes, the prisoners spot a spring – a clean, clear flow of water – …but it’s on the wrong side of the deadline! Tying their tin cups and cans to sticks they reach over the short fence to slake their thirst. Later, the prisoners get permission for the guards to divert the flow under the deadline. They then name the water flow “Providence Spring.”
The bottle of water seen above is on display at the Michigan Historical Museum. It was collected from Providence Spring in 1889. The Women’s Relief Corps, the national auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic, built a monument over the spring in 1901.
To learn more about Michigan’s Civil War history, see the Michigan Historical Museum’s Civil War gallery. You can access an online version, by clicking here: Michigan and The Civil War, 1861-1865 (online gallery). To see it in person, visit Michigan Historical Museum, 702 W. Kalamazoo Street, Lansing MI 48915, (517) 373-3559, TDD (517) 373-1592.
You can find more Civil War treasures in the Archives of Michigan. Click the links below for digital Archives of Michigan collections on Seeking Michigan.