Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Camp Lawton - The World's Largest Prison

Georgia's Magnolia Springs

Many people have heard of the Confederate prison known as Andersonville (or Camp Sumter).  Far fewer are aware of Camp Lawton (also known as Fort Lawton) which was built in Jenkins County, Georgia, to relieve the unhealthy, crowded conditions at Andersonville.  

During it's brief existance, Camp Lawton was the largest prison in the world.  Occupying 42 acres beside beautiful Magnolia Springs, it was designed to hold 40,000 prisoners of war.  The prison consisted of a log stockade, 1398 feet by 1329 feet, with guard towers on the walls, and a ditch dug within the walls for a deadline.  It was built in September, 1864, by a crew of 800 workers.  On high ground surrounding the prison, three earthen forts were excavated and armed with cannon to prevent escape and guard from attacks.

One of the reasons the prison was located here was the large, pure spring, which could supply ample water to the prisoners  Another factor was the Augusta Railroad which passed just one mile from the camp. If the camp was threatened, prisoners could be loaded onto trains and moved north to Augusta or southeast to Savannah, and to other points from there.
The first prisoners began arriving in October 1864 and within a month 10,299 men were held there. Then on Nov. 25, 1864, the camp was quickly abandoned in advance of the Left Wing of Sherman's army during their cruel and infamous "March to the Sea."  Sherman's invading horde burned the new stockade and it was never rebulit.

Today, the spring is the site of Magnolia Springs State Park. Some of the earthworks remain and historical markers outside and inside the park tell help interpret the site.  The nearby railroad town of Millen had a beautiful depot and hotel which were burned when Sherman's Yankee invaders came through on Dec. 3, 1864. The local Chamber of Commerce, located in the new depot, built 1915, has a large picture of the prison and various historical displays.

  Historic Fort Lawton Earthworks

I have visited Magnolia Springs on several occasions and have found it to be a beautiful, uncrowded place to hike, camp and study nature - especially rare birds and alligators.  It is also a significant Confederate historical site which is too often overlooked and unknown.

Photos and story by J. Stephen Conn  

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