May 24, 2009, was the first time Norwegian Union soldiers who were confined or died in the Andersonville, Ga. Confederate prisoner of war camp were commemorated by their Fatherland for their sacrifices for their new country.By Leslee Lane Hoyum Norwegian American Weekly
Camp Sumter, commonly called Andersonville, was one of the largest Confederate military prisons during the Civil War. In its 14-month existence, it confined more than 45,000 Union soldiers, including 400 or more Norwegian immigrants, 200 of whom died there.
One in five Norwegian male immigrants fought in the Civil War, which implies that all Norwegian immigrant families were affected somehow. More than 1,000 never came home; others were seriously injured, physically and/or mentally. The tragedy cannot be measured, but must not be forgotten, since many experienced a gruesome start to their new lives. The dream became a nightmare.
During a 1-1/2 hour tribute, Torbjørn Greipsland, Askim, Norway, author of the bilingual book Norwegians in the POW Camps – A thousand Norwegian soldiers died during the American Civil War, (Nordmann in dødsleirene – Tusen norske soldater døde I den amerikanske borgerkrigen), spoke about the men interned in the camp. “Why did Norwegians enlist in the army when they did not have to?” asked Greipsland. “This is probably best answered by 9th Minnesota Regiment Volunteer Infantry soldier Bjørn Aslakson, originally from Rauland in Telemark,” he said. “Aslakson told a newspaper, ‘my country was in dire need and called all loyal sons to its defense and, although, I had a wife and family, I could not say no’.”
Aslakson also told the same newspaper what he saw when he entered the camp. “There were long rows of dead soldiers lying entirely naked, emaciated, nothing but skin and bones,” said Aslakson. “That made us newcomers sick with horror and despair. Our death sentence seemed to be written in bold letters on the door…”
According to Greipsland, too little attention is paid to the role Norwegian immigrants played in the Civil War. “For Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans, we today honor all who are buried in Andersonville, but we especially honor the Norwegians who participated in the Civil War and gave their lives for their new country.”
Norwegian Colonel Ole Martin Hojem, Military and Naval Attaché and Assistant Defense Attaché, Royal Norwegian Embassy, Washington, D.C., concluded the program by laying a wreath in memory of the Norwegian soldiers. He said, “I must recognize the American people for the way in which they honor the men and women who serve in the military, and how they acknowledge the sacrifices made by their families. It is overwhelming for a Norwegian to experience.”
For more information about Andersonville, go to www.nps.gov/ande
This article was originally published in the Norwegian American Weekly on June 5, 2009. For subscription information, call us toll-free at (800) 305-0217 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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