Thursday, July 30, 2015

Camp Lawton dig director leaving, assesses findings and mysteries at prison site

Students conduct work during this summer's field school (GSU)

Assistant Professor Lance Greene, who directed Georgia Southern University archaeology students conducting field work and research at Camp Lawton, a Civil War prison, is leaving the school after three years to take a position at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. Greene, 51, has spoken often with the Picket about the Lawton project. We talked this week about his future and the status of efforts to learn more about Lawton, which held nearly 10,000 Federal soldiers for six weeks in fall 1864. Hundreds of artifacts have been recovered. The questions and responses below have been edited.

Q. Tell me about what you will be doing at Wright State.
A. I’ll be the only archaeologist on staff. In the fall, I will be teaching introduction to archaeology, field methods and archaeology. I’ll actually start a new project on Shawnee archaeology. This will cover southwest Ohio and the last 500 years, with a focus on the Revolutionary War period. They were resisting British and American intrusion. There are several villages from the 1770s and 1780s within 5 and 10 miles of our campus. This will be good for field school. The two I am most interested in were sizable villages. Old Chillicothe had 50 to 60 houses. I conducted research on the Cherokee before I came to Georgia Southern.

Q. What’s going to happen with the Camp Lawton project after your departure?
A. Next year will be tough for archaeology. Professor Sue Moore just retired this past spring (though she will continue to give lectures). This summer GSU went from three archaeologists to one. The coming semester will focus on hiring a replacement to me. The new Camp Lawton person will start in fall 2016.

Q. What will that mean to the field work?
A. There will be a one-year down time. Camp Lawton will be inactive for about a year. There will be no excavation for fall 2015 and spring 2016 semesters and no public days (to witness the digs). They will probably continue to give presentations.

Q. What’s the impact of this halt in excavations?
A. We hope it won’t be much of an interruption. This has been going full steam for about five years. I finished up a comprehensive site report of excavations since 2010. (The school and federal and state agencies) will look at it as a year to study and look at where the next phase of work should be. From their perspective, this is a good thing. It is a good stopping point to take a breath and look at what is coming next.

Q. Tell me about the most recent work. (Camp Lawton sat on what is now Magnolia Springs State Park and an old federal fish hatchery near Millen).
A. We had 12 students all together and did a lot during mid-May to mid-June during summer field school. We spent almost all of our time in the prisoner area. We continued the excavation of a brick oven and a hut. We wanted to get those finished and back-filled. I think that my conclusions add to what we interpreted last year. The brick oven (made for prisoners) was more of a substantial structure than what we thought. We found evidence of posts. The stratified layer was a lot deeper than what we thought it was. The Confederacy built these really substantial brick ovens as opposed to haphazard. The prisoners used this oven a lot more than we thought. They are focal points and used for food, warmth and social interaction. These may be hubs for a lot of the prisoners. About five or six were built.

Remains of prisoner residence (GSU)

Q. How about the hut?
A. There were not too many artifacts, thought we found a few machine-cut nails. It was a big, basin-shaped pit, roughly square. They stole the bricks to build a tiny chimney at the end. It probably housed two or three men. All of the bricks in the prisoner hut were complete. There were only brick fragments in the oven. It appears civilians after the war took the good bricks from there.

Q. Tell me some of the conclusions in your status report.
A. We’re finding out that the best-preserved part of the site is the prisoner encampment area. Everything within the stockade wall is very well preserved. We have yet to identify definite Confederation portions of the site. We don’t know if they have been destroyed or we are digging in the wrong place. Future work inside the stockade will be slow and will concentrate on feature deposits. Outside the stockade wall (in the Confederate area) will be a survey (as more is learned).

One of two brass harmonica reeds found at Lawton (GSU)

Q. What about the remains of an old residence in the Confederate area, where you found artifacts from different periods?
A. We believe that is Confederate. I think it was prewar frame house, probably tenant farmer. It was lived in again until 1870 or 1880, then burned. We do have an officer’s quarters there. That is the one good location we have that is Confederate occupation.

Q. What else?
A. In the prisoner area, the excavations are beginning to support that prisoner accounts are true. We have found a cow mandible. They were given cow heads. They are breaking these pieces of skull to hand out to prisoners to be more democratic. We are getting other pieces of bones, but they need analysis. It shows the Confederacy will impress livestock. Heads were carried by wagon into the prison. Very telling is the lack of things we see. There is no glass or ceramics in prison area. They are having to do with tin cups. The Confederacy is giving them nothing and they are getting bad cuts of meat if they get anything at all. A tin cup was used for water and to eat soup. They have nothing else. They reused items, railroad piece and metal scrap.

Q. Did you make any recommendations for future work on the project?
A.  For me, personally, the question is the difference in quality of life between prisoners and guards. This is one of the questions that drive the research design. Methodology I have suggested is that inside the stockade they need to dig slowly and methodically. This is feature excavation. Of course, my replacement may go somewhere else with this.

Darker soil shows evidence of stockade wall (GSU)

Q. Has Camp Lawton lived up to its billing from a few years ago as a virtual time capsule because of its remote location?
A. The site integrity is as big as they say it is. The prisoner area is one of the best preserved sites I have ever seen. We can reflect on what is going on during the Civil War in a lot of ways: The treatment of prisoners, race and more. I continue to think Camp Lawton is an incredibly important site.

Q. How have students benefited from the field work and research?
A. I think that Camp Lawton is an excellent training ground for students -- graduate and undergraduate. Right now we have graduated three master’s students with thesis research on Camp Lawton. We have two more about to finish up. There is a lot of historical research.

Q. Any special memories of the work on the site?
A. There are just a lot of moments. They often hinge on th discovery of really specific things in the field. I remember the moment we discovered a good example of stockade trench. It amazed everyone, including myself. This past summer, I had several students uncovering what was left of brick rubble and they were troweling, exposing material. Just in the floor, there was an old post hole with brick rubble shoved into it. It kind of took my breath away and it was a teaching moment for my students. We started finding evidence of how they built this structure. I am going to miss the site, doing research because it is one of the most incredible sites I have ever worked on. It will be tough to top that. I will miss the students and faculty.

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