Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Camp Lawton: Public welcome Friday to pitch in on excavation, learn prison's history

POW Robert Knox Sneden's map of Lawton shows the fort in the upper left, but the map is reversed. (Library of Congress)

Have a hankering to use a metal detector or take part in an archaeological excavation?

Friday’s “Public Day” at Magnolia Springs State Park near Millen, Ga., will allow visitors to get their hands dirty at the site of a large Civil War prison.

Ryan McNutt, who oversees Georgia Southern University’s Camp Lawton project, said students will be working just east of Fort Lawton, the Confederate earthworks that defended against attack on the camp and as a warning to prisoners.

“The public is welcome to participate however they want,” said McNutt. “They can try their hand at metal detecting survey, and excavating the hits, or assisting with excavating our open 1x2 meter test unit, which has some interesting features in it.”

Visitors also can see 3D printed artifacts or talk with Nina Raeth, whose ancestor was a Federal POW at Lawton, which operated for six weeks in late 1864. Many of the POWs were transferred to the site from Camp Sumter, also known as Andersonville.

GSU students have been working on two large grids east of the fort to see whether there is any sign of Confederate activity or occupation.

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

“The Confederate side of the story is largely unknown from an archaeological standpoint, and the area we're surveying to the east of the fort would be an ideal location for rifle pits, potential camp sites and so on,” said McNutt.

The 10,000 Federal prisoners were to the west and across a creek, on a hillside that later became a federal fish hatchery. That side of Camp Lawton is on property managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The project has located Civil War period cut nails, a buckle from a horse harness and other items near Fort Lawton.

“We've also found good evidence of the land around the fort being used for hunting during the 1890s to 1900s, with numerous shotgun shell bases turning up, all with head stamps that date solidly to the period between 1890-1902,” McNutt told the Picket.

“None of the artifacts we've recovered are really military in nature, aside from a possible cone cleaner. But it is adding to the story of Camp Lawton, both during its occupation, and what it was used for afterwards.”

Previous excavations on the prisoner side of the camp have yielded hundreds of Civil War artifacts that help illustrate daily life. Officials have a good idea of where the stockade walls were erected, having found some post remains.

Friday’s public day is from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Magnolia Springs State Park. Entrance to the park is $5 for parking or free with a park pass. Sponsors are Georgia Southern University, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Look for tents after the attendant’s hut and a volunteer will take you to the work area.


  1. I have a tobacco pipe from Camp Lawton. My grandsire Elias Goff, 7th Tenn US Cavalry, was originally interred there.

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