Thursday, June 29, 2017

At Pea Ridge battlefield, students search for structures, evidence of a hamlet's culture

Student Madison Atchley and archaeologist Jerry Hilliard (U. of Ark.)

University of Arkansas archaeology students learning excavation techniques have identified the remains of at least four structures in a hamlet that was transformed into a Federal field hospital during the Battle of Pea Ridge.

“There is a whole lot more to discover,” said Jamie Brandon, a professor and an Arkansas Archeological Survey archaeologist.

Brandon, working with staff and faculty, supervised 10 students in this summer’s field school, which concludes Friday.

Excavation of a Leetown kitchen cellar (U. of Ark.)

“We are trying to reconstruct the best we can the footprint of Leetown, this mid-19th century hamlet,” he told the Picket by phone this week.

Leetown was only a half mile from the pitched fighting of March 7, 1862. Homes were used for hospitals, woods and fields were filled with battle debris, and the stench of death permeated the air, according to the National Park Service.

Two Confederate generals died near Leetown during assaults after their units were separated during a flanking movement. The Confederates were forced to withdraw.

Unlike the famous Elkhorn Tavern some 2 miles to the east, what’s left of Leetown is buried.

Jamie Brandon (second from left) supervises field work. (U. of Ark.)

The Arkansas Archeological Survey, a part of the University of Arkansas system, is in a four-year project examining up to nine areas in Pea Ridge National Military Park. The park, Brandon noted, wants to better interpret to visitors what the village meant to the battle, perhaps through shadow buildings or signs.

Archaeologists want to reconstruct past cultures. “We are interested in how (the fighting) impacted the civilian landscape.” The hamlet was largely unoccupied by the early 1880s.

Brandon said students conducted excavations and were washing artifacts this week. They did find evidence of a Union presence (it is unlawful for the public to dig for artifacts on federal property).

Another view of the kitchen cellar

Maps of the area are not exact, but there could be the remnants of eight to 12 buildings, including farmsteads, a store and Masonic lodge. One that was noted this year was a detached kitchen to the Mayfield log cabin.

The Picket has published posts about spring 2016 excavations in Ruddick’s Field, a couple miles to the east of Leetown. Archaeologists recovered 540 artifacts – the largest a 6-pound solid artillery shot – from the cornfield and in wooded areas. They will be used to plot locations of artillery pieces.

Foundations are all that remain in Leetown (NPS photo)

Brandon said a report on Ruddick’s Field is being prepared for submission in 2019. Archaeologists will return to Leetown next year and a survey of areas on the eastern side of the battlefield – site of an artillery duel -- is planned, Brandon said.

He said this year’s exploration at Leetown was an “initial foray.” Officials hope they can lead a larger volunteer dig, perhaps as soon as next summer.

Work at Pea Ridge is believed to be the first time large-scale remote sensing has been used on such a battlefield, archaeologists told the Picket.

A workshop put on this year for the National Park Service drew expects from all over the world wanting to know more about the mix of technology, said Brandon.

(University of Arkansas)

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