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.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Virginia friends group mapping battlefields

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Clemens, U.S. Grant and Hannibal, Mo.

Samuel Clemens
Hannibal, Mo., will be forever linked to Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), known for his writing, rather than his participation in the Civil War. The City Council has agreed to make a $1,000 match toward the purchase of a $2,500 blue highway sign indicating that the community is one of a series U.S. Grant Trails in Missouri. While Clemens’ Civil War participation was reportedly limited to a two-week stint with a Confederate militia, he later wound up a close friend of Ulysses S. Grant. Grant’s autobiography, written as he was dying of cancer in 1885, was published as a two-volume set by Mark Twain. Grant’s memoirs made approximately $450,000 for his family, leaving it financially secure. • Article

Friday, July 17, 2015

Navy divers bring up first cannon from wreck

(U.S. Navy)

One down .... three to go.

That's the cannon count for U.S. Navy divers working from a barge in Savannah, Ga., as part of an operation to remove the remnants of the Confederate ironclad CSS Georgia from the shipping channel.

Divers on Wednesday brought up a small artillery piece called a "six-pounder" -- a reference to the weight of the cannonball. It's the first time the cannon has been above the Savannah River surface since the CSS Georgia was scuttled by its crew in December 1864.

The Navy has been in town a few weeks to assist the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in collecting artifacts and removing pieces of the vessel --  including its guns, ordnance, casemate and propeller -- in the first phase of a deepening of the channel to the Atlantic Ocean.

The ironclad may have had as many as 10 large guns onboard during its operation. Two were recovered years ago and are on display at Old Fort Jackson, near the wreck site. Four have remained in the river and are being brought up by Navy divers, who have recovered about 150 pieces of ordnance and munitions from the murky depths. They'll remove the boat's larger pieces after the cannon are out of the water.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wreck photos
• Facebook page for U.S. Navy divers

Monday, July 13, 2015

Donated quilt has many stories to tell

A cherry quilt buried with other precious family heirlooms during the Civil War has a permanent home -- the International Quilt Study Center and Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The 155-year-old quilt, with its still vibrant greens and reds, intricate cherries and stems, has been the subject of much lore -- and more than a few family squabbles. • Article

Saturday, July 11, 2015

More ordnance coming up than expected at CSS Georgia site in Savannah

Spencer Puett prepares for dive (U.S. Navy)

A team of Navy divers has recovered about 100 pieces of unexploded ordnance and munitions on the bottom of the Savannah River at the CSS Georgia wreck site – a number higher than what archaeologists first expected.

Navy officials expect dozens more will be lifted from the Confederate ironclad’s grave in Savannah this month before they remove remaining cannon, pieces of casemate, the propeller and other components of the warship.

The recovery operation, which includes previous artifact removal by divers contracted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is part of a larger project to deepen the river channel to carry containers vessels to and from the Georgia city without being dependent on the tide.

“I’m just really proud of my sailors, and we are all very proud to work on this piece of history,” diving and salvage commander Chief Warrant Officer Jason Potts said in a Navy article.

The CSS Georgia was scuttled in December 1864 to prevent it from falling into Union hands.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Locomotive Texas will stay in Atlanta after state ruling in ownership dispute

Two locomotives that were the stars of a famous chase in Georgia during the Civil War will not be reunited.

That’s because a state agency recently found that the Texas, used by Southern pursuers during the April 1862 “Great Locomotive Chase,” is indeed owned by the city of Atlanta.

A little background: The locomotive and the Atlanta Cyclorama painting have been in Grant Park for more than a century. The city decided last year to move both to the Atlanta History Center’s Buckhead campus.

Officials in Cobb County, northwest of Atlanta, saw an opportunity to try to prove that the Texas actually belonged to the state, opening a possible claim. They want the locomotive to be housed at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, paired with the General, the object of the chase.

While the chase did not take place in Atlanta, the history center says extensive research uncovered documents and news accounts that go in its favor.

“We are certain it belongs to the city,” Gordon Jones, senior military historian and curator, told the Picket last month.

1908 The Atlanta Georgiam article on the matter (AHC)

Steven L. Stancil of the State Properties Commission, which initiated state research on the ownership, recently wrote, “After a review by the Georgia Department of Law, we believe there is little question that the Texas belongs to the city of Atlanta.”

A Cobb lawmaker told the Marietta Daily Journal this week he won’t fight the ruling. Rep. Earl Ehrhart had argued the locomotives should be together. “It just makes all kinds of sense in the world to be housed somewhere in Cobb. This is where the historical event actually took place, and I know that it would be well cared for by that museum for sure,”

A page on the AHC website shows documents cited in Stancil’s determination. The history center said the successor company to the Western & Atlantic Railroad in 1908 donated the Texas to the group Ladies of Atlanta, which in turn gave it the city’s park commission.

This followed a statement from Gov. Hoke Smith, who was concerned about the declining condition of the locomotive. The state consented to the transfer.

“I commend very cordially the idea of preserving this historic old engine,” Smith wrote. “The limited grounds around the state capitol made it impossible for the state to accept and preserve it. I write to assure you that the transfer of the gift as you indicated in your letter meets with my very cordial approval.”

Patrick W. Leed, Georgia assistant attorney general, wrote Stancil in April that his review showed “little reason to dispute Atlanta’s exclusive ownership” of the Texas, which was built in 1856 and saw service for nearly five decades.

On April 12, 1862, the Texas (above) took part in the famous Great Locomotive Chase, or Andrews Raid. Steaming in reverse, the locomotive pursued the fleeing General that had been commandeered by Union soldiers and civilians in disguise.

James Andrews and his band of raiders tried to destroy much of the Western & Atlantic Railroad and communications as they rushed northward. They achieved little success and eight of the nearly two dozen captured participants, disguised as civilians, were later hanged in Atlanta as spies. Andrews was among them.

Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews suggested Kennesaw work with Atlanta in the future to bring the history of the two trains together, the MDJ reported. The General, itself an object of a legal dispute in the 1960s, is owned by the state and is on permanent loan to Kennesaw, according to Mathews. 

Plans are being made at the AHC to have the Texas tell a wider story of the founding and growth of Atlanta transportation and there is value in having the trains in different locations to tell two stories, said Hillary Hardwick, vice president of marketing communications.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Artifacts, planned museum raise profile of 'forgotten' Camp Douglas prison in Chicago

Recent dig near Pershing East Magnet School (Michael Gregory)

Some heard through word of mouth, others through social media posts. Armed with curiosity and perhaps a hat to better weather the sun, they came to the grassy lot near a school on Chicago’s South Side – willing to dig, fill buckets and sift through dirt.

About 50 volunteers assisted the Camp Douglas Restoration Foundation late last month in its fifth excavation aimed at pinpointing features of the little-known Civil War prison camp and gathering artifacts for a planned museum.

“People said, ‘Hey, I just would like to do this,’” said David Keller, a retired banker who is managing director of the 5-year-old foundation.

Archaeologists and volunteers, excavating about 3 feet down in three units, uncovered a Federal uniform button with an embossed eagle and grommets that may have been part of a rubber blanket at the camp. They also found a dark stain in the soil that may have been the remnants of a wooden post. The discoveries will undergo further research.

Button may have been on vest
Rubber attached to grommets (Camp Douglas Restoration Foundation)

Of course, they also find items in the sand and clay that may not be part of the Civil War period. Those items are kept so that other groups or institutions may further research them.

“We find very curious things,” Keller told the Picket this week. “We found in one of the units about a half a dozen clay smoking pipes and pieces of them. Very elaborate, some with floral designs, some very demonic. We have one with the devil and the fiddle.”

The pipes, some of which were made by the Noel brothers of Lyon, France, may indeed be from the period.

For Keller and archaeologist Michael Gregory, an assistant visiting professor at DePaul University, the digs generate public interest and help bring the story of Camp Douglas out of obscurity.

“Camp Douglas wasn’t wiped off the face of the Earth,” said Keller.

In a sense, it was. The prison’s 200 structures went down when the site was dismantled in December 1865. What used to be a rural tract just outside city limits became part of Chicago’s rapid growth. The community, known as Bronzeville, was an African-American mecca during the “Great Migration” of the early 20th century. The South Side was a cultural bulwark and drew numerous black entertainers, including Louis Armstrong.

Camp Douglas largely faded into history.

Besides a cemetery containing the mass grave of 4,000 Confederates who died at the prison, Chicago currently offers only two signs that mention Camp Douglas -- hence the foundation’s efforts to build the museum that will resemble one of its barracks.

Confederate POWs at Camp Douglas (Library of Congress)

Keller, author of “The Story of Camp Douglas: Chicago’s Forgotten Civil War Prison,” said the 2012 discovery of the camp headquarters foundation was an important find.

“We want to better tie specifically where the camp was,” he said. “We don’t know where the stockade fence was found.”

Previous excavations found the letter “B” from a Union cap and the bowl of a tobacco pipe that would have been attached to a reed stem. Experts at the American Civil War Museum are confident the pipe, found about 10 yards from June’s dig, was of the period, Keller said. “It was the pipe of choice of the Confederate soldier.”

The recent excavation, said Gregory, demonstrates that physical evidence of the prison “has not been completely destroyed by urban development.” While the foundation has been able to dig on public property, much of the 60 acres is covered or in private hands, with no accessibility.

Keller said he believes the artifacts are the first military items found in Chicago in 100 years. “Whatever we can find that is part of the history of the camp is important to us.”

'Andersonville of the North'

Camp Douglas originally served as a training facility for Illinois soldiers being rushed to regiments at the front. Much of the site was converted to a prison camp.

“Had the military been involved (the site) never would have been selected,” said Keller. “It was noted for its flooding, swampy conditions.”

(Library of Congress)

The U.S.Sanitary Commission, during an inspection, found that the “amount of standing water, of unpoliced grounds, of foul sinks, of general disorder, of soil reeking with miasmic accretions, of rotten bones and emptying of camp kettles … was enough to drive a sanitarian mad.”

It earned well the sobriquet “Andersonville of the North.”

Officials estimate 1 in 7 Confederate prisoners died, although the exact number is not known. Keller said he believes between 5,000 and 6,000 perished.

In his book, Keller tells Camp Douglas’ story through the eyes of five POWs who kept journals.

“There were haves and have nots in the prison. There were people who lived pretty well, and there were those who lived deplorably,” he told the Picket. “It was not a pleasant place, but it was not as bleak as the Lost Cause tries to paint it.”

Untrained officers and guards and a constant change in commandants made matters worse. And soldiers who were taken prisoner during the Civil War had no training in how to weather the crisis and survive.

One exception, Keller said, were members of Confederate Brig. Gen. John H. Morgan’s raiders, captured in 1863. By then the parole and exchange system had broken down, and the raiders knew their stay at Camp Douglas might be lengthy.

By not allowing a comrade to starve and by sticking together, they endured death rate about half of the general prison population, according to Keller.

“They didn’t cooperate with the prisoner officials. They tried to escape. They refused to sign anything. They kept faith in their fellow prisoners and respected their chain of command.”

Pipe bowl likely used at Camp Douglas
Pipe with devil/fiddle theme (Camp Douglas Restoration Foundation)

Choices and consequences

Several times a month, Keller gets information requests from descendants of Confederate soldiers held at Camp Douglas.

In central Georgia, the staff at Andersonville National Historic Site tells the story of the infamous Confederate prison there and answers questions from those curious about other facilities.

It is very common for folks who are interested in Andersonville to be familiar with the names of other large prisons, traditionally Elmira and Douglas,” said Stephanie Steinhorst of Andersonville. “Those prisons tell the parallel story of Confederate prisoners of war, and the choices that United States commanders made during the war.”

Steinhorst said visitors struggle to grasp the scope of Andersonville’s misery.

She continued: “At the National Prisoner of War Museum, we have highlighted the stories of prisoners of these other locations, like Douglas, through programs and some of the museum exhibits.  Each prison could have thousands of pages of text about their struggles, because each page could be one of the lives that passed through the gates.  However, our site was not built immense enough for every name and every image.  We begin the conversation and then hope that people go home, carrying the questions of prisoners of war to their local historical societies, the National Archives, the town church, the historic site, or better yet, their own family tree. ...”

(Michael Gregory)

Plans for museum, soldiers database

The foundation wants to builds it museum – which will include references to African-American troops who were trained at Douglas – “sooner rather than later,” Keller said, adding it is close to securing a location within the camp’s confines and is negotiating details.

Once that is worked out, the group hopes to raise $2.5 million to build, equip and operate the venue, which will resemble a single-story barracks that was rated for 100 occupants, but sometimes held 300, a sign of the prison’s overcrowding. The barracks were 90 feet by 24 feet.

Keller said he would like to see ground broken this fall.

In addition to its small collection of artifacts, the foundation wants to display items from the Chicago History Museum, including the camp chapel bell, and other institutions. The owner of a locket made by a prisoner also has expressed interest in loaning that item.

The interior would include bunks, mannequins playing cards, photographs and a video loop.

Also in the plans is a database of the prisoners. Nearly 30,000 Confederates went through the camp. Most of the dead are listed on plaques at Oak Woods Cemetery. The National Archives and have nearly 12,000 additional names, though they are not currently searchable.

Keller has several hundred names given to him. “If I can get between 15,000 and 20,000 names, I would be pleased.” The foundation would like the database – when possible -- to include names, units, capture date, capture location and the soldier’s disposition.

(Michael Gregory)

In the meantime, the foundation continues its education outreach by speaking to various groups and at schools.

Steinhorst, with Andersonville National Historic Site, said every Civil War prison failed to protect human life.

“Men died in these places and the legacy of any of the Civil War prisons is how did they survive, what did the survivors want us to understand, and how can we learn from their sacrifices. The study of prisons needs to be based on the flaws and merits of each prison as a single moment in history,” she told the Picket.

“To compare them, and shape all your understanding on which is worse or who is to blame is a lost opportunity. We hope that when folks visit places like Andersonville, Richmond, Elmira or Point Lookout that they find space to explore the complexities of the story and connect to the landscape. After the crucible of captivity it was the survivors, women, and freedmen who called for memorials, monuments and ceremonies.  Today, we live in the legacy of their work, and the work continues.”

Friday, July 3, 2015

Service recalls 'fiercely patriotic' hero

Church bells rang and “Amazing Grace” was sung at Barker Commons in Fredonia, N.Y., where residents gathered for a memorial service for Battle of Gettysburg hero Alonzo Cushing, who died 152 years ago Friday. During the service last fall presenting the Medal of Honor, the county’s highest military honor, to Cushing’s relatives, President Obama said, “It is never too late to do the right thing.” • Article