Aug 18, 2010 11:31 PM by Chris Welty
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - Preserved for nearly 150 years, perhaps by
its own obscurity, a short-lived Confederate prison camp began
yielding treasures from the Civil War almost as soon as
archeologists began searching for it in southeastern Georgia.
They found a corroded bronze buckle used to fasten tourniquets
during amputations, a makeshift tobacco pipe with teeth marks in
the stem, and a picture frame folded and kept after the
daguerreotype it held was lost.
Georgia officials say the discoveries, announced Wednesday, were
made by a 36-year-old graduate student at Georgia Southern
University who set out to find Camp Lawton for his thesis project
He stunned experienced pros by not only pinpointing the site,
but also unearthing rare artifacts from a prison camp known as
little more than a historical footnote on the path of Gen. William
T. Sherman's devasting march from Atlanta to Savannah.
"What makes Camp Lawton so unique is it's one of those little
frozen moments in time, and you don't get those very often," said
Dave Crass, Georgia's state archaeologist. "Most professional
archaeologists who ever thought about Camp Lawton came to the
implicit conclusion that, because people weren't there very long,
there wouldn't be much to find."
Camp Lawton imprisoned more than 10,000 Union troops after it
opened in October 1864 to replace the infamously hellish war prison
at Andersonville. But it lasted barely six weeks before Sherman's
army arrived in November and burned it.
The camp's brief existence made it a low priority among
scholars. While known to be in or near Magnolia Springs State Park
outside Millen, 50 miles south of Augusta, the camp's exact
location was never verified.
That task last year fell to Georgia Southern student Kevin
Chapman. The state Department of Natural Resources offered Chapman
a chance to pursue his master's thesis by searching the park
grounds for evidence of the 15-foot pine posts that formed Camp
Lawton's stockade walls.
The work started in December. By February, Chapman, his
professor and about a dozen other students had dug up stains in the
dirt left by rotting wood and forming a straight line - remnants of
the stockade wall.
About 1/4 mile away, on adjacent land owned by the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, they used a metal detector to find something
else: a pre-Civil War penny about the size of a half-dollar. They
were surprised nobody had beaten them to it.
"We thought, holy cow, in order for us to find an artifact like
this, this site has to be undisturbed," Chapman said. "To find a
Civil War site that hasn't been looted is extremely rare."
Other artifacts soon followed. The tourniquet buckle was stamped
with the name of a New York company that manufactured surgical
equipment in the 1860s. The clay pipe bore the name of its maker in
There was a literal half-penny - a coin cut in half to buy
things costing less than 1 cent - and three other coins including a
German-made game token stamped with George Washington's profile.
"It illustrates a lot about the life of the prisoners," said
John Derden, a history professor at East Georgia College who spent
years researching Camp Lawton for an upcoming book. "The
significance of Camp Lawton is it really presents in microcosm
almost every aspect of the Civil War POW experience, both good and
"Of course, Andersonville was a hellhole and is more important.
But Andersonville is pretty archaeologically sterile."
In 1864, the Andersonville camp in southwest Georgia was
overcrowded with more than 30,000 war prisoners. Thousands died
from a lack of food and medicine.
The Confederate army built Camp Lawton to handle the masses
Andersonville couldn't. It sprawled over 42 acres - about 1/4 mile
on each side, nearly twice Andersonville's size.
Confederate Gen. John H. Winder noted Camp Lawton could easily
hold at least 32,000 prisoners. "It is, I presume, the largest
prison in the world," he wrote.
Prisoners arriving in October 1864 had no living quarters. They
built crude huts with scraps of pine left over from construction of
the stockade. Records show that Camp Lawton held 10,229 Union
troops by early November. Despite the camp's brief existence, at
least 685 prisoners died there.
Derden's research uncovered personal accounts by Camp Lawton's
prisoners recounting how they set up a black market to sell tools
and molasses candy, killed alligators for food and bribed doctors
for passage on trains carrying away the sick.
Chapman and the professor overseeing his work, Sue Moore, say
they've excavated just a tiny fraction of the camp's interior.
"People say, 'How long are you going to keep doing this?"'
Moore said. "A short answer is years and years, because there is
so much we hope to discover there."