SOUTH CAROLINA: Archaeologists Race to Uncover Civil War Prison

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Racing against time, South Carolina archaeologists are digging to uncover the remnants of a Civil War-era prisoner-of-war camp before the site in downtown Columbia is cleared to make room for a mixed-use development.

The researchers have been given four months to excavate a small portion of the 165-acre grounds of the former South Carolina State Hospital to find the remnants of what was once known as “Camp Asylum.” Conditions at the camp, which held 1,500 Union Army officers during the winter of 1864-65, were so dire that soldiers dug and lived in holes in the ground, which provided shelter against the cold.

In this Jan. 30, 2014 photo, University of South Carolina research archaeologist Chester DePratter stands by the archaeological dig of “Camp Asylum,” the Civil War-era prison that once held 1,500 Union officers on the grounds of the state mental hospital in Columbia, S.C., in the waning days of the Civil War. Racing against time, South Carolina archeologists are digging to uncover the remnants of a Civil War-era prisoner-of-war camp before the site in downtown Columbia is cleared to make room for a mixed-use development. (AP Photo/Susanne Schafer)

In this Jan. 30, 2014 photo, University of South Carolina research archaeologist Chester DePratter stands by the archaeological dig of “Camp Asylum,” the Civil War-era prison that once held 1,500 Union officers on the grounds of the state mental hospital in Columbia, S.C., in the waning days of the Civil War. Racing against time, South Carolina archeologists are digging to uncover the remnants of a Civil War-era prisoner-of-war camp before the site in downtown Columbia is cleared to make room for a mixed-use development. (AP Photo/Susanne Schafer)

The site was sold to a developer for $15 million last summer, amid hopes it becomes an urban campus of shops and apartments and possibly a minor league baseball field.

Chief archaeologist Chester DePratter said researchers are digging through soil to locate the holes — the largest being 7 feet long, 6 feet wide and 3 feet deep — as well as whatever possessions the officers may have left behind.

“Almost everybody lived in holes, although the Confederacy did try to procure tents along the way, as they could obtain them,” said DePratter, a research archaeologist with the University of South Carolina’s Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology.

DePratter said he’s been able to track down about 40 diaries written by camp survivors, telling tales of suffering and survival, as well as dozens of letters written by the prisoners about their experiences. He said they came from states across the North, and from many different military units.

“It’s hard to imagine. They all talk about their clothing being threadbare, many of them had no shoes. They shared the blankets they had, three or four together spoon fashion and put a blanket over them” to stay warm, DePratter said. “They wrote about how every prisoner in the camp would walk about at night to keep from freezing to death.”

Amazingly, only one officer died there.

Officers were useful for prisoner exchanges, so they were shuttled from site to site as the war progressed. The enlisted men were sent to the notorious prison at Andersonville, Ga., where 12,000 Union soldiers died of illness and privation. The officers, however, were held in Richmond, Va., then Macon, Ga., before being sent to Savannah and Charleston, S.C.

After a yellow fever outbreak in Charleston, they were brought to Columbia, where they were put in an open field dubbed “Camp Sorghum” on the western side of the Congaree River across from Columbia. But when hundreds started escaping into the surrounding countryside, they were shifted to the mental hospital’s grounds, which are surrounded by a 10-foot brick wall.

As the researchers dig and sift the reddish earth, they uncover buttons, combs, remnants of clothing and utensils presumably used by the prisoners. One hole contained crudely made bricks the prisoners fashioned by hand, which they stacked to offer protection from the wind and rain.

The developer has given DePratter $25,000, which has been matched by the city, to start his dig. He’s been able to raise another $17,000.

DePratter is hoping to raise additional funds to pay for ground-penetrating radar to avoid the utility pipes that crisscross the site. He has until the end of April to dig out as much as he can. Everything the crew finds is going to be held for preservation and study through the archaeology institute, he said.

Tours — set up through the Historic Columbia Foundation at $10 per person — are being conducted to help bring attention to the archaeology project.

Eric Leonard, the director of education at the Andersonville National Historic Site in Georgia, which also houses a prisoner of war museum, said it is important to uncover the histories of prisoners even if it is an unpleasant topic.

“Prisoners of war are an example of the extraordinary cost of war. It’s not an easy story to tell, and it’s not a happy story. But it delves into the consequences of war,” Leonard said.

Leonard added that unearthing artifacts is also important to do, since it gives people today a broader picture of the human story that might not jump out of the printed page.

Joe Long, the curator of education for the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in Columbia, said the prisoners were educated officers, who were more hardened to the elements than people today.

“These were intelligent, skilled men, and they produced some beautiful crafts,” Long said. His museum has purchased a pipe carved by one of the prisoners from a hardened root ball of briarwood.

Long added that the waning days of the Civil War have gotten little historical attention, and need to be academically documented.

Long noted that in order to keep their spirits up, the prisoners formed a glee club, and sang for themselves and the local populace.

“The camp commandant had a rule, he told them they could sing all the Yankee songs as they wanted, but they also had to sing a Southern song. So they’d sing ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic,’ and then they’d sing ‘Dixie,’” Long said with a laugh.

Three days before Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s forces entered the city, the men were moved to Charlotte, and then to Wilmington, N.C. Shortly thereafter the war ended, and prisoners on both sides freed.

-Associated Press


VIRGINIA: Museum of Confederacy Opens Exhibit on Veterans

Many people can recite facts about battles or describe the cultural environment during the Civil War, but not as much is shared about the men after the war.

These are the stories told in the first new exhibit at the Museum of the Confederacy in Appomattox. The exhibit, entitled, “When Johnny Came Marching Home: Veterans in the Postwar South,” shows visitors what the veterans faced after returning home, touching on the human cost of war, trying to reconcile what happened and the legacy the veterans and their descendants left behind.

Visitors browse artifacts on display in the new exhibit at the Museum of the Confederacy in Appomattox, Va., March 6, 2014. (Photo by Parker Michels-Boyce/The News & Advance)

Visitors browse artifacts on display in the new exhibit at the Museum of the Confederacy in Appomattox, Va., March 6, 2014. (Photo by Parker Michels-Boyce/The News & Advance)

“This is somewhat of a universal story to tell,” exhibit historian John Coski said.

This exhibit depicts what it was like for veterans during the late 1800s and early 1900s, Linda Lipscomb, the site’s director, said.

“I hope it shows that there is much more to a soldier’s life than the glories of battle,” she said. “It takes a toll during the war and after all hostilities have ceased. I hope that today’s society realizes that there are many trials a veteran faces, some visible and some invisible. We can step up and make a difference in the veteran’s life, the same as the citizens of the 1860s did.”

This idea is established at the beginning of the exhibit with a large black and white photo of a weathered Civil War veteran and a smaller photo of him as a young man in uniform going to war.

A large banner inside the gallery sets the tone for the burden veterans felt for surviving when their fellow soldiers didn’t and how they wanted to honor their fallen brothers in arms.

“You can’t help but think about the men who didn’t make it, is what it boils down to,” Coski said.

Some of the first things visitors see are photos of scarred veterans — many with empty sleeves or pants where limbs should be. A prosthetic arm sits in a glass case next to a photo of its owner, adding an aspect of reality to the topic.

“The photos, memoirs and letters show the devastating effects of the war, both mentally and physically,” Lipscomb said.

The rest of the exhibit is dedicated to what the men did after the war, through pictures of reunions or back at work. Most of the exhibit is dedicated to Confederate veterans but there are a few pictures and references to the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans group. About 75,000 Union veterans lived in the south after the war, mostly blacks, Coski said.

“They formed immediately after the war for camaraderie and to take care of their own,” he said, adding the Confederate groups provided pensions and help for Confederate veterans who were not able to receive aid from the federal government and had to rely on assistance from the state instead.

A section of the gallery is dedicated to remembering the war, including veterans coming together for reunions, writing memoirs and preserving battles’ histories by creating memorials.

It was common to find soldiers’ memoirs after the war, which often held conflicting viewpoints on the events of certain battles.

“Much of the literature after the war was a lot of refighting the war, not just the north and south but within,” Coski said, adding most discrepancies concerned Gettysburg.

The idea of who was right often would come up at reunions, prohibiting true reconciliation for a number of years. A positive step came when the southern states took their battle flags back in the early 1900s, he said.

The exhibit, which is slated to run through February 2015, features about 200 artifacts, all of which were donated to the museum by the veteran or his descendants, including people in the area. Some artifacts, such as items from veteran reunions, were given to the museum immediately following the event because the museum was established as the veteran movement grew, Coski said.

“This is the first time a lot of these things have been displayed if at all,” he said.

He didn’t believe the museum has ever done an exhibit on veterans. Plans have been in the works since the 1990s but kept getting pushed off until the Appomattox museum opened in 2012 with a gallery space for traveling exhibits.

“This is a long-held dream realized,” Coski said.

The three must-sees of the collection are the complete United Confederate Veterans uniform, two pink ceremonial punch bowls made for an early reunion of Confederate and Federal soldiers and a set of doll house furniture made by residents of Lee Camp Soldiers Home in Richmond, Coski and Lipscomb said.

Coski said he hopes the exhibit helps people see the veterans as men who lived long lives and not just soldiers frozen in one moment.

“It reminds us to look at their lives in full and not in a four-year period,” he said.

(Lynchburg) News & Advance


VIRGINIA: Civil War Identity Mystery Solved

WASHINGTON – The 26 Union soldiers were posed for the camera somewhere near Brandy Station, Va., in late 1863 or early 1864.

The front rank stood at parade rest, hands clasped around muskets. The rear ranks stood so their faces could be seen. They were serious young men approaching the final, bloody months of the Civil War.

The Library of Congress, which owns the rare tintype, had described it as an “unidentified company of soldiers” – anonymous Yankees whose stories and fates seemed forgotten.

A photo of unidentified soldiers in Union uniforms was spotted on Facebook by a high school teacher in New York who had seen a copy with identifying information in a local library. (Courtesy Library of Congress)

A photo of unidentified soldiers in Union uniforms was spotted on Facebook by a high school teacher in New York who had seen a copy with identifying information in a local library. (Courtesy Library of Congress)

But last month, a New York high school teacher spotted the photo on a Civil War Facebook page and recognized the image. Now the Library of Congress, which has a digital version on its website, has names and stories to go with the faces.

“Often, the pictures are powerful,” said Helena Zinkham, chief of the library’s prints and photographs division. “But having the biographical narrative so enriches the meaning of the moment.

“Who was just new to the company?” she asked. “Who was just leaving? Who might die later?”

The photograph depicts men of Company H, of the 124th New York infantry, nicknamed “the Orange Blossoms” because many were from Orange County. The outfit had already lost its colonel and many of its men in the war.

“Each individual person had a fate and a story,” Zinkham said.

Two of the men in the photograph would later be killed in combat. Another man would be captured and die in the notorious Andersonville prison camp. And another would live to receive the Medal of Honor and become a member of Congress.

The picture, an unusual outdoor group photograph, is one of 1,200 Civil War images donated to the library in recent years by collector Tom Liljenquist of McLean, Va.

Liljenquist bought it for $3,500 four years ago at a collectors’ show in Gettysburg, Pa. and gave it to the library in 2010, the library said.

“It’s a magnificent photograph, a very rare half-plate tintype, in its beautiful original folding case,” Liljenquist said Wednesday.

A tintype is a photograph printed on a thin sheet of metal, and “half-plate” refers to the photo’s relatively large size, he said.

When Liljenquist bought it, there was no accompanying identification. He said such cased original photographs, especially outdoor shots, rarely come down through history with detailed information.

“Now it’s just incredible that we have these guys identified,” he said.

Last month, Garry Adelman, vice president of the Center for Civil War Photography, posted a copy of the photo on his Civil War Facebook page to see if anybody had any knowledge about it. “I had no real hope of identifying the thing,” he said Wednesday.

But when Ryan McIntyre, a high school social studies teacher in Ellenville, N.Y., visited Adelman’s page, he recognized the picture.

“I looked at it and I said, ‘I’ve seen this picture before,’” McIntyre said in a telephone interview Wednesday. He had seen a copy in the holdings of the Historical Society of Walden and the Wallkill Valley in Orange County.

“It was like an ‘Aha!’ moment,” he said.

McIntyre said the copy with the historical society includes a note written in 1910 by Lt. John Hays and identifying many of the men. Hays, who appears in the photo and was in his 20s when it was taken, was probably about 70 in 1910.

McIntyre said the picture and the information about the men also appear in a 2012 history of the regiment by Charles LaRocca, who credits the historical society for the picture and the identities.

Adelman noted: “Having it in a book identified is one thing. Having it identified on the Library of Congress catalogue, where everybody can see the high-resolution version, is another.”

The men of the company had probably been in the relative comfort of winter quarters, McIntyre said. They appear healthy and well fed, if a little rumpled. “This is not a company that has been on the road,” he added.

They are flanked on the right by their captain, David Crist, who was then about 47. He was killed May 30, 1864, in fighting at Totopotomoy Creek, outside Richmond, Va., according to information gathered by Adelman and McIntyre.

Another officer later described Crist as “a kind friend, a noble soldier, and a man whose whole soul was wrapped up in his country’s cause,” according to an 1870s history of the regiment.

Standing near Crist is British-born Sgt. Thomas Bradley, who many years after the war would be awarded the Medal of Honor for fetching ammunition under heavy fire at the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863.

Bradley went on to serve as a U.S. congressman for 10 years.

Near him stands James Crist, about 28, who was wounded and captured at Totopotomoy Creek and died Nov. 11, 1864, in the Andersonville prison camp. It’s not clear if or how the Crists were related.

Another doomed soldier in the photograph, standing near James Crist, is Chester Judson, about 18 years old. Judson would be killed by a rebel sniper Sept. 14, 1864, in the trench warfare around Petersburg, Va.

He was shot in the head during the day while at his picket post, but a comrade had to wait until dark to drag his body into Union territory.

“We buried him by moonlight, and it was a most solemn scene,” an officer recounted. “We wrapped him in his blanket, and placed him in a cracker box coffin. A prayer was offered at his grave which was dug and filled in by the chief mourners, and I reported one less man for duty.”

-Washington Post


VIRGINIA: Event signals start of Civil War Sesquicentennial

COLONIAL HEIGHTS – Fort Clifton is a Confederate landmark overlooking the Appomattox River that has earned a place in Civil War history.

During the Siege of Petersburg and the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, the fort resisted heavy artillery fire and faced several gunboats, including Samuel L. Brewster’s, which was taken down in May 1864 by Confederate soldiers.

Fort Clifton’s role has largely been forgotten to history – but one man is trying to change all that.

Mike Wright laments that many people residing in Colonial Heights and surrounding areas are unaware of the history behind Fort Clifton. But as coordinator of the Fort Clifton 150th Anniversary Heritage Day on March 22, he hopes the event will help educate visitors about the historic landmark.

“[Fort Clifton] played an integral part in defending Petersburg by boats trying to get up the Appomattox river,” Wright said. “It’s has really impressive earthworks and is a really nice park and a well-preserved fort.”

The event signals the start of the area’s Civil War sesquicentennial commemoration. In the coming months, a variety of events will be held to mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War that was fought in the greater Petersburg region.

Wright, who is also a member of the Colonial Heights Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter – Dearing-Beauregard Camp #1813, said that the event was created to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War; but most importantly, to teach people about the value Fort Clifton had in the Civil War.

“We really want to use this opportunity of the sesquicentennial anniversary to educate people about the soldiers who served in the harsh conditions at Fort Clifton,” Wright said. “This is something that should be commemorated as it was such an important part of the defense of Petersburg.”

Fort Clifton was erected on the banks of the river to defend Petersburg in 1864 and 1865 from Union naval attacks during the last years of the Civil War. Federal gunboats on May 9, 1864, under command of Maj. Gen. Charles F. Graham attacked the fort. Fort Clifton’s guns disabled the gunboat Brewster and its crew scuttled the gunboat. The fort’s garrison, commanded by Capt. S. Taylor Marton, received a special commendation by Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett, the commander of the Petersburg defenses.

The Fort Clifton 150th Anniversary Heritage Day will be held from 12 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, March 22, at Fort Clifton. Attendees will be able to see Civil War re-enactments, hear a memorable play and tour the fort which is now a well-known park in Colonial Heights.

Wright said there will be Civil War re-enactments, including firearm and cooking demonstrations, that will start at 12 and run until 4 p.m., followed by a sinking reenactment.

“At 4 o’clock we are going to do something that has never been done before,” Wright said. “We are going to attempt a re-enactment of the sinking of the Brewster.”

The re-enactment, Wright said, will give attendees an idea of what it was like for the soldiers who were defending the fort.

Among the many re-enactments going on throughout the day, there will also be a walking tour. Wright said that local historian David Malgee will give 45-minute tours to anyone who wants to learn more about Fort Clifton and the soldiers who defended the fort.

“He is very good at conducting these kind of tours,” Wright said. “He is going to tell you everything that happened there and how the soldiers lived, fought, and died.”

Wright said the conclusion of the Heritage Day event will be a one-man play, “Soldiers in Gray,” performed by Stan Clardy at 5 p.m. at Tussing Elementary School.

“[The play] lasts about an hour and is something for everybody,” Wright said. “It’s very moving story of soldier and his experience in the war and his life thereafter.”

The Fort Clifton 150th Anniversary Heritage Day is very different than the annual Fort Clifton Festival that is being held on May 10 and 11. Wright said the Heritage Day event puts more emphasis on learning rather than arts and crafts found at the Fort Clifton Festival.

“We want this to be an educational event, not a commercial event,” Wright said. “I want the kids out there learning and not shopping.”