Monday, August 16, 2010

For History buffs: Civil War POW Camp Lawton located. Updated

CNN: Missing Civil War POW camp found

This is exciting news for History and Civil War buffs.  Both Camp Lawton and Andersonville were horrendous places to survive, with disease, starvation and infection claiming many lives.  To be a POW in the Civil War—regardless of which side you fought for—was either a slow death sentence or a primal struggle for survival.  The camps were so nasty because frankly, neither side had ever dealt with such large numbers of POW’s, and neither side really had the funding to maintain even basic living conditions.

For nearly 150 years, its exact location was not known, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Georgia Southern University said. Georgia Southern students earlier this year began their search for evidence of the wall timbers and interior buildings.

"Archaeologists call it one of the most significant Civil War discoveries in decades," a joint statement read.

Officials would provide no details until the formal announcement Wednesday morning at Magnolia Springs State Park, five miles north of Millen in southeast Georgia. An open house for the public will follow from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Life at Lawton, described as "foul and fetid," wasn't much better than at Andersonville, with the exception of plentiful water from Magnolia Springs.

In its six weeks' existence, between 725 and 1,330 men died at the prison camp. The 42-acre stockade held about 10,000 men before it hastily closed when Union forces approached.

It’s a fascinating, if horrifying chapter in the Civil War.  I managed a few construction projects in the area last year, and this part of Georgia is steeped in colonial, antebellum and Civil War history.  So this find marks a real breakthrough in documenting that history and its satisfying to me, personally.  Like most “Old South” Southerners, I can trace my heritage back and find numerous ancestors who fought and died in the Civil War.

Update: The History Channel site has a much deeper exploration of the Camp’s history.

Update: And Fox News site has a story on this.

Another Update, describing some of what was found at the site:

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 in archaeology.

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.

I really look for History Channel, NatGeo or PBS to do a special on this in the not-to-distant future.  Not only is this a truly incredible find, it also tells a story about the suffering Americans endured at the hands of their own brothers during the Civil War.

Gimme some feedback in the comments.


Anonymous said...

My husband's was a prisoner at Andersonville Prison and sent to Millen where he died. We visited Andersonville, Millen and Beaufort, SC Cemetery where is supposed to be buried. We visited in 2000. Is this new news?

David L. said...

Yes, it's news. No one had been able to locate the site of the stockade where the prisoners were kept. It was pretty common knowledge that the two POW camps were nearby, and Andersonville had been found and excavated. But until this find, the location of Lawton was a mystery.

Anonymous said...

Hey again, Mr. Lucky! Cool find about the historic site.

Actually, something on my mind for a while now... I've heard things about "Southern revisionism"... basically, saying that the South was actually more tolerant and less bigoted than the North, and that the Civil War was not over slavery but states' rights... you know, stuff like that. A very good example is this book "The Politically Incorrect Guide to the South (and Why It Will Rise Again)" by Clint Johnson...
(It's part of the Politically Incorrect Guide series by Regnery.)


David L. said...

I haven't read that book. I may check it out.

Racism was rampant on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line during the Antebellum period, so any notion that the Abolitionists were somehow more racially tolerant completely ignores the context of the period’s cultural and social norms.

Antebellum southern culture and socio-economic environment was one of gentility and based on the agrarian economy. Northern culture was much more hegemonous, with a large and recent immigrant population, more urban and more heavily industrialized.

It is true that the casus bellum for the South was the issue of States’ rights, but the linchpin of the States’ rights issue was the evil institution of slavery.

If there is one thing we can fault the Founding Fathers on, it is kicking the slavery can two generations down the road.

Anonymous said...

Where did the camp get it's name..Lawton? Was it named after a camp commander or something?

David L. said...

Camp Lawton is believed to have been named for the Lawton crossroads area, where the current US Highway 25 crosses Lawton Rd.

I'm not familiar with the geneology of the area, but I'd bet a family named "Lawton" owned some land in the area, built a road from the north-south route now followed by Hwy 25, and allowed some of their land to be used for the prison camp.

Official records say the land was leased by Mrs. Caroline Elizabeth Jones, a local widow.

Bet her maiden name was Lawton.

I'll get to go back to the area in early Winter of 2011. Can't wait.

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