Dig uncovering Camp Lawton's story

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The site of a Civil War prison camp beneath Magnolia Spring State Park might take decades to fully explore, according to one of the principal archaeologists.

"There will be work out there for years and years -- 30 to 40 years," said Kevin Chapman, who as a Georgia Southern University graduate student helped launch a dig at Camp Lawton, a 42-acre prison camp established by the Confederacy in 1864.

The array of tools, buttons, coins and other personal items found so far, and unveiled last summer, are merely a sample of what still lies beneath the ground, he said Monday during a presentation to the Kiwanis Club of Augusta. "That's how rich this site is."

The artifacts already collected at the site came from shallow layers of soil that had likely been disturbed during the past 150 years, he said.

Later studies, he added, will include the careful removal of those "in situ" artifacts that will help paint a picture of the camp as it was hurriedly evacuated in 1864.

"Wherever these items were dropped is where they are today," he said. "There is so much history there."

So far, archaeologists have not found human remains, but their presence at the site is possible.

Records show that 685 of the camp's 10,299 prisoners died and were buried in trenches. After the war, the bodies were moved to a nearby cemetery -- and later to a national cemetery in Beaufort, S.C.

In recent years, however, the discovery of a Union soldier's diary raised questions about additional remains. The soldier, Robert K. Sneden, was captured in 1863 and spent time in Andersonville and later at Camp Lawton, where in his writings he claims to have kept death records of 1,300 prisoners.

Although there are tens of thousands of campsites and battle sites from the Civil War, there were only a handful of stockades -- and Camp Lawton is the only one that hasn't been destroyed or compromised.

"This is the one opportunity we will ever have to study a Civil War stockade operated by the Confederacy," Chapman said. "This site is very precious -- and very rare."

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com

Camp Lawton

THE CAMP: During the closing months of the Civil War, sick and dying Union prisoners were moved by the thousands from the notorious camp at Andersonville, Ga., where 13,000 men died. One destination was Camp Lawton, encompassing 42 acres near Millen, Ga.

SIFTING THROUGH THE PAST: The public will have an opportunity to observe and participate in the archaeological dig at Magnolia Springs State Park during "public days" Dec. 3-4.

VIEW THE ARTIFACTS: They are on display at the Georgia Southern University Museum through May 1. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 2- 5 p.m. weekends. Admission is $2.

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