Archaeologists now have more than buried artifacts to piece together the story of Camp Lawton, where Union prisoners were housed in the final weeks of the Civil War.
“We have an actual letter, sent by a prisoner to his family back in the North,” said Georgia Southern University archaeologist Kevin Chapman.
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the unveiling of a new exhibit devoted to the camp, which occupied 42 acres in Jenkins County within today’s Magnolia Springs State Park.
Excavations have yielded dozens of tiny treasures – from buttons and buckles to knife blades and jewelry – that will help solve only a part of the puzzle.
“The mind-set of the prisoners is hard to learn from archaeology,” Chapman said. “And here is the mind-set of a man, sitting in the dirt right here at Camp Lawton, on Nov. 14, 1864.”
The writer was Charles Knox, a carpenter from Schroon Lake, N.Y., who enlisted in the Union Army, was captured in Virginia and sent to Georgia. He ended up at Camp Lawton, where 10,299 prisoners were held – and where at least 685 of them died.
His letter, acquired recently by Georgia Southern’s museum, shows the concern he had for his family, and his longing for home.
“Haveing a chance to send a line into God’s Land & hopeing you may hear from me by it I write a few lines hopeing they will reach you in safety,” Knox wrote to his wife, Frances. “I have written to you every month since I was captured the 5th of May, last, and have seen hard times since.”
He offers his wife hope that he may be soon exchanged for Confederate prisoners – and instructs her to “sell the cow” if money is sparse.
“To hold this letter in your hand, that this man wrote, is a special feeling,” said Chapman. “And his greatest concern isn’t about himself or his situation, but that his wife could be suffering from his absence.”
Just eight days after the letter was written, Camp Lawton was hastily evacuated ahead of Gen. Sherman’s advancing Union army. Knox was returned to another prison camp in Andersonville, Ga., where he was held until Feb. 27, 1865.
After a recuperative stay at Tilton General Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware, he was discharged from the army as a sergeant.
He returned to his home in Schroon Lake, N.Y., and resumed his life as a carpenter. He died Feb. 27, 1895, at the age of 70.