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Archaeology student talks Camp Lawton
Graduate reflects on find at Historical Society meeting
LAWTON fileWeb
Georgia Southern University archaeology graduate students Heather Amaral, right, and Chris Kowalczyk screen for artifacts at the Camp Lawton site back in August 2010.

Imagine living in a dugout hole, with pine limbs stacked overhead and only a blanket over them to keep out the wind and rain.

Imagine sleeping in a large brick oven because it's too cold to sleep in your tent, or "shebang," as the crude huts inside the stockade at Civil War-era Camp Lawton were called.

Imagine trading brass buttons, likely some of which were taken from the uniforms of dead soldiers, for food and sometimes freedom.

Kevin Chapman, the Georgia Southern University anthropology and archaeology graduate who was the first to discover the treasure trove at Camp Lawton in Jenkins County, has indeed imagined these things and more as he dug into the earth to uncover history.

Chapman spoke Monday to the Bulloch County Historical Society about his findings, which are on display at the Georgia Southern University Museum.

He showed slides of some of his finds - buttons, bullets, and buckles; foreign and USA coins, forks and spoons, and a tourniquet buckle. His favorite find, however, is an improvised tobacco pipe made from an old white clay pipe stem that was separated from its original bowl. Some prisoners of war fashioned a new bowl from lead, and the pipe shows wear from the man's teeth, where he likely held it in his mouth all the time, from force of habit.

Chapman thought the project at Camp Lawton would be a simple task, expecting to find maybe a handful of artifacts. But when he found treasure after treasure in a short amount of time, he had to sit back and contemplate the situation, realizing there was more to the site than he expected.

Camp Lawton was a virtually untouched cache of historical finds. "I am the luckiest man on Earth," he said.

The Civil War prisoner camp is located at the site of Magnolia Springs State Park and Bo Ginn Fisheries and Hatcheries, just off Ga. 25. For years and years, the brass buttons, knives, utensils and other remnants of the hard lives prisoners lived were left untouched and unprotected, but soon after Chapman's discoveries, a tall chain link fence was erected.

Camp Lawton was a successor to Andersonville prison, which was overcrowded, had little water and was a virtual hell for prisoners. Camp Lawton had running water in a creek and was a much more suitable location to house Union soldiers who were captured

Chapman said he was helped tremendously in his search for Camp Lawton artifacts by a journal written by Union soldier and Confederate prisoner Robert Knox Sneden. The maps and watercolors, as well as the journal, "have been a Godsend," Chapman said.

He described the stockade built by slaves and prisoners, with walls of timbers set deep into the ground. The "shebangs" were made of mud, limbs, and sometimes blankets if the soldiers were lucky, and were less than adequate living conditions. "There were horrific conditions to say the least," he said.

The large brick ovens were built so prisoners could pool their food supplies and cook, but prisoners preferred to cook their own meager rations to ensure they got their fair share, he said. So, the giant ovens became bunks for the soldiers who preferred them over the crude shebangs.

The 42-acre stockade had trees along the stream that dissected the prison, but when it came to seeking warmth or true shelter from the weather, soldiers did what they could, he said.

Over 350 artifacts have been found at the site, 171 "directly tied to the Civil War occupation," he said. The site, untouched and undisturbed for almost 150 years, "is absolutely pristine by archaeological standards," he said.

The site held at one time around 10,300 men, and "is the only site left that can be archaeologically studied," he said. "It is hallowed ground - there are U.S. servicemen buried there."

As the study continues, Chapman burns to know more about the men who lived and died at Camp Lawton. He knows the man who owned the pipe must have died there because since it is so obvious the pipe was a treasured possession, its owner would not have abandoned it, he said.

Wanting to know more about the men who traded brass buttons for freedom, traded spoons and forks to guards for food, who sliced a large coin in half likely so it could be used as smaller denominations, Chapman said he continues the study because "It's in their ( the soldiers') names and memories that we do the things we do."

He encouraged visitors at the Bulloch County Historical Society meeting to visit the GSU Museum to view the artifacts themselves.

Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at 912-489-9414.


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