17 August 2010

Lost Confederate POW camp rediscovered

A watercolour of Camp Lawton

CNN has a fascinating article concerning the rediscovery of a Confederate POW camp in Georgia that was built to replace one of the most notorious POW camps in history.

The discovery of the exact location of Camp Lawton and dozens of personal artifacts belonging to its Union prisoners is one of the biggest archaeological Civil War finds in decades according to federal and Georgia officials.

Outside of scholars and Civil War buffs, few people have heard of the Confederacy's Camp Lawton, which replaced the infamous and overcrowded Andersonville prison in autumn 1864. 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.

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 was hastily closed when Union forces approached.

There are no photos of Lawton and few visual stockade details, although a Union mapmaker painted some important watercolors of the prison. He also kept a 5,000-page journal that detailed the misery at Camp Lawton, which was built to hold up to 40,000 prisoners.

"The weather has been rainy and cold at nights," Pvt. Robert Knox Sneden, who was previously imprisoned at Andersonville, wrote in his diary on Nov. 1, 1864. "Many prisoners have died from exposure, as not more than half of us have any shelter but a blanket propped upon sticks. . . . Our rations have grown smaller in bulk too, and we have the same hunger as of old."

The impending arrival of Federal forces during Sherman's March to the Sea soon forced the Confederates to move the prisoners elsewhere, including Florence, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. In early December 1864, Union cavalry found the empty prison, a freshly dug area and a board reading "650 buried here." Outraged, troops apparently burned much of the stockade and the camp buildings, and a depot and a hotel in Millen, which was a transportation hub.

Many of the state park facilities -- including a pool, houses and the main office -- sit atop the prison site. Some earthworks, long known to visitors and historians, survived. The artifacts will deepen the knowledge of the tough daily life of prisoners and guards alike, said a historian who has completed a manuscript on the camp.
Until now, Andersonville was the sole POW camp in the South to capture the public's attention and imagination. Besides the camp's own horrors, Clara Barton made Andersonville famous through her extensive campaign to have POW graves found and soldiers reinterred at a national cemetery. The prison's commandant, Henry H. Wirz, was hanged in 1865, the only man to be hanged for war crimes during the Civil War.


Andersonville was a hell-hole in which one quarter of its inhabitants died of disease, malnutrition or perhaps actually stepping over the deadline, a word coined by Wirz and which had far more terrible consequences than it does today.

I am no expert on the American Civil War, my knowledge of the conflict is moderate but a long way from being extensive. That said it is interesting as it is in many ways a precursor for the modern style of warfare. That a major, but ephemeral site such as this was lost for nearly a century and a half is a surprise to me. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating discovery


Knatolee said...

Pretty cool!!

jams o donnell said...

It's a great find, eh?

Dick Stanley said...

Andersonville got the press, the Northern press, while the equally squalid Northern camps, such as Point Lookout and Camp Chase, were prettified in the press and basically ignored.

And so it went. And so it goes, 150years later. The winner interprets, the losers take their lumps.

I'm descended from the losers, so I know.

It was a very modern war, not only in terms of the weaponry (more accurate, longer range, etc.) but the fact that it was played out on streets and in front yards, rather than in set battlefields like, say, Waterloo.

Homes were shelled and/or burned regularly. Mainly in the South which was invaded for the whole four years. Northern invasions were brief and confined to Maryland and Pennsylvania.

There was enormous hatred on both sides, much of which did not die with the surrender.

And all the old controversies will be ressurrected in the next four years, with a lot of animosity on both sides. Still.

jams o donnell said...

I doun't doubt that conditions in Union camps were pretty grim too Dick.

It was definitely a harbinger for future wars. THe march through Georgia was an example of total war.. and the weapons were already a fair bit away from the ones of just 50 years before

THanks for your interesting response Dick. It is a shame that animosities will resurrect when it should be treated as a historical event. One of the most important events in your country's history but now history

Traveling Bells said...

We have had little news recently on our busy caravan on the W Coast of the USA. I was born in Georgia, and still live there...and I find out about this historical find from a guy across the pond! The cyberworld is great. Thanks for sharing. I will certainly read more about this...

jams o donnell said...

It is a truly fascinating find. I hope you get the chance to visit the site