Georgia Southern University begins archaeological investigations at Magnolia Springs State Park

Submitted by Kevin Chapman (jchapma2@georgiasouthern.edu)

Ground penetrating radar study underway at Camp Lawton archaeological site.

Archaeological investigations have begun at Camp Lawton in Magnolia Springs State Park near Millen, Georgia. The excavations are the result of a partnership between the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Georgia Southern University. Ground penetrating radar conducted in December 2009 by the Lamar Institute revealed a possible location for the southwest corner of the prison stockade. Georgia Southern University has begun archaeology to “ground truth” the results of the GPR survey. The public will be invited to view the progress of the excavations at the Park on specific Saturdays each month. The next public day are March 27th, April 17th, and May 1st. Future dates will be posted on the Park’s web site here.

Camp Lawton was established in the fall of 1864 by the Confederate Army to house Union prisoners of war at Magnolia Springs in order to take advantage of the abundant water supply. Built by slave labor of pine timber harvested on site, the walls measured 12 to 15 feet high. The stockade began receiving the first of at least 10,299 prisoners in early October. The post was abandoned by the end of November when threatened by Sherman’s drive on Savannah. The prisoners were transported to other, safer, locations. On December 3, 1864 Sherman’s forces took possession of Millen and Camp Lawton. The depot, and likely the stockade and all support structures, were burned by his men.

In addition to the excavations at the stockade, Georgia Southern archaeologists are testing areas of the park to look for more evidence of the prison camp. “This is the tedious part of the process, but it’s critical to understanding what happened at this important site,” noted Dr. Sue Moore, Professor of Anthropology. If the documents are correct there were numerous outbuildings and temporary structures at the prison. We will try to determine if there are any remains of these buildings. The results of the survey and testing will aid the DNR in interpretation and future investigations at the Park. “Georgia citizens should be proud to be stewards of this site” said Kevin Chapman, Georgia Southern University graduate student.

Test excavations at Camp Lawton, in Magnolia Springs State Park near Millen.

Kevin Chapman, graduate supervisor for the project, notes regarding the current fieldwork:

Our goals are to locate the exact footprint of the stockade and survey the prisoner’s occupation area as well as the Confederate support structures and camp. We have three public days remaining for this semester: March 27th, April 17th, and May 1st. Our goal is to be on site at Magnolia Springs at 9:00 am so we list the start time for visitors as 9:30 am to allow us to set up the units. We start to shut down at about 3:30 pm and usually leave the location shortly after 4:00. We are currently working in two 2m units in the grassy area in front of the park offices and pool. We engage the public when the walk up and give them a short history of the site and our goals. We also invite them to participate in the dig, usually by screening the spoil buckets under the supervision of grad/under grad supervision.