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So what did they find at Fort Lawton?
This old map shows the layout of Camp Lawton - photo by Photo provided.
MILLEN - During the waning days of the Civil War, the Confederates built a prisoner of war camp near Millen.
Camp Lawton was neither as crowded nor as well-known as nearby Andersonville, but at 42 acres, it was physically the largest Civil War prisoner of war camp.
Constructed in 1864 to alleviate the horrendous crowding at Andersonville, Camp Lawton was hastily abandoned, and the prisoners evacuated when threatened by Gen. William Sherman's march on Savannah. For nearly 150 years, the site has been relatively undisturbed, and the exact location of the camp's stockade was lost to time. Archaeologists had long ago dismissed the possibility of significant findings.
Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Georgia Southern University and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources announced a major historic discovery: the excavation of numerous Civil War artifacts from Camp Lawton on the property of Bo Ginn National Fish Hatchery, which the Service administers.
The announcement was made at Magnolia Springs State Park, operated by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, where the majority of Camp Lawton's stockade and Fort Lawton earthworks exist. Following the announcement, the public was able to view many of the artifacts, including some of the prisoners' personal items, at an open house at the park.
"This is a unique and very unexpected discovery," said Richard Kanaski, Regional Archaeologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southeast Region. "It appears to be one of the most intact and undisturbed Civil War archaeological sites found in decades, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking great care to make sure this valuable resource is protected for the American people, who are the owners of this site and these artifacts."
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Georgia Southern University began discussions about an archaeological survey at Camp Lawton in late 2009. Georgia Southern anthropology professor Dr. Sue Moore, graduate student Kevin Chapman and a team of students from Georgia Southern designed a survey plan to locate the boundaries of the stockade, the place where the prisoners had lived.
As he moved forward with his investigation, Chapman was shocked when he began finding artifacts from the soldiers. First, a couple of nails. Then some buttons from Union uniforms. Then a coin, an 1834 U.S. Large Cent.
"I held the coin in my hand and I realized we had a pretty undisturbed site," Chapman recalled.
Dr. Moore, Chapman and the Georgia Southern archaeological team began finding more and more artifacts from Camp Lawton, unearthed and viewed for the first time in almost 150 years: bullets, coins, eating utensils, a tourniquet buckle, a small brass picture frame, a pocket knife, a hatchet head, and a small clay pipe with a soldier's teethmarks on the stem.
"When Kevin brought the pipe in, the hair stood up on my arms," said Dr. Moore. "It's like touching that person. These finding tell the personal stories of the soldiers who were imprisoned and the life they led in the camp."
"This is one of the most exciting and intriguing Civil War discoveries of the modern era," she added. We are standing here today because the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Chris Clark wanted to locate the original stockade and contacted us."
"This discovery is of archaeological and historical significance to our country, and we are thrilled for Magnolia Springs State Park and the local community to be a part of it," said Clark. "We are also very proud of the partnership we've formed with Georgia Southern University and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service."
The artifacts are not only visually impressive; they also tell their own stories. "The pipe tells of the ingenuity of the soldiers in the face of adversity," said Chapman. "The keepsake items such as picture frames speak to their feelings of separation. The tourniquet buckle and bullets are testaments to the horrors of war. Through them, the past comes to life for today's students of history."
Due to its extremely fragile nature, the site remains closed to the public. Archaeological excavations and research will continue at the site for years and must be allowed to go forward undisturbed. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has installed a security fence and other measures to protect the site and the artifacts. The Camp Lawton site is protected by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, and the American Battlefield Protection Act of 1996, as well as numerous state laws. Anyone who trespasses or damages the site is subject to criminal prosecution.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Georgia Southern University and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources are discussing long-term plans for making the artifacts available for public viewing. The Georgia Southern Museum ( in Statesboro, Ga., will host a public display in the fall; details will be announced soon.
Bo Ginn National Fish Hatchery is currently not operating, but the Service expects to bring it back into operation in the spring of 2011. The 127-acre hatchery is recognized as a valuable asset for aquatic resource conservation in the Southeast. It will serve as a refuge for threatened and endangered aquatic species and other rare species of concern.
Magnolia Springs State Park ( is open daily and is known for its crystal-clear springs, boardwalk and 28-acre lake available for boating and fishing. Overnight visitors may choose from cottages or campsites. The earthen breastworks which guarded Camp Lawton can still be seen at the park.
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