Posts tagged ‘Andersonville’

Archaeologists comb newly-found Civil War POW camp

By RUSS BYNUM Associated Press

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — When word reached Camp Lawton that the enemy army of Gen. William T. Sherman was approaching, the prison camp’s Confederate officers rounded up their thousands of Union army POWs for a swift evacuation — leaving behind rings, buckles, coins and other keepsakes that would remain undisturbed for nearly 150 years.

Archaeologists are still discovering unusual, and sometimes stunningly personal, artifacts a year after state officials revealed that a graduate student had pinpointed the location of the massive but short-lived Civil War camp in southeast Georgia.

In this undated photo provided by Georgia Southern University, an 1863 Grocer’s Token made of bronze is shown at Camp Lawton a Civil War-era POW facility, near Millen, Ga. This token was issued in Niles, Michigan by C.A. Colby & Co. Wholesale Groceries and Bakery. It circulated for the value of a cent. Camp Lawton was built by the Confederacy to house about 10,000 prisoners of war. But it abandoned after being used for only about six weeks in 1864 before Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s army arrived and burned the camp. Archaeologists say they’re still discovering unusual, and sometimes stunningly personal, artifacts abandoned by prisoners of war at the massive but short-lived Civil War camp a year after state officials revealed a Georgia Southern University graduate student had pinpointed its location in southeast Georgia. (AP Photo/Georgia Southern University, Amanda L. Morrow)

Discoveries made as recently as a few weeks ago were being displayed Thursday at the Statesboro campus of Georgia Southern University. They include a soldier’s copper ring bearing the insignia of the Union army’s 3rd Corps, which fought bloody battles at Gettysburg and Manassas, and a payment token stamped with the still-legible name of a grocery store in Michigan.

“These guys were rousted out in the middle of the night and loaded onto trains, so they didn’t have time to load all this stuff up,” said David Crass, an archaeologist who serves as director of Georgia’s Historic Preservation Division. “Pretty much all they had got left behind. You don’t see these sites often in archaeology.”

Camp Lawton’s obscurity helped it remain undisturbed all these years. Built about 50 miles south of Augusta, the Confederate camp imprisoned about 10,000 Union soldiers after it opened in October 1864 to replace the infamous Andersonville prison. But it lasted barely six weeks before Sherman’s army arrived and burned it during his march from Atlanta to Savannah.

Barely a footnote in the war’s history, Camp Lawton was a low priority among scholars. Its exact location was never verified. While known to be near Magnolia Springs State Park, archaeologists figured the camp was too short-lived to yield real historical treasures.

That changed last year when Georgia Southern archaeology student Kevin Chapman seized on an offer by the state Department of Natural Resources to pursue his master’s thesis by looking for evidence of Camp Lawton’s stockade walls on the park grounds.

Chapman ended up stunning the pros, uncovering much more than the remains of the stockade’s 15-foot pine posts. On neighboring land owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he dug up remnants of the prisoners themselves — a corroded tourniquet buckle, a tobacco pipe with teeth marks in the stem and a folded frame that once held a daguerreotype.

“They’re not just buttons and bullets,” Chapman said. “They’re little pieces of the story, and this is not the story of battles and generals. This is the story of little people whose names have been forgotten by history that we’re starting to piece together and be able to tell.”

A year later, Chapman says he and fellow archaeology students working at Camp Lawton have still barely scratched the surface. In July, they used a metal detector to sweep two narrow strips about 240 yards long in the area where they believe prisoners lived.

They found a diamond-shaped 3rd Corps badge that came from a Union soldier’s uniform. Nearby was the ring with the same insignia soldered onto it.

The artifacts also yield clues to what parts of the country the POWs came from, including the token issued by a grocery store in Niles, Mich., that customers could use like cash to buy food. Stamped on its face was the merchant’s name: G.A. Colbey and Co. Wholesale Groceries and Bakery.

Similarly, there’s a buckle that likely clasped a pair of suspenders bearing the name of Nanawanuck Manufacturing Company in Massachusetts.

Hooks and buckles that appear to have come off a Union knapsack also hint that, despite harsh living conditions, captors probably allowed their Union prisoners to keep essentials like canteens and bedrolls.

The Georgia Southern University Museum plans to add the new artifacts to its public collection from Camp Lawton in October along with a related acquisition — a letter written by one of the camp’s prisoners on Nov. 14, 1864, just eight days before Lawton was abandoned and prisoners were taken back to Andersonville and other POW camps.

The letter written by Charles H. Knox of Schroon Lake, N.Y., a Union corporal in the 1st Connecticut Cavalry, was purchased from a Civil War collector in Tennessee. Unaware that Camp Lawton will soon be evacuated, Knox writes to his wife that he hopes to soon be freed in a prisoner exchange between the warring armies.

He doesn’t write much about conditions at the prison camp, but rather worries about his family. He tells his wife that if she and their young son need money for food or clothing, there’s a man who owes him $9. Knox also gives his wife permission to sell the family’s cow.

Brent Tharp, director of the campus museum, said his growing collection from Camp Lawton has definitely drawn Civil War buffs to visit from far beyond southeast Georgia.

“The people who are real Civil War buffs and fanatics, those are definitely coming,” Tharp said. “But I think we’ve also created a whole new group of Civil War buffs here because it’s right here in their own backyard.”


Exec. director of National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Md. is myth-buster, works on shows

STAN GOLDBERG  The Frederick News-Post

FREDERICK, Md. — Actress Ashley Judd learned the truth about her great-great-great-grandfather from George Wunderlich, executive director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick.

Ashley Judd

She thought her ancestor had lost a leg as a Union soldier in the Civil War.

“He supposedly lost his leg at the prison camp in Andersonville, that’s all that she knew,” said Wunderlich. “What we found out was that he never was a prisoner of war in Andersonville, Ga. He lost the leg in the Battle of Saltville, Va.”

The information came to light when the two were working on “Who Do You Think You Are,” an NBC television series that traces the genealogy of celebrities such as Judd. Wunderlich was doing research for the program.

He showed her how her ancestor would have been treated and what would have happened to him after surgery.

“She was shocked when she heard how the leg was amputated and what conditions were like in the hospital,” said Wunderlich, 48. “She got rather emotional. At one point on the camera she teared up, which was … something I did not expect.”

Wunderlich began working with history-related TV programs in 1999. He and a group of people who work with him try to find out the truth about history, mostly from the 1800s.

“It’s a bit like a 19th-century myth-buster,” he said.

Wunderlich also serves as a commentator, although he rarely sees himself on television because he hasn’t owned a TV for 12 years.

He has done 17 shows over the past 2 1/2 years. Among the shows he’s worked on are “The Real Cowboys” and “Battlefield Detectives” for the History Channel, “Who Do You Think You Are” for NBC, “The History Detectives” for PBS and a tourism program for the BBC.

“I consider myself an historical windbag,” he said.

It started with his interest in banjos. Then he became interested in ballistics and medical history. Now he’s delving into more general history. His main area of expertise is from the 1830s to the 1890s.

“It’s kind of expanded expeditiously since I first started doing this back in the 1990s,” he said. “I’ve gotten a reputation for being a fairly easy person to work with. People know that I’m not a pain. People see me on film, evidently like what I did and will ask me to do different things.”

When he provides commentary he might be on the air two or three minutes for one show, much longer for another. He finds being on TV is good for the museum.

George Wunderlich speaks to a class at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md.

“Every time I’ve done a show, people arrive at the front desk (at the museum) and say, ‘We just saw your director on television and we want to see the museum,'” he said. “It brings tourists to Frederick and it helps keep our museum in the public eye.”

The exposure has also given him a public face, which has led to lecture engagements at universities throughout the country.

Many of the programs in which he is involved are filmed in Frederick County.

“If you saw the show and you see me at a gun range, the chances are very good it was the Frederick city police gun range,” he said.

And Judd isn’t the only celebrity he’s worked with. He did another “Who Do You Think You Are” episode with Brooke Shields about her Civil War ancestor. Unfortunately, his part never aired. They found out she was related to King Louis XIV of France and aired that instead.

“It was awesome meeting her,” Wunderlich said. “She was the teen heartthrob of my generation. So getting to spend an afternoon with her was quite an experience.”

Wunderlich had his first TV exposure in 1999, one year before he became the National Museum of Civil War Medicine’s director of education and three years before he became its executive director.

He was invited to appear on PBS’ “The Woodwright’s Shop” with host Roy Underhill because he had been making banjos — mostly in the style of the 19th century — since 1992.

“I was scared to death at first, but he really put me at ease,” he said. “In that show, I was actually building banjos and, at that time, it was something I could practically do in my sleep.”

From there he appeared on “History Detectives.” Soon, other offers started coming in.

He works with a research group from the museum — including his top researcher, Terry Reimer, director of research for the museum. The group will examine the smallest details. They once did a ballistic test on a ham to help determine if a cowboy was shot with a soft-tipped arrow or a rifle.

“We provide research and fact-checking and story line recommendations,” he said. “They come to me and say, ‘We are thinking of doing a show like this. What is your professional opinion?'”

His favorite show was “The Real Lonesome Dove,” on the History Channel. He spent many days in New Mexico following the exploits of Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving, friends and cattle ranchers of the American West. He researched the type of coffin used when Goodnight brought Loving’s body back to Texas.

“He got a coffin made out of tin and soldered it closed,” Wunderlich said. “Then he put the coffin in a wooden box filled with charcoal to absorb any fluids that might come out of the body. We even put a jack rabbit in a coffin and surrounded it with ash to see if it would work.”

He still plays the banjo and put on a conference about the history of the banjo. But now he’s developed more interests.

“I tend to like all history, even if it’s something that is not my normal study,” he said. “It’s fun when I prepare for those shows to do the historical research. I’ve come from being primarily a banjo guy to being a medicine, ballistics, Civil War, history guy.”

Ceremony salutes Berks soldiers who served in Civil War

By Ron Devlin, Reading (Pa.) Eagle

Garrett Hyneman, 69, Muhlenberg Township, at the grave of his great-grandfather, Henry Hyneman, a Civil War veteran buried in Aulenbach's Cemetery. Reading Eagle photo by Jameson Sempey

Standing on hallowed ground Saturday in Reading’s Aulenbach’s Cemetery, Craig Breneiser invoked President Abraham Lincoln’s immortal words to pay tribute to Berks County soldiers who died in the Civil War.

“They made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives at the altar of their country in order that – as Lincoln said at Gettysburg – a nation might live and a government of the people, by the people and for the people should not perish from the Earth,” Breneiser said.

Breneiser, an amateur Civil War historian, was the featured speaker at a ceremony observing the 150th anniversary of the start of the conflict that claimed the lives of 620,000 Americans.

While Aulenbach’s is the final resting place of 522 Civil War soldiers, Saturday’s tribute was dedicated to 15 who were wounded or killed during the war.

Cemetery manager Sandy Stief marked their graves with American flags and lanterns whose flames flickered in silent reverence as about 50 people gathered in their honor.

“It’s amazing how many Berks County residents served in the Civil War,” Stief said. “Berks County played a crucial role in the outcome of the war.”

Stief’s great-grandfather, George Burkhart of Reading, was a captain with the 55th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, and was wounded in battle. Stief’s husband, Donald, donned a Union Army uniform and portrayed Capt. Burkhart, whose unit was at Appomattox Court House when Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered April 9, 1865.

The 45-minute ceremony began with Berks County Commissioner Christian Y. Leinbach hoisting a Civil War-era flag with 33 stars in its field of blue.

Actually, there were 34 states at the start of the Civil War. Kansas had been admitted Jan. 1, 1861, about three months before the war started with the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.

Eleven of the 34 states seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America under President Jefferson Davis.

Re-enactors in Union blues snapped to attention as Garrett Hyneman, a member of the Ringgold Band, blew taps.

One of the soldiers being honored was Hyneman’s great-grandfather, Henry Hyneman of Reading, who fought in 24 battles with the 2nd Pennsylvania Cavalry. Henry survived the war, but suffered a stroke while attending the 50th anniversary of the battle in Gettysburg.

He died a few days later.

“To me, the Civil War is a very personal thing,” said Hyneman, 69, Muhlenberg Township, a retired elementary school principal.

Munching on hardtack, a crackerlike staple fed to the troops, participants got a taste of battlefield fare Civil War-style.

Biting into a hard crusted wafer, Leinbach observed: “It’s like saltines without the salt, but a lot harder. Then again, if you’re hungry, I guess it did just fine.”

Breneiser, whose great-great grandfather survived the infamous Andersonville prison camp, characterized the war in eloquent terms.

“In the end, the Civil War was the crucible that forged the country we know today,” he said. “It was personal, and the men who went to war, North and South, instinctively knew they were doing more than just fighting; they were building a future.”

Contact Ron Devlin: 610-371-5030 or


Honor the Civil War dead

By James G. Wiles

Next Monday is the first Memorial Day of this 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War.

With America now in the 10th year of the War with Jihad, it’s hard to get past the fact that U.S. soldiers are being wounded or killed in combat every day. Nevertheless, the Sesquicentennial observance is a good time to recall that Memorial Day itself originated as the day to commemorate the nation’s 618,000 Civil War casualties. As it happens, two of our active local national cemeteries – Florence and Beaufort (as well as Salisbury, N.C.) – also contain Union Civil War dead. Numerous Horry County cemeteries contain graves of Civil War veterans as well.

Beginning in the North as Decoration Day, Memorial Day (first so named in 1882) evolved into an important step towards national reconciliation. Union veterans’ organizations, principally the Grand Army of the Republic, promulgated the idea of a nationwide holiday on May 30. In 1968, Congress moved it to the last Monday in May.

Confederate veterans had their own observances. This was continued by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Daughters of the Confederacy and other organizations. Today, eight states still observe a Confederate Memorial Day, including South Carolina.

Ninety-eight of those Confederate dead were from Horry County.

Other than heroism, there is little to celebrate about a war in which American killed American.

Therefore, this Memorial Day, I have a suggestion. If it’s your custom to visit veterans graves on that day, why not this year consider also visiting the grave of a soldier who fought on the other side of America’s most terrible war?

It’s not as hard as you might think. As noted, Union dead are buried in the Florence, Beaufort and Salisbury National Cemeteries. The largest is Salisbury, which contains at least 11,600 Union graves, principally from the Confederate prisoner of war camp which was located there.

Here in Horry County, the graves of Confederate veterans are maintained by Litchfield Camp 132 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Its website,, has a list of their locations, together with the names and units of the men buried there.

A moving alternative, if you wish to visit the Union dead, is to visit the nameless graves of the 2,800 Yankees who died during the five-month life of the Florence Stockade. The POW graves form the heart of the old part of Florence’s National Cemetery.

Locally, Franklin G. Burroughs, a founder of Burroughs & Chapin, suffered in a federal POW camp in Illinois.

Andersonville – located in southwestern Georgia – was the most notorious of the Confederacy’s POW camps. Nearly 45,000 Yankees were held there, of whom 12,920 died. Eye witnesses described some survivors as “walking skeletons.” Its commandant became the only Civil War officer to be executed for war crimes.

Andersonville and Salisbury, however, were not the only death traps. Yankee camps were similar in kind, if not in degree: bad and insufficient food and clothing, exposure to the elements, terrible sanitation, no medical care. At the North’s deadly POW camp, in Elmira, N.Y., some 2,900 Rebels died.

Florence’s POW camp was a direct result of Andersonville. After the fall of Atlanta in mid-1864, Andersonville’s able-bodied prisoners were transferred to a newly-built camp outside Florence. Prisoners soon began dying the rate of more than 100 a week. They were buried in trenches.

When I visited Andersonville last month, a group of warrant officer candidates from Fort Rocker, Ala., were receiving a guided tour. Andersonville’s Chief of Interpretation and Education, Eric Leonard, told me the U.S. military regularly runs tours to Andersonville.

So far, Andersonville’s National Cemetery contains five KIA’s from the present war. One veteran who was instrumental in raising the money for the National POW Museum located at Andersonville – and himself a former Vietnam POW – is now interred there with his wife.

“The continuation of the story,” Leonard said, “is very moving.”

The writer lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

On this date in 1865: Tragedy on the Mississippi – Sultana explodes, thousands die


On 27 April 1865, the steamboat Sultana exploded and sank in the Mississippi River near Memphis, Tennessee, causing the greatest marine disaster in U.S. history. Approximately 1,700 people, mostly discharged Union soldiers, lost their lives on a frigid spring night when boilers aboard the over-crowded steamer exploded. April 1865 brought turmoil in America with General Lee’s surrender, President Lincoln’s assassination, and John Wilkes Booth’s death. As a result, the Sultana tragedy was given few headlines in American’s influential newspapers.

Launched from Cincinnati, Ohio, in January 1863, the side-wheeled steamer was named Sultana meaning a sultan’s wife, sister, or mother. It was considered one of the best steamers of its time with its new lightweight tubular boilers. The boat measured 260 feet in length and had the capacity to carry 1,000 tons while trimming only 34 inches of water; thus making it ideal for travel on the Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee rivers. It provided accommodations for 376 passengers including crew, which was the Sultana’s legal capacity.

Like many boats during the Civil War, the Sultana came under fire. Twice in 1863, Rebel forces fired at the boat, causing heavy damage to its upper works. The Union ironclad Eastport also fired upon the Sultana later that year on the Mississippi River. As the Union began to seize more of the Mississippi River Valley, the Sultana began to carry troops, supplies, and cargo for the Federals.

Ill-fated Sultana, Helena, Arkansas, on or about April 26, 1865

On 21 April 1865, the Sultana departed from New Orleans with 100 passengers and headed north on the Mississippi River. As the boat steadily moved upriver, a Sultana engineer noticed a leaking boiler and sought out a boilermaker in Vicksburg, Mississippi, to repair the problem on 23 April. The boilermaker, R.G. Taylor, told Captain J. Cass Mason that two sheets on the boiler had to be replaced. Concerned about time and money, Captain Mason told Taylor to patch the boiler and promised to finish he repairs once he reached St. Louis. Taylor disagreed with Mason, but made the patch for the Sultana anyway.

Owners of the Sultana, which included Captain Mason, anxiously awaited the layover in Vicksburg. In Vicksburg, they hoped to find former Union prisoners of war from Cahaba and Andersonville prisons because a government contract offered boats five dollars per enlisted soldier and ten dollars per officer to take them back north. Even though there were two steamboats docked at Vicksburg, Captain Mason and other Sultana officers lobbied prison officials to let their steamboat take all the soldiers. The tactic worked. The Sultana left the dock on the evening of 24 April 1865 with approximately 2,100 troops, 200 civilians, and cargo, more than six times its legal carrying capacity. The former prisoners, weakened from disease, dysentery, and malnutrition, were cramped together but in good spirits because the war had ended, and they were only a few days from reaching their homes.

On the evening of 26 April, the Sultana reached Memphis, Tennessee, to unload cargo, and then crossed the river to Arkansas to buy coal. Soon afterward, the boat slowly moved against the stream at 1:00 A.M. despite continued boiler problems and a strong current. Meanwhile, the Mississippi River rose to flood stage from spring rain and levees and dikes ruined by the war.

Seven miles north of Memphis at 2:00 A.M., the Sultana swung around a bend and began to labor through Paddy’s Hen and Chicken Islands. An explosion instantly tore through the decks above the boilers. Red-hot shrapnel and steam from the boilers killed or maimed scores of passengers instantly. The eruption hurled many people into the air and out into the frigid river. Passengers threw doors, shutters, mattresses, bales of hay, and anything else buoyant overboard. Few life preservers, only one lifeboat, the flood conditions, darkness, and weakened passengers made the chances of survival slim.

The explosion was audible in Memphis, but it took two hours for help to arrive. A steamboat heading down river and boats from Memphis went to help after hearing the screams and seeing the flames. But for most, it was too late. While rescuers attempted to save people still clinging to makeshift rafts or treetops, they saw the river full of dead bodies floating downstream. Boats searched for survivors all morning but stopped looking by midday. Of the estimated 2,300 passengers, only 600 survived. The rest died in the explosion, drowned in the dangerous currents, or died soon after their rescue.

On 30 April 1865, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton created a board of inquiry to investigate the Sultana disaster. Rumors circulated that a Confederate had placed a torpedo in a lump of coal during the refueling in Arkansas, but nothing was proved. The board received testimony from surviving crew, passengers, and steamboat experts, but their reports only shifted blame from one person to another. Without conclusive evidence, the board decided that insufficient water in the boilers created the explosion, and that overcrowding did not cause the catastrophe. No individual was blamed for the tragedy, and no one knew definitively what caused the boiler malfunction.

With the nation’s mind focused on the closing scenes of the Civil War, little attention was given to the Sultana tragedy. The passengers who were lucky enough to survive formed the Sultana Survivor Association, which met every 27 April. More people died in the Sultana disaster than did on the Titanic 47 years later, yet the tragic story remains largely overlooked due to the dramatic events at the end of the war.

–          Nathan R. Meyer [Encyclopedia of the Civil War pages 1901-1902]

According to the National Park Service, “Sites at the bottom of rivers become land sites when the river channels change and get filled-in. In Tennessee, this happened with the paddlewheel steamboat Sultana. In 1865, just days after the end of the American Civil War and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the Sultana exploded and sank in the Mississippi River near Memphis. Built to carry 376 people, the Sultana was overloaded with Union soldiers going home after release from Confederate prison camps. Accounts vary on the cause of the explosion and the extent of casualties but agree this is the greatest maritime disaster in United States history. In 1982, the remains of the Sultana were discovered in an old filled-in river channel near Memphis on the Arkansas side.

For further reading

Elliott, James W. Transport to Disaster (1962).

Potter, Jerry O. The Sultana Tragedy: America’s Greatest Maritime Disaster (1992).

Salecker, Gene Eric. Disaster on the Mississippi: The Sultana Explosion, April 27, 1865 (1996).

Walker, John L. Cahaba Prison and the Sultana Disaster (1910).

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