Sunday, August 21, 2011

Engine Made by a Prisoner

"Engine made and invented by a prisoner, whilst confined at this prison." Proto steam punk, a.k.a. "steam." Graphite, ink, and watercolor drawing by John Jacob Omenhausser, Confederate prisoner at Point Lookout Prison Camp, Maryland, 1864.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Archaeologists Unearth Camp Lawton, Civil War Prison Camp

Archaeologists comb newly-found Civil War POW camp

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.

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."

Monday, August 15, 2011

An Sagairtín

"An Sagairtín" ("The Little Priest"), is a traditional Irish ballad, sung here unaccompanied in sean-nós style by Bríd Ní Mhaoilchiaráin. The lyrics and translations available at Mudcat are well worth a read.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Jacob Immell

Jacob Immell
Pvt., Co. L, 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry

I have not been able to find out much about the life of Jacob Immell. No descendents chronicled his life and career. No pension records exist, nor do any census reports trace the growth of his family in the postwar years. Unlike Fred Bentley and James Farris, Immell did not survive to return to his home in Greene Township, Pennsylvania. A farm boy, he may have aspired to one day own land of his own, work out in the sun, and nurture his crops to grow tall year after year. He never had that opportunity or the chance to love, marry, and have children. If he planned on going to college, traveling the country or even the world, or simply watching the sunset from his own front porch, it was never to be. Whoever Immell would have been and whatever contributions he would have made died with him on June 15, 1865, over two months after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, from a leg wound suffered in the Battle of Amelia Springs on April 5. He was about twenty years old. Enlisting at the age of eighteen in August, 1863, Immell had already survived numerous engagements from Cold Harbor through the Petersburg Campaign.

Uncovering the descendents of Bentley and Farris really brought home for me the enduring tragedy of those who did not survive the war. There is not only the immeasurable loss of a man taken before his time, but each death in a sense reverberates through the generations, as it represents the possibility of countless others who will never be at all. His children, grandchildren, and so forth may have included great teachers, scientists, and civil rights pioneers, but whether great or small they would undoubtedly have been friends, cousins, lovers, spouses, and parents. Though no one who loved Jacob Immell is alive today to suffer his absence, his death is, like those of all our war dead, an abiding scar upon the heart of his nation.

A description of Immell's wound and death from gangrene by Surgeon Reed B. Bontecou. This and the above photograph of Immell are from the National Museum of Health and Medicine's gallery on Flickr.

One thing I did discover about Immell is he was buried on the estate of General Robert E. Lee’s wife’s family, on land which the U.S. government confiscated in 1864 for the establishment of a burial ground for fallen Union soldiers. His tombstone can still be viewed there at his final resting place, Arlington National Cemetery.

Immell's headstone from