Archaeologists said Wednesday they have uncovered a Civil War site in Georgia containing potentially hundreds of artifacts that have been hidden for 150 years.
The artifacts were left behind by Northern soldiers as they and their captors fled Camp Lawton, a Confederate prison camp, during Union Gen. William Sherman's march toward Savannah in 1864.
The rural site, in Millen, Ga., about four hours southeast of Atlanta, is now under tight security. A brand new, 8-foot high, chain-link fence topped by barbed wire runs right through the middle of a driveway near one of the fish ponds on the property of the Bo Ginn National Fish Hatchery.
"We are most likely standing just inside the stockade wall -- and I have found artifacts within about 20 feet of where we're standing," says Kevin Chapman, who oversees the team of student archaeologists with Georgia Southern University.
Several months ago, the archaeologists were on an exploratory dig and discovered this ground where 10,000 Union prisoners lived over six weeks in late 1864. There are buttons, buckles, a tourniquet, jewelry and European coins most likely left by members of an Ohio regiment made up largely of German and Austrian immigrants.
At least one of the items is unique among Civil War artifacts -- a modified white clay pipe. The soldier "improvised a bowl onto the end of the pipestem by melting down lead bullets, Minie balls or musket balls," Chapman says.
A Civil War pipe can go for hundreds of dollars on eBay. Historian John Derden says these artifacts are priceless because they paint an unbiased, firsthand picture of Civil War prison life. Written accounts tend to focus on Georgia's other, more notorious camp, Andersonville, where 13,000 Union men died.
"Most sources deal with Andersonville. Even POWs who were here, most of them had been at Andersonville," Derden says. "But when they wrote their books, what the people wanted to hear about was Andersonville, so there's not as many written sources for this camp."
Historians now hope to find new sources of information from Camp Lawton. So far, less than 1 percent of the site is excavated, leaving many stories still be to be taken from the earth.