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Determining the Facts

Reading 4: Archeology in the Guard Camp

After the Civil War, the site of the Confederate guard camp became an agricultural field and was used to grow pine trees. It remained in this use through the 20th century. Plowing of the field over the years created a thick “plow zone,” the upper layer of soil disturbed by the plow. This layer was about 30 centimeters thick and lay on top of a light-colored, undisturbed soil. In general, plow zones very often contain “artifacts,” which are objects made, used, or modified by people. Plowing moves artifacts around, so archeologists do not know where they were originally located. An artifact’s position in the soil relative to other artifacts is called its “context.” An artifact’s context is very important in using it to learn about the past.

Archeologists do not know the context of the artifacts discovered in a plow zone because plowing changes the original relationships of these artifacts to each other. Therefore, archeologists do not need to be as careful when clearing this layer. In this case, they removed the plow zone using a backhoe and a large earth-moving machine called a pan. As the plow zone was removed, an archeologist watched the soil for changes in color, which might indicate some form of human activity. These color changes are called “features” and often appear as areas of darker soil. When archeologists located a feature at the Florence Stockade, they first marked it with a small flag and scraped the remaining plow zone away to reveal its edges. Then they drew it on a map and photographed it. After that, workers excavated the soil within the feature by hand until the dark soil was gone.

The removal of the plow zone revealed 521 features. Of these, 179 were excavated. The archeologists used hand tools to dig out dark soil within the feature. Commonly using small trowels to excavate features, archeologists sometimes need to use even smaller tools. Dental picks and brushes help excavate delicate artifacts, as they did at this site. The soil from each feature was screened to see if it contained artifacts. Screening soil means sifting through wire mesh, usually with 1/4 inch holes. When the soil falls through the screen, it leaves larger objects behind, such as artifacts. Small soil samples go to a laboratory to see if they contain small seeds or other plant materials. These methods recovered almost 6,000 artifacts, most of which dated to the Civil War.

Archeologists could tell what some of the many excavated features from the Florence Stockade were used for by their size and shape, but they have yet to determine the function of others. Feature types included structures, latrines or privies, pits, post holes, trenches, and wells. Confederate guards dug most of the features, but tree roots also caused a few.

Artifacts uncovered at the Florence Stockade included a wide variety of materials and objects owned or used by the Confederate guards. The term for items related to the construction of shelters or other structures is “architectural artifacts.” Artifacts from this category included nails, pieces of brick, and window glass fragments. Artifacts used to store, cook, and consume food and beverages were very common. They included whole glass bottles, hundreds of bottle fragments, pieces of ceramic plates and jugs, metal cans, and utensils. These are called “kitchen artifacts.” “Military artifacts” included bullets, percussion caps, bayonet fragments, a tin cartridge box, a nearly complete tin canteen, and fragments of other canteens. “Personal artifacts” are things that belonged to one soldier, such as teeth from hard rubber combs, hard rubber finger rings, buttons, and part of a picture frame. Other artifacts included various types of metal hardware, such as two shovel blades.

The shovel blades indicate the difficulties that guards faced. As discussed in Reading 3, Thomas Eccles wrote that his men had a hard time digging a well because they had no shovels. A shovel was a common, factory-made item by the mid-19th century and should have been easy to acquire. But by 1864, the Confederacy had much less ability to manufacture or import basic goods like shovels. This was a major problem and greatly contributed to the North’s eventual victory. The shovels recovered from the camp site were hand-forged by a blacksmith, likely a local person hired to make them.

Animal bone was another important type of artifact. Archeologists recovered thousands of fragments of animal bone, weighing about 88 pounds in total. Most of the bone came from cows, but some came from pigs, chickens, and other birds. The presence of this much bone proves that the Confederate guards had meat to eat. In contrast, we know that the prisoners had almost none. A long-believed theory among historians says that the Union prisoners starved because the guards were starving as well. In his newspaper column, Eccles twice addresses the amount of food the prisoners received. On October 7, 1864, he wrote that, "...they cook their own rations, which of course they complain of, however plentiful they may be.” 1 On November 4, he wrote, “They are well fed, drawing the same rations we do.” 2

Questions for Reading 4

1) Define or describe the terms plow zone, context, feature, architectural artifact and personal artifact.

2) The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs sponsored this archeological excavation. The Department's National Cemetery Administration was planning to expand the Florence National Cemetery. Without this excavation, how do you think the planned construction would have affected the archeological features and why?

3) How is the shovel blade recovered from the camp indicative of factors that led to the Confederacy's coming defeat?

4) How do you think the information gained from the archeological investigations might either verify or disprove information gained from the documentary evidence? Give one specific example of how the archeological evidence from this site verifies the historical record and one of how it disagrees with the historical record.


Reading 4 was adapted from Paul G. Avery and Patrick H. Garrow, Phase III Archaeological Investigations at 38FL2, The Florence Stockade, Florence, South Carolina (Knoxville, TN, MACTEC Engineering, 2008).


1 “From the State Reserves,” Camp Prison, Florence, S.C., Oct. 7, 1864, E. http://www.oocities.org/sc_seedcorn/Bn03SC_Eccles.html.

2 “From the Reserve Forces,” Camp Prison, Florence, S.C., Nov. 4, 1864, E. http://www.oocities.org/sc_seedcorn/Bn03SC_Eccles.html.


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