SEAC: The Fort Pulaski Cemetery
The most studied area of Fort Pulaski National Monument with regards to archeology is the cemetery located across the moat from the northwest side of the demilune (Click here for a Map with the Cemetery's Location). The earliest burial at the site is that of Lieutenant Robert Rowan, an officer stationed at Fort Greene, who died in 1800. Based on archeological and archival research concerning the cemetery, it is generally felt that Rowan's burial was moved from somewhere else. This is due to the simple fact that the land the fort's cemetery resides on was built during the construction phase of Fort Pulaski somewhere between 1829 and 1847. The grave of Lieutenant Rowan is 1 of only 2 burials marked by any type of grave marker (Click for a picture of Rowan's Headstone - 56 KB). The other marked burial in the cemetery belongs to the infant son of Lieutenant Charles and Marion Sellmer, who died at the Quarantine Station on Cockspur Island in 1872. The 37 other identified burials in the cemetery belong to Confederate or Union troops, or post-Civil War civilian and military personnel. There is also the possibility that some of the laborers who helped build the fort are buried here, but so far there is no archeological or archival evidence to support this. To view a map showing the locations of all the burials in the Fort Pulaski cemetery, click here. Click on each section of the map for more information.
1998 investigations in the area of the cemetery helped to reveal the construction of the land that slopes away from the fortification, or glacis. This is the land on which the cemetery is located. A 1 meter wide by 10 meters long by 2 meters deep trench was dug perpendicular to the northwest side of the moat (Click here for a Map of the Trench Profile - 63 KB). The glacis, created during the fort's construction period, utilized soil taken from the adjacent moat. Its layering is an exact opposite of what would have been seen originally, with the top layer of soil in the moat area being on the bottom of the glacis. Because of this reverse stratigraphy, it is relatively easy to discover the boundaries of the glacis and figure out what areas were disturbed by burials or reconstruction activities.
The Search for the Immortal 600
The 520 Confederate prisoners, who later came to be known as the "Immortal 600", arrived at Fort Pulaski near the end of October 1864 (Click here for More Information on the Immortal 600). When they left on March 5, 1865, 9 of their members were buried outside the walls of Fort Pulaski and 4 more would soon join them. The location of the burials of those belonging to the Immortal 600 has been an important focus of much of the research done at the cemetery of Fort Pulaski.
1994 Remote Sensing Investigations
A 1994 remote sensing survey of the cemetery area was undertaken by Southeast Archeological Center archeologists for the purpose of locating the section containing the Immortal 600 burials. Remote sensing is a way of locating underground features without actually digging. In this particular case, their instrument relied on variations in magnetic properties between different types of soils to show possible locations of features. Once an area is identified as containing a possible feature, a relatively small hole is then dug to see if any materials are located in the area. This process is known as ground truthing. The 1994 survey was conducted at the eastern end of the cemetery area (Click for a Map of the Survey Area). It was unable to locate the area of the Confederate graves, although it did identify an area of 1930s related disturbance in the southeast portion of the cemetery. Various levels of disturbance in the area of the cemetery would make remote sensing investigations very unreliable due to the introduction and mixing of multiple soil types.
Research performed at the National Archives by Mauriel Joslyn and John Jameson (Jameson 1997) located some pertinent information dealing with the Fort Pulaski cemetery. While initially focused on materials related to the Immortal 600, they also showed that most, if not all of the Union soldiers buried at Fort Pulaski were exhumed following the war. Joslyn's research pointed specifically to the removal of burials from the Rhode Island section of the cemetery. In addition, she compiled a list of the 13 members of the Immortal 600 who were known to have died at Fort Pulaski (see table below). Jameson recovered a list of burials in the Fort Pulaski cemetery initially dated to 1873, but containing two additions from 1879 (Click here for the 1873/1879 List). The 8 members of the Immortal 600 that showed up on the 1873 list are indicated below with a corresponding number.
taken from Lou Groh's 1999 report entitled, Archeological
A July 16, 1874, newspaper article from the Savannah Morning News reported the names on 8 Confederate grave markers as well, but the names appear to be derived from the 1873 burial list because of the spelling inconsistencies seen in both (Click for the Newspaper Article). These inconsistencies could have occurred due to the fact that the Confederate troops imprisoned at Fort Pulaski were not allowed to place grave markers at the burials of their deceased comrades. When markers were finally placed years later, the exact information and spelling was sometimes lost (Click here for the location of the Grave Marker Locations Uncovered During Archeological Investigations). As can be seen on the "Grave Marker Location" map, there are eight grave markers in the Confederate section of the graveyard. These markers probably coincide with the 8 names in both the 1873 Cemetery List and the 1874 newspaper article. Whether these 8 names actually correspond with those buried in these locations may never be known.
With the available archival and remote sensing information, the 1998 field season sought to pinpoint the cemetery location and the location of the Immortal 600 burials. Specifically, the archeologists' main goals were to locate the unmarked graves of the Confederate officers imprisoned at Fort Pulaski and to define the boundaries of the cemetery. Based on an 1863 sketch map done by Reverend Frederic Denison, Chaplain for the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, much of the search for the Confederate graves was confined to the eastern half of the cemetery (Click here for Denison's Map). As can be seen on his map, the eastern section of the cemetery was reserved for Confederate burials, of which there were 4 dating to the time before the arrival of the Immortal 600. The lowercase "c" on the map indicates the position of a memorial cannon buried muzzle down marking the location of the cemetery. This cannon was removed by National Park Service staff in the 1970s and conserved, and now sits atop the walls of Fort Pulaski.
During the excavations, a number of burials oriented perpendicular to the previously discovered east-west burials were located and mapped. The north-south graves were likely coffin burials used by post Civil War military personnel and their families (Click here for a Map of the North-South Burials and a Photograph of 2 North-South Burials). Due to unfavorable excavation conditions, further research was postponed until the following field season.
The 1999 Investigations
Extensive excavations were conducted in 1999, leading to the complete delineation of the cemetery's boundaries (Click here for the Cemetery Map - 40 KB). 37 separate burials were identified, including the ones recorded during the 1998 field season. Of these, 19-21 lie in the general area of the Confederate section and were, therefore, thought to be related to burials of Confederate prisoners at Fort Pulaski. So far, only 17 Confederate dead can be accounted for in the archives. Based on archival research and the 1999 excavations, it is felt that most of the Union troops who died during the Civil War were exhumed, and their cemetery plots were reused by civilians and post-Civil War military personnel. This is based mainly on the non-standard orientation of burials going north-south as opposed to east-west.
In addition to the 37 burials, 5 areas of graveyard disturbance were also identified during the 1999 investigations. These included:
The disturbances that occurred in the middle of the cemetery, such as the cannon removal and the addition/removal of the Fort Screven monument, probably impacted the surrounding burials somewhat. Both of these areas can be seen in green on the cemetery map (40 KB). In addition to these 5 disturbances, the following was written in the 1874 newspaper article mentioned in the above section:
The above quotation from the newspaper article implies that United States troops stationed at Fort Pulaski after the Civil War possibly moved some of the burials and placed grave markers showing their locations. Furthermore, the presence of an enclosure indicates that there may have been some additional disturbance caused by its construction. These are just two more examples illustrating why our understanding of the Fort Pulaski cemetery is still so cloudy.
The cemetery at Fort Pulaski is an area of incredibly complex archeological and historical context. Only through the combined efforts of archeology and archival research will the many and varied uses of it be more fully comprehended. As part of the above-mentioned investigations, the extent of the cemetery was defined so that future maintenance and restoration work at the fort would not disturb the cemetery area. This helps to ensure that the information contained within this area will be there for further study.
The majority of the known cultural resources located with the monument are related to the construction and function of the Civil War fortification of Fort Pulaski. Former Park Superintendent Ralston B. Lattimore and Historian Rogers W. Young have provided excellent documentation regarding the construction history and events relating to the fort. However, outside these areas, very little is known regarding the Civil War era archeological resources. Therefore, it is recommended that systematic subsurface testing be conducted on all of Cockspur Island to identify and determine intra site boundaries. Archeological investigations that focus on identifying construction methods and materials, site boundaries, structure function, and structure associations would greatly aid current site interpretations. The resulting data recovered from the investigations would also aid in evaluating the national, state, and local significance of archeological resources associated with the Civil War era at Fort Pulaski National Monument.*
*Paragraph excerpted from Lou Groh's 2000 report, Fort Pulaski National Monument: Archeological Overview and Assessment, from "Chapter 7: Recommendations for Future Archeological Research", page 97. Published by the Southeast Archeological Center of the National Park Service, Tallahassee, Florida.