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Refuge System Adds to Civil War History

Visitors to Georgia Southern University examine Civil War artifacts from Camp Lawton, a recently unearthed Confederate Army prison camp that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is helping to interpret and protect. The artifacts are on display there through May.
Visitors to Georgia Southern University examine Civil War artifacts from Camp Lawton, a recently unearthed Confederate Army prison camp that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is helping to interpret and protect. The artifacts are on display there through May.
Credit: Tom Sinclair, USFWS
An engraved stone marks the site of Camp Lawton, a short-lived Confederate Army prison camp located on what is now public land in Georgia.
An engraved stone marks the site of Camp Lawton, a short-lived Confederate Army prison camp located on what is now public land in Georgia.
Credit: Tom Sinclair, USFWS

Viewers of Civil War buttons, coins and tourniquet buckles on display for the first time through May at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia, can thank the National Wildlife Refuge System, among others. The System is helping to interpret and protect Camp Lawton — the recently unearthed Confederate Army prison camp that is the source of the artifacts. The remarkably intact Civil War site is located on land now occupied by the Bo Ginn National Fish Hatchery and a Georgia state park.

 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regional archeologist Rick Kanaski, who works primarily on refuges, is part of the multi-agency team planning the prison camp site’s long-term management. Refuge System law enforcement officers are also helping to secure the historic site against looting and vandalism.

Confederates operated Camp Lawton for six weeks in 1864 as an overflow facility for Andersonville Prison before abruptly moving surviving Union captives from Sherman's approaching army. Conditions were grim. A camp record lists more than 10,000 Union POWs; at least 750 died of starvation, exposure or disease. For Kanaski and others, the pristine look of the site adds to its historic importance.

"Civil war sites are among the more threatened types of historic properties in the eastern United States," he says. "Camp Lawton is special because it’s not been picked over by relic hunters. It’s a lot more intact than anybody thought. It will help deepen our understanding of these kinds of temporary institutions that arise during military conflicts and how captured individuals deal with an abhorrent situation . . . with bad food, bad water and bad medical care."

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