In December, the researchers were given four months to excavate part of the 165-acre grounds of the former South Carolina State Hospital to study a Union prisoner of war camp holding Confederate prisoners in the heart of the Confederacy from December of 1864 to February of 1865, ‘‘Camp Asylum.’’ Officers were held there. It was considered a perfect POW site due to the high walls built to keep residents of the asylum from escaping.
The site was sold for development in July of last year. Maybe it will become a mixed development of shops and apartments, something being considered for a ruined industrial site in my neighborhood in upstate New York (more on that later in March). After the research is done in this limited time frame, a piece of Civil War history in the capital of the state of South Carolina will be destroyed. After all, we can't stand in the way of progress.
This is the fate, way too many times, of Civil War related sites in our country, even as an organization, the Civil War Trust, fights for preservation of battlefields. I don't, however, know of any organizations fighting for preservation of non battlefield sites - I hope there are.
Quoting from the Boston Globe:
"Chief archeologist Chester DePratter said researchers are digging through soil to locate the holes — the largest being 7 feet long, 6 feet wide, and 3 feet deep — as well as whatever possessions the officers may have left behind.
Joe Long, another researcher, describes more about the conditions there.‘‘Almost everybody lived in holes, although the Confederacy did try to procure tents along the way, as they could obtain them,’’ said DePratter, a research archeologist with the University of South Carolina’s Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology.DePratter said he has been able to track down about 40 diaries written by camp survivors, telling tales of suffering and survival, as well as dozens of letters written by the prisoners about their experiences.
‘‘It’s hard to imagine. They all talk about their clothing being threadbare, many of them had no shoes. They shared the blankets they had, three or four together spoon fashion and put a blanket over them’’ to stay warm, DePratter said."
What are the researchers hoping to find? Parts of uniforms, buttons, insignia, and perhaps personal affects from the 1,200 some odd prisoners held there until General Sherman's approaching Union army forced evacuation in February of 1865. Sherman's army, fueled by alcohol, burnt Columbia (not one of the finer moments of our history) and some residents of the city, now refugees, sought refuge on the grounds of the asylum.
The thought of those holes haunts me. It reminds me of a Civil War POW camp in Elmira, New York, an hour from where I live, so hellish that its Confederate prisoners called it Helmira.
It's funny that it should remind me of Elmira, because both DePratter and Long each had an ancestor held as a POW at Elmira.
The Civil War united us in ways we still don't completely understand.