When word reached Camp Lawton that the Union army of Gen. William T. Sherman was approaching, the prison camp’s Confederate officers rounded up their thousands of Union army POWs for a swift evacuation – leaving behind rings, buckles, coins and other keepsakes that would remain undisturbed for nearly 150 years.
Outside of scholars and Civil War buffs, few people have heard of the Confederacy’s Camp Lawton, which replaced the infamous and overcrowded Andersonville prison in fall 1864.
In its six weeks’ existence, between 725 and 1,330 men died at the prison camp. The 42-acre stockade held about 10,000 men before it was hastily closed when Union forces approached.
Camp Lawton’s obscurity helped it remain undisturbed all these years. There are no photos of Lawton and few visual stockade details, although a Union mapmaker painted some important watercolors of the prison. He also kept a 5,000-page journal that detailed the misery at Camp Lawton, which was built to hold up to 40,000 prisoners.
Last year a Georgia Southern archaeology student Kevin Chapman seized on an offer by the state Department of Natural Resources to pursue his master’s thesis by looking for evidence of Camp Lawton’s stockade walls on the park grounds. Chapman ended up stunning the pros, uncovering much more than the remains of the stockade’s 15-foot pine posts. “These guys were rousted out in the middle of the night and loaded onto trains, so they didn’t have time to load all this stuff up,” said David Crass, an archaeologist who serves as director of Georgia’s Historic Preservation Division. “Pretty much all they had got left behind. You don’t see these sites often in archaeology.”