By Jimmy Espy
SUMMERVILLE, Ga. - By the time he was a student at Chattooga High School in Summerville, Kevin Chapman knew he wanted to be an archaeologist.
He loved to visit historical sites, including the Civil War battlefield at Chickamauga, Ga.
Now, as a 36-year-old graduate student at Georgia Southern University, Chapman is instrumental in the meticulous uncovering of a nearly forgotten Civil War prisoner of war camp.
Camp Lawton was opened in October 1864 by Confederates looking to house Union prisoners moved from the notorious prison camp at Andersonville, Ga., which was being threatened by encroaching federal troops. Camp Lawton housed as many as 10,000 prisoners during the six weeks it operated before further federal advances forced its abandonment. Later, Union troops burned the camp.
After the war, the camp rarely was mentioned until earlier this year. A group of Georgia Southern students, led by Chapman, established the location of the pine-stockaded prison outside Millen, Ga., and began uncovering an array of relics.
Chapman, who graduated from Chattooga High in 1992, said archaeology was his passion from the beginning.
"As I kid I remember going to Chickamauga, the Etowah Indian Mounds and New Echota. Now I've been lucky enough to actually get to do it [practice the science]," he said.
Chapman worked for the Chattooga and Bulloch County sheriff's offices and did a tour in Bosnia with his U.S. Army National Guard unit.
Back home, he took a job with a bonding company and started taking classes at Georgia Southern, pursuing a degree in archaeology that he completed in 2007.
He still is employed full time by the bonding company and is working on his master's thesis. It is built around the work he is supervising at the Camp Lawton site, which is on government-owned land near Magnolia Springs State Park.
Finding the campsite was not easy. Chapman did careful researchr long before the first shovelful of dirt was moved.
"We started researching the camp in August of last year," he said. "We looked at things like the prisoner accounts of their time in the camp, federal documents and historic maps, especially ones made by a cartographer who happened to be a prisoner in the camp."
Excavation began early this year. Team members quickly began finding historic items.
"We didn't really expect that to happen," Chapman said. "Relic hunters knew there had been a prison camp somewhere in the area, and we thought they had probably gone over the area and found whatever there was to find."
Chapman said an array of artifacts has been uncovered, some still in excellent condition.
"We found the kinds of things you would expect to find at a military camp ... buttons and bullets," he said. "But we also found more personal items that had been left behind."
Among them were a bronze buckle used to hold tourniquets in place, a silver spoon, a picture frame and a homemade tobacco pipe with tooth marks.
Georgia state archaeologist David Crass told The Associated Press that the finds were surprising.
"What makes Camp Lawton so unique is it's one of those little frozen moments in time, and you don't get those very often," he said.
"Most professional archaeologists who ever thought about Camp Lawton came to the implicit conclusion that, because people weren't there very long, there wouldn't be much to find."
Jimmy Espy is based in Dalton. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.