Through Dec. 30, we are looking back at some of the stories that made headlines in 2014 – and seeing how things played out.
From January through April of this year, a team of archaeologists was allowed to work at the site of a Civil War-era prisoner of war camp on the present-day campus of the S.C. State Hospital in downtown Columbia, where construction will begin soon on a baseball stadium.
An archaeological dig in downtown Columbia shed light on the harsh living conditions of Union military officers held prisoner in a field behind the state mental hospital during the waning days of the Civil War.
The dig, conducted by a team of archaeologists from the University of South Carolina, uncovered nine pits where officers lived for two months, December 1864 and January 1865. The site, called Camp Asylum, would have had hundreds of the holes, dug by prisoners to shelter them from the weather, said Chester DePratter, with USC’s Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, who led the project.
In the limited time they had, the group located only one hole large enough that a man could have stretched out full length. They knew about the holes through diaries and memoirs but didn’t have a sense of what they were like. DePratter said the officers referred to the holes as “shebangs.”
“What we learned is they’re very small holes, barely big enough to sit up in,” DePratter said. “You just found a way to sit up and pull your legs up to your chest and wrap yourself in a blanket and try to get out of the wind. So it emphasizes the harsh conditions the soldiers lived in.”
He considers it miraculous that no one held at Camp Asylum died of hypothermia. “We saw the reality of the harsh life there ... and these men were hardy enough to survive.”
Archaeologists found surprisingly few personal objects, but did unearth “several dozen” artifacts. DePratter’s favorites were two chess pieces, fashioned from lead bullets. “One is probably a pawn and the other is definitely a castle.”
He regrets being unable to locate any of the trenches used as “privys,” which would have been natural places for meticulous officers to throw their trash. He’s hoping to get permission to return to the site before it’s fully developed into a minor-league ballpark surrounded by stores and homes.
Since the team finished their work in the field, funded with donations of $92,000, they have been analyzing and conserving metal artifacts and working on reports describing the project, DePratter said.
The S.C. Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum, meanwhile, has some artifacts from Camp Asylum on display through March 6, 2016, and is planning a larger POW exhibition that will use even more of the artifacts, director Allen Roberson said. “What we have now is a wonderful scaled exhibit of Camp Asylum,” he added.
And the baseball stadium, named Spirit Communications Park, should be done in time for play in spring 2016.