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Uncovering Camp Ford

Archeologists from Texas A&M excavating in the area of a possible latrine. Dr. Alston Thoms, project director, is shown in trench in foreground. Photo by Steve Black.
Archeologists from Texas A&M excavating in the area of a possible latrine. Dr. Alston Thoms, project director, is shown in trench in foreground. Photo by Steve Black.

Crew member Dana Anthony scans the site surface with a radar trolley in a pine forest clearing. Remote sensing such as this procedure helped to locate a variety of Civil War-era features. Photo by Steve Black.

Crew member Dana Anthony scans the site surface with a radar trolley in a pine forest clearing. Remote sensing such as this procedure helped to locate a variety of Civil War-era features. Photo by Steve Black.

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Remains of Civil War-era latrines, including this pit shown in the wall profile, were found during excavations. Photo by Steve Black.
Remains of Civil War-era latrines, including this pit shown in the wall profile, were found during excavations. Photo by Steve Black.
Contemporary pictorial records guided the excavators in their exploration; this south view of Camp Ford depicts the approximate area targeted in A&M investigations.
Contemporary pictorial records guided the excavators in their exploration; this south view of Camp Ford depicts the approximate area targeted in A&M investigations.

During the summer of 1997, archeologists from the Center for Ecological Archaeology (CEA) at Texas A&M University conducted exploratory investigations at Camp Ford. Given the long history of impacts to the site—farming and mechanical plowing, reforestation, highway construction, the development of a swimming pool, and the ravages of relic hunters—efforts were remarkably successful. Backhoe excavations and ground penetrating radar revealed well-preserved trenches, pits, and house floors representing the remains of stockade wall trenches, refuse pits, and various types of residential structures.

Fieldwork began with a surface survey that identified the locations of both the original stockade walls and the later expansion. Exploratory excavations revealed more than 70 archeological features, including 22 exposures of wall trenches and six drainage ditches along all four sides of the original stockade and along the south and east walls of the expanded stockade. In addition, 19 house floors, 13 small refuse pits, and five latrines were recorded.

Within the stockade area are the well-preserved remains of hundreds of structures similar to those depicted or inferred from Civil War era pictorial records of Camp Ford. Structures include flat-floored cabins, dugouts more than 4 feet below the surface on hillsides, and pithouses with basin-shaped floors. We found several hints of the historically reported reservoirs along the spring-fed creek that were used to obtain drinking water, to bathe, and to wash clothes.

Several posthole molds were encountered adjacent to the stockade walls, and these may represent the locations of guard stations along the wall. We also have the remains of what may be a pithouse just outside the stockade wall near the southwest corner where the guards' quarters were located.

Surface survey work and limited screening of backhoe trench backdirt resulted in the recovery of numerous artifacts. These include bone and wooden items made by the prisoners, fragments of metal cooking vessels, glassware, and pieces of ceramics among them, a terracotta-like ware made by the POWs.

The artifacts and faunal remains, together with the identified features, present a poignant reminder of Camp Ford's POWs and guards, as well as slaves and citizens. Collectively, they illustrate the interconnectedness of these diverse cultural groups and their distinctive roles during the Civil War.

Much of the work in bringing the Camp Ford project to fruition has come from local volunteers, particulary through the more than 50-year effort of the Smith County Historical Society. An interpretive center planned for the site of Camp Ford will utilize what was learned through archeological investigations. The actual layout of the camp at different time periods, as revealed in archival maps and records and supported by excavations, will be one aspect of this interpretation. Artifacts recovered in excavations also will be on display at the center.



Data from ground-penetrating radar surveys was printed out onsite and examined for clues to underground features. Photo by Steve Black.
Data from ground-penetrating radar surveys were printed out onsite and examined for clues to underground features. Photo by Steve Black.
Schematic illustration of archeologically identified POW house types in relation to the thickness of underlying sandy sediments and terrain.
Schematic illustration of archeologically identified POW house types shown in relation to the thickness of underlying sandy sediments and terrain.
Traces of reservoirs likely built by the prisoners were found during survey along this small creek. Photo by Steve Black.
Traces of reservoirs likely built by the prisoners were found during survey along this small creek. Photo by Steve Black.