Data Recovery Excavations and Future Research

Evidence recovered from the identification of site 44IW0204 and the subsequent limited data recovery excavations indicate that site 44IW0204 is the encampment associated with Fort Huger.  The site setting and location were the first keys to identifying this site as the encampment.  Artifacts recovered from site provide supporting evidence as they are contemporaneous with the Civil War, and indeed, the nails and brick are consistent with expected construction materials for log huts that were built for long term encampments.  However, it must be noted that our ability to advance comprehensive interpretations is hindered by the limited nature of this data recovery.  It is likely that more substantive data could be retrieved from the larger portion of the site that is being preserved in place.

Robert Krick, former chief historian of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, stated that “[t]he average Civil War student spends most of his time visiting battlefields…Encampment scenes are, understandably but not entirely fairly, further down the average enthusiast’s checklist” (Geier et al. 2006:xvi).  Research into encampments and habitation sites of the Civil War has not kept pace with the research on battlefields and is “sorely lacking” (Corle and Balicki 2006:56).  Although limited in scope, these investigations did provide some insight to the state of preservation of this site as a whole.  This has enabled us to formulate suggestions for future investigations into the remaining portion of the site that would, hopefully, add significant information on Civil War encampments and Fort Huger.

The most obvious characteristic of site 44IW0204 is the rubble piles.  It is presumed that these piles were the remnants of chimneys as brick is often present on the surface.  However, through the excavation of the these mounds, brick structural features did not remain intact and were generally scattered.  Feature 601 is a prime example.  The brick exposed during the excavation of this feature may not have been sufficient to construct a chimney, and indeed, the brick recovered from Features 602 and 603 was considerably less.  As Reeves and Geier (2006:214) note, after the abandonment of the Confederate Brigadier General Samuel McGowan’s camp in Montpelier, Virginia, locals probably scavenged what they could from the soldiers’ log huts including logs, brick, and other items.  The burned remains of site 44IW0204 were probably no exception.

The burning of log walls with a height range of 2 to 5 ft would likely leave a significant amount of charcoal with each structure.  However, though small flecks of charcoal were present within each excavated feature, none of the features contained the amount of charcoal or burned surfaces that would be expected.  Erosion, though maybe playing a small role, is unlikely to account for the absence of charcoal due to the nearly level landform and high clay content of the soil.  It is not clear what this land was used for since the Civil War.  Historic accounts suggest that the area surrounding the encampment was cleared during the Civil War.  Since the war, ground disturbance may have consisted of continuous logging and perhaps some plowing.  Two old roads beds at the southern edge of the site are thought to be associated with logging.  Tree growth and other bioturbation would also be a factor.  Fallen trees throughout the preserved portion of the site have also severely impacted the site.  Regardless of these  factors, a greater concentration of charcoal was expected but not encountered.  Future research into this site should consider investigating the land uses of the property since the Civil War to fully determine what formation processes would account for the current state of preservation of this site.  This information would also help answer questions as to the presence, or lack thereof, of structural features such as post holes.

At the beginning of the excavation, it was unclear what relationship, if any, these features had to each other.  The single trench that was stretched across the site aided in the construction of a profile that encompassed all features.  The placement of the trench was chosen based on the ability of a relatively clear line of site from one end of the excavation area to the other.  By trying to avoid large trees, which was not completely successful, the location of the trench provided varying levels of coverage to the individual features.  For example, the trench in Feature 601 traversed the central portion of the debris mound.  In Feature 603, the trench clipped the southern portion of the debris mound, providing only one adequate profile for viewing the mound stratigraphy.

Excavating a trench through a portion of a mound does not appear as useful as completely removing the dirt from the debris mound and inspecting the structural remains (i.e., brick) completely in situ.  As a particular feature is removed to the ground surface level, intact structural features may be more apparent and subsurface excavation for feature identification can be better targeted.  Additionally, the excavation of a block area that completely encompasses the debris mound and a given radius around the mound would provide the most promise for identifying soil features such as post holes.

Due to the limited extent to which our excavations were confined, our investigation focused only on the delineated features, and little attention was given to areas outside of an 8 to 10 ft radius of the debris mounds.  Future investigations of this site should also focus on areas not associated with the debris mounds.  Apparent levels of disturbance may have displaced some of the remnants of these structures beyond an 8 to 10 ft radius, and such focused excavations may limit the ability to identify artifacts or features that could help our understanding of  the layout of the encampment or day to day activities of the soldiers.  As noted above, artifacts were recovered from shovels tests during the survey of the Lawnes Point tract that were not in close proximity to a debris mound.  There may have been structures present at the encampment that, through different forms of disturbance, do not have debris mounds associated with them.  Excavations focused on these areas could identify more structures.

Because the Confederate Army had standards plans for the layout of encampments, and structures were constructed at standard intervals.  The identified debris mounds in the preserved portion of the site are located at an approximate interval of 50 ft apart.  By using this interval (or divisions such as 25 ft) in areas of the site that do not exhibit debris mounds, it may be possible to identify locations where structures once stood.  Selectively sampling non-mound areas would provide useful data while still preserving much of the site.  Although preservation of a significant archaeological site is always recommended, data from future investigations at site 44IW0204, added to what is currently known about the site, would provide a better view of soldiers’ lives at the Fort Huger encampment.

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