Recent days have brought news that archaeologists from Georgia Southern University led by Kevin Chapman have located the site of Camp Lawton in Georgia. The prison camp held Union soldiers for just six weeks before its abandonment in November 1864, as General William Tecumseh Sherman and his army closed in. As the camp’s location was previously unknown it has escaped the attentions of relic hunters, and is thus in pristine archaeological condition.
It is though that between 725 and 1330 men died at Camp Lawton during its brief existence; some of the men had previously been housed in the notorious Andersonville Camp. From an Irish perspective, early reports note that some of the artefacts at the camp were clearly made in Europe and indicate the presence of captured troops from Irish and German regiments.
The Record of the Federal Dead Buried From Libby, Belle Isle, Danville & Camp Lawton Prisons published in 1866 contains a list of some of the men who breathed their last at this camp. Incredibly, the list only survived due to the chance discovery of a small box of books connected with Camp Lawton in Savannah following the Confederate retreat from that city. One of the books was the prisons ‘Death Register’ , which was saved by a Presbyterian Clergyman by cutting out the relevant pages. From there they went to the Christian Commission and on to the National Archives in Washington. 488 names are listed, of whom many are simply marked ‘unknown’. Unquestionably a number of these men were Irish or of Irish descent- among the names are those of soldiers such as Barnard (Bernard?) Donohue of Company A, 90th Illinois, ‘Chicago’s Irish Legion’; cavalrymen such as J. Sullivan and William Fitzgerald of the 16th Illinois Cavalry and 1st Michigan Cavalry respectively; J. Rowe, Company G of the 69th Pennsylvania Irish Infantry; Thomas Parker, Company C, 63rd New York Infantry, part of the famed Irish Brigade. These are just a handful of the men for whom Camp Lawton was the final stop.
Despite the brevity of its use, the discovery of the Camp is remarkable and there is much to be learned about how these soldiers lived and died within its confines. To read more about the discovery view the CNN story here or visit the Georgia Southern University Camp Lawton page here.