Guided by the discoveries of local relic collectors, archaeologists have found an extensive Confederate Army encampment within these woods. Excavations have uncovered the remains of huts built by the soldiers during the winter of 1863 and 1864. The layout of the camps and the material evidence found during the excavations provides a picture of the soldier's daily lives as they struggled through the harsh winter conditions. The camps almost untouched since being abandoned in May 1864, contain a wealth of information concerning the Confederate Army during the last years of the American Civil War.
1862 sketch of the 1st South Carolina Rifles camp Spotsylvania County, Virginia
This sketch illustrates how a camp layout mirrored the organization of a military unit. The soldiers who made up a company camped in a line of huts making a company "street" with the company commander at the head of the street. The three larger tents shown at the bottom ware for higher ranking regimental officers.
Completed archaeological excavation of two hut sites
Archaeologists uncovered more than a century and a half of accumulated topsoil to reveal the undisturbed site of two huts, outlined in red. The rock mounds are the remains of the chimney with the hearth appearing as a red patch of clay, scorched by the months of fires. The pits outside the huts were created by soldiers to obtain clay for daubing the chimney and timber walls of their huts. The pits were then used for the disposal of ash and other trash.
Map of Hut Sites in the McGowan Encampment
Approximately 500 soldiers were camped in these woods. The orderly layout of the camp follows the military plan, with the company streets extending down the hill in front of you. Keeping the men organized by company in camp strengthened the bonds between the men helping to build the cohesion needed in battle. The camp layout also made quick deployment possible - McGowan's soldiers assembled for the march to Wilderness with only 30 minutes of preparation.
Stoneware jug recovered from a soldiers' hut at the McGowan camp
As one of the few food storage items recovered, this jug documents the parce diet of the soldiers in the camp. This absence of food containers indicates that McGowan's troops probably did not have access to condiments, preserves, liquor or pickled foods. In addition, only a small amount of animal bones has been found, suggesting that the diet of the troops consisted mainly of rations of corn meal, bacon, and hardtack.
Reconstructed hut site located at the White Oak Museum, Fredericksburg, Virginia
Soldiers were provided only the barest of essentials to construct these huts (their issue tents and about two dozen nails). They obtained the remainder of the materials - including timbers, clay and stone - from the woods and surrounding areas. The huts measured 12 square feet and served as a shelter for five to six soldiers.