Time has run out for archaeologists who have spent the past few months unearthing a former Civil War site in downtown Columbia.
Since January, they had been digging on a tract of land that was the site of a prisoner of war camp known as “Camp Asylum.” At least 1,200 Union officers were held at the makeshift prison from December 12, 1864 to February 14, 1865, according to University of South Carolina archaeologist Dr. Chester DePratter, who led the dig on the site.
The prison was located on what was then known as the South Carolina Lunatic Asylum. Nearly 150 years later, the state Department of Mental Health plans to sell the property to a developer for a multi-use development that city of Columbia officials hope will eventually house stores, restaurants, apartments, and even a minor league baseball stadium.
As the city and developer worked to hammer out a development deal, DePratter and his team were allowed to dig on the property until April 30. DePratter says most information known about the site comes from the diaries kept by officers who were held at Camp Asylum. “(Some) complained a bit more about their condition and thought that the rebels were trying to starve them to death,” he said. “And others hardly even mention the conditions in the prison. They write about the war, itself.”
The team found small, everyday items during their dig. Some of the finds included uniform buttons, combs, and even bits of uniforms. DePratter said the artifacts that were unearthed will be put on display by year’s end at the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology and at the Confederate Relic Room and Military History Museum in Columbia.
“When they first moved into the prison, many of them lived in simple holes in the ground, because they had no other shelter,” DePratter said. “We found sort of depressions that were dug under tents with extensive drainage networks (as prisoners would) try to stay dry.”
DePratter hopes to receive permission to return, as the city and developer continue their negotiations and it appears unlikely that construction will begin soon.
Sheree Bernardi of Charleston station WTMA contributed to this report