January 10, 2006

Experts to Study S.C. War Encampment

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- With the shore along the north end of Folly Beach eroding, archaeologists will set out next month to see how much of the site of a Union Civil War encampment can be saved from the oncoming waves.

The island was once the site of Fort Green from which guns were trained on Charleston during the siege of the city.

The site at the island's old Coast Guard base is owned by the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission, and the study will determine whether it can be preserved.

"The answer could range from doing extensive excavations to abandoning all hope and letting nature take its course," said Steven Smith of the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology

Eighteen months ago, archaeologists sank pipes along the island to monitor erosion, said Julie Hensley of the park commission.

"They're all gone. One of them was 20 or 30 feet back from the high water, and it's gone," she said. "As much as 50 yards of the forest has gone. The erosion just continues to become worse and worse."

The encampment site is on the National Register of Historic Places, and Civil War artifacts are buried beneath the sand.

About 4,000 Union troops camped on the island before the 1863 attack on Battery Wagner on nearby Morris Island. The attack on Wagner by the black 54th Massachusetts regiment was commemorated in the movie "Glory."

Fort Green was garrisoned by the 55th Massachusetts, another black Union regiment.

"The guns there were trained on Charleston as part of the big siege. It was a pretty heavy occupation," Smith said.

Following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, archaeologists, including Smith, found hundreds of artifacts from the Union camp including a bugle, Minie balls and pipes as well as boots and shoes.

Now scientists will see what remains.

"We're just going to go out there and try to figure out how much is left and see if we can find any past studies of that area to get an idea of how fast things are eroding," Smith said.

After the study, archeologists will make recommendations about how the county should handle the site.


Information from: The Post and Courier, http://www.charleston.net