The Battle of Camden Archaeology Project
Historic Camden Foundation is pleased to have Steven D. Smith, Director of SCIAA and Research Professor to update progress on the Battle of Camden project.
Steve’s impressive background includes studies and books on historic period settlement at military installations like Fort Polk, Fort Leonard Wood, and Camp Atterbury, Indiana. He has also researched the lives of African American soldiers at Fort Leonard Wood, Fort Huachuca, and Fort Bragg, and a nationwide study of African American military history for the U.S. Army Corps. He has published extensively on the life of Francis Marion. His latest books include a co-edited volume on asymmetric warfare, entitled “Partisans, Guerillas, and Irregulars: The Historical Archaeology of Asymmetric Warfare” (University of Alabama Press, 2019), and “Francis Marion and the Snow’s Island Community: Myth, History, and Archaeology” (United Writers Press, 2021).
Ginny: Steve, please tell us about SCIAA and the Camden projects you are focusing on this year.
Steve: The South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology is a research institute and a state agency under the administrative control of the University of South Carolina. Our mission, as a state agency is to maintain the state’s archaeological site files and artifact collections and act on behalf of the state to investigate important archaeological sites in the state. Our research mission is to gain greater knowledge about South Carolina’s past. We also administer the state’s underwater antiquities act. The SCIAA has numerous archaeological projects on-going every year, each researcher has their own areas of specialty.
My colleague, James Legg and I focus on sites of conflict, primarily of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. We have been conducting investigations at the Camden battlefield since 2001. Jim was the first professional archaeologist to assist the Catawba Valley Land Trust in determining where the core of the battle took place in order to preserve that land. We then obtained two grants from the National Park Service, American Battlefield Protection Program, through the Palmetto Conservation Foundation, to determine the boundaries of the entire battlefield. This work led to being awarded a Save America’s Treasures grant to continue research at the battle site. Combined with the historical record, these efforts produced three reports detailing the sequence of events during the battle and very precise locations of where those events took place. Our research for 2021 builds on and continues the research at the battlefield.
Ginny: Historic Camden Foundation is honored to hold the Battle of Camden property today but we take on a legacy of preservation of this acreage.
Steve: Indeed, the Historic Camden Foundation builds on the past preservation efforts of the Catawba Valley Land Trust led at that time by Lindsey Pettis, the Palmetto Conservation Foundation Military Heritage Program, led at that time by George Fields, and strong support behind the scenes from the Kershaw County Historical Society and the Battle of Camden Project led by Charles Baxley and David Reuwer. These are only a few of the people who have accomplished the goal of preserving nearly the entire battlefield. Today, you are fortunate to have the support and oversight of the South Carolina Battleground Trust under the leadership of Doug Bostick. Thanks to all, the Camden Battlefield has largely been preserved and we see a bright future for an excellent interpretive program. Plus the battlefield is being managed as a longleaf pine forest preserve, which eventually will return the landscape to its appearance in 1780.
Ginny: Advancements in technology have enhanced archaeology techniques, even though studied before, new tools give us a better picture.
Steve: Yes, since most of what is left behind in battle is made of metal our primary tool for finding artifacts that will assist us in determining troop movements during the battle is the metal detector. Our machines are now using wireless technology and are much more sensitive than earlier models. We also have used LiDAR technology to study the topography of the battlefield and ground penetrating radar to locate battle features. Our primary instrument for mapping artifacts is a sophisticated GPS instrument that can record the location of an individual artifact to within 20 centimeters of its location. This saves a tremendous amount of time as opposed to using a transit instrument as in the past. We use mapping software to generate maps of artifacts which allow us to see the distribution of literally thousands of artifacts associated with the battle.
Ginny: Thank you for your work on the Battle of Camden site. We are lucky to be able to review the new discoveries and how they add to the history of the Battle and troop movements.
Steve: Our plans are to continue to work at the site to add to that history and to produce a definitive battle narrative for the public.