Thursday, March 10, 2011

Saturday we headed to Camp Milton for our second site adventure of Florida Archaeology Month. Located in western Jacksonville, Camp Milton was the site of a fortified Confederate camp during the Civil War. Today the site is managed and preserved by Jax Parks.

Gathering at the trailhead before the tour.

Sarah and I arrived to find perfect weather and a really active site! Even before people arrived for our guided tour we saw couples and families on the trails. Camp Milton’s a great place to stretch your legs—in addition to a boardwalk with interpretation of the camp, a Rails-to-Trails path connecting Camp Milton and Baldwin runs through the park.

Our group prepares to ride!

We set up a table that one of our favorite volunteers agreed to staff for us. Jennifer was such a good sport, directing people to where we were and frequently setting our displays back up as they were blown completely over by the wind.

Sarah and one of our cyclists flank St. Jen of the Windy Table.

As the tour started we were joined by some avid cyclists, some local history buffs, and parks staff. We biked the boardwalk trail, which runs through the woods and allows a view of the earthworks that are intact. Just a small section remains, but the defensive earthworks once extended for 3 miles! We discussed the importance of Camp Milton to the Confederate effort in Florida as well as the site’s archaeology and what it told us about how the earthworks were constructed, as well as land use throughout the site.

Sarah shares the site's archaeology with the group.

My favorite stop along the path tells the story of the pine cone battle that took place at Camp Milton. Visit the park for full details, but the story involves one regiment stationed at the camp “battling” another with pine cones that they’d lit on fire. We do NOT recommend that you make this part of any historical reenactments you might take part in. I love that story because it’s something I could see my husband, brother, and (male) friends doing in a similar situation. But it also makes me think about everyday life at the camp, and during war generally. Once the camp’s protected and you’ve drilled and drilled and drilled on tactics, what do you do in the time left over? Soldiers were (and are) still people—they’re not just weapons that spring to life when duty calls. They have wants, needs, disappointments, and as I think this story shows, certainly the challenge of boredom.

Tera Meeks of Jax Parks and one of our participants listen to the tale of the flaming pine cone battle.

Next, we stopped at the bridge over McGirt’s Creek. It’s odd to think that such a narrow, shallow waterway was so important to transporting materials and protecting the site from attacks. Sarah talked about how creek crossings can leave great archaeological remains. In addition to bridges, makeshift crossing materials can leave evidence for archaeologists to interpret. One such crossing, called a “hard,” is little more than some boards laid next to one another, not bound by any other materials.

Our youngest tour participant bikes past cones representing campfires found during 2003 archaeology.

For the final stretch, we made our way over to the Rail-Trail and headed back to the park entrance. There we finished up around the campfire—sort of. The park has marked several spots around the parking lot where archaeology showed that campfires once burned. We stood near one of the conical markers and thought again about a soldier’s life and the making of a home away from home.

If you want to explore the site on your own, make sure you follow the directions!

For more on what we discussed, check out these sites:

Mandarin Museum (which has a hands-on Maple Leaf display):

FPAN's Destination Civil War Site:

On Civil War Medicine:

Florida in the Civil War:

First person account of life at a Confederate camp:

2 Responses so far.

  1. Fantastic blog. And excellent photos. I know you all had a great visit. I can't wait to visit Camp Milton and bicycle the trail. I'll be visiting in March 2012. All the best.

  2. I finally visited Camp Milton on 3-28-12. It was an incredible place to see. And having bicycles made it so much more enjoyable and easy to explore. The history I learned from here was amazing. The long winding boardwalk through the woods was my favorite. A big thank you for the info and photos from your blog as they helped me a lot with planning my own trip. All the best.

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