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Saint Augustine, Northeast Florida
Going public with archaeology for outreach, assistance to local governments, and service to the citizens and state of Florida. Visit our website at: http://flpublicarchaeology.org/nerc/
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Archive for March 2012

FAM Focus: Monuments & Memory

"Although the flag they died to save floats not o'er any land or sea throughout eternal years shall wave the banner of their chivalry."--monument at Putnam County Courthouse grounds.  Photo courtesy of William Lees, Florida Public Archaeology Network.  

Our previous FAM Focus posts have put a spotlight on the story of the Civil War in northeast Florida.  As the month draws to a close, it's appropriate to remember that, whether on the winning or losing side, Florida's citizens were deeply affected by the struggle.  When the war came to a close, its survivors had to cobble together their lives in an environment forever altered by political, social, and legal changes.  People had to piece together communities and bonds that had been rent by opposing convictions.

As with any difficult situation, letting go and moving forward can best be achieved by owning and honoring what has passed.  This week's post will share some of the monuments constructed to honor and remember the people who participated in this most dramatic struggle in U.S. history.

DeLand: Oakdale Cemetery

Photo courtesy of Gregg Harding, Florida Public Archaeology Network

Some monuments are simple and understated.  This memorial at Oakdale Cemetery was placed in 1958.  It honors the fallen buried there, listing each by name. 

Jacksonville: Evergreen Cemetery

Photo courtesy of William Lees, Florida Public Archaeology Network

Others are somewhat grander.  This monument, erected in 1891, is one of five in the city of Jacksonville--and is a rare nod to Union soldiers who fought in Florida. Sadly, it is also an example of the need to care for monuments to those who have gone before--time and environmental forces have been unkind to the statue, causing it to tilt back.  Learn more about Evergreen Cemetery here.

Palatka: County Courthouse

Photo courtesy of William Lees, Florida Public Archaeology Network

Some monuments occupy prominent public spaces--perhaps an appropriate nod to the way that the war proposed to change government in the south, as well as memorial to the work that political leaders had to undertake to bring their citizens back together.  This monument was placed in 1924.

St. Augustine: William Wing Loring Memorial

Photo courtesy of William Lees, Florida Public Archaeology Network

A few monuments honor a specific war hero.  This St. Augustine example, placed in 1920, honors William Wing Loring, a St. Augustine native who became a Confederate General.  It also notes that Loring went on to serve the U.S. military in Egypt.

These are a few of many efforts made to honor and remember those who fought, died, and were otherwise affected by the war.  Visiting cemeteries in cemeteries and other public spaces throughout Florida, we have opportunities to recognize for ourselves how deeply our predecessors felt the impacts of that deeply personal conflict--and consider how that legacy has been passed to us.

For more information on Civil War monuments, visit FPAN's Destination Civil War page. 

FAM Focus: Camp Milton

One of my favorite Civil War sites to visit is Camp Milton in Jacksonville.  Today it's a peaceful JaxParks site, but Camp Milton once saw occupation by 8,000 Confederate troops.

Camp Milton Historic Preserve.  This site sometimes features re-enactor events, as seen here.

This area of Florida proved critical ground to both Union and Confederate forces.  By 1862, the Union occupied many of Florida's port cities, including Jacksonville and St. Augustine; they conducted frequent raids on those they didn't hold.  This meant that they controlled much of the oceanic shipping routes into and out of the state.

This map shows Union activity in Florida. Blue dots, including those with white crosses, indicate occupation during the Civil War.  Photo courtesy Florida Department of State.

In spite of that early control of the state's perimeter, the Confederacy still claimed central Florida as a stronghold.  This allowed them to carry out one of Florida's essential roles to the Confederate effort: shipping supplies to troops fighting farther north.  During the course of the war, Florida used interior railways to supply Confederate troops with 75,000 to 115,000 head of cattle.  They also sent other crucial supplies, such as salt--important for curing meat and tanning hides.

Camp Milton (green tent symbol) provided protection for a railway at Baldwin, to the west (blue train symbol).  Image courtesy of Google Maps.

What became Camp Milton, a Confederate outpost featuring earthen berm fortifications, was originally the site of Camp Cooper--a rebel encampment with little to no alteration to the landscape. In early 1864, Union troops advanced toward what would become a landmark battle in Florida: the Battle of Olustee.  On the way, they took over Camp Cooper, occupying the site for a few days and taking over some of its armaments.  After a devastating defeat on February 20 at Olustee, Federal troops again used Camp Cooper as a resting point during their retreat back to Jacksonville.

This map of Camp Milton, taken from a plaque at the park, shows the extent of earthworks built in early 1864.  Image courtesy of JaxParks.

  The Confederates pursued Union troops as far as Camp Cooper.  Almost immediately, they received orders to fortify what would soon be renamed Camp Milton.  The camp was already partially protected by low, swampy ground and McGirt's Creek.  Both Confederate soldiers and more than 700 slaves labored for about a month to construct a long earthen berm around the rest of the site.  The earthwork was bolstered underneath by wooden posts in the ground and was lined on the outside (where enemies would approach) with a ditch. It originally stretched for three miles!

Side view of a reconstructed section of Camp Milton's original earthworks includes a ditch (left), wooden posts, and mounded earth.

 With a strong outpost between Jacksonville and the railroad, Camp Milton quickly amassed about 8,000 soldiers, effectively becoming a headquarters for Confederates in northeast Florida.  By this point, northeast Florida was rife with tension and bursting at the seams--only a few miles away in Jacksonville, more than 12,000 Union troops awaited orders.  Camp Milton thus met another strategic goal--to draw Federal forces out of Jacksonville, weakening its stronghold there.

Before the situation reached a breaking point, however, both sides were called to duty farther north, in battle fronts outside of Florida.  After receiving orders to travel to Virginia, Confederate General Beauregard, who had led Camp Milton's men, left orders for one last great push to defend the area: he ordered torpedoes to be placed in the St. Johns River.  This turn of events, of course, led to the sinking of the Maple Leaf--a Union steamship returning to Jacksonville from Palatka. 

Troops on both sides thinned drastically, and in the coming months Camp Milton would change hands several times due to skirmishes and changing strategies. Once a critical front in Florida's Civil War story, Camp Milton, as with the whole state, became an afterthought to both sides.

Onlookers watch a re-enactor cannon firing demonstration.  Tents erected by re-enactors give voice to an archaeological problem: with no permanent personal or shared spaces, we have a hard time piecing together the stories of troops at the site.

Archaeology at Camp Milton has proven challenging for a few reasons.  First, aside from the extensive berm, very little built environment existed there.  Troops mainly found shelter in tents, impermanently erected structures that leave no trace of personal space and activity.  Second, much of the original camp site had been turned into farmland; years of plowing disturbed much of what could have provided context.  Finally, the site for years has been a favorite spot for artifact collectors--so those things that were left behind have, in large part, been removed from the site.  As those objects can never be replaced where they were originally left, even more context slips away from us.

This profile map of defenses at Camp Milton derives from the early archaeology project done there.  Image courtesy of JaxParks.

Despite that sad news, two different archaeology projects have been conducted at the site.  The first, done in 1973, was carried out by an amateur archaeologist who strove to record part of the earthwork before a construction project destroyed it.  He excavated a five-foot section of the berm and mapped it, along with excavating a similar-looking feature along McGirt's Creek.  Excavations aided understanding of the structure and confirmed that its creekside counterpart, made solely of layers of sand and soil, was a not man-made.

The second project, conducted by professional archaeologists in 2003, actually enlisted the aid of metal detector enthusiasts in an effort to support a common cause of better understanding the past at Camp Milton.  Excavations included several trenches placed where the parking lot was to be paved.  Though very few artifacts were recovered from the site, the trenches proved exciting--they revealed nine features that were likely Camp Milton-era campfires.  In fact, if you visit today, these features have been interpreted in the landscape.  You don't have to imagine where soldiers sat around a campfire at night, you can actually see the places they would have gathered!

This cone marks the site of a Civil War-era campfire, discovered through archaeology in 2003.

Camp Milton is a beautiful place to visit, complete with walking and biking trails and plenty of interpretation.  You can still see about 725 feet of the original earthworks, in addition to a Cracker house and Camp Milton's education center.

For more on Camp Milton, visit the park's website.  For a lot more, plus sunshine and fresh air, join FPAN staff on Saturday, March 24 for a free, family-friendly bike tour!  If you'd like a glimpse of that before you join us, you can check out our recap of last year's tour here.

"What Is It???" Wednesday: Curious Case of a Confederate Veteran

Yes, you are reading that right.  According to Jay Hoar's The South's Last Boys in Gray (1986), Mr. James Monroe of Jacksonville was the longest living Civil War veteran.  If you're a researcher, it's worth digging a little deeper as there are interesting references in print about Mr. Monroe.  Post what you find in the comments section!  And what about the headstone?  Any guesses on when that marker was placed in the ground?  If you can help me find a reasonable answer to this mystery and can correctly guess the final resting place of Mr. Monroe, it's worth one of our last T'Omb It May Concern T-shirts!



Me in my former life, State Mound, KY.
Last week's WIIW answer:  Correct, its a housewife!  A housewife to a soldier was a sewing kit that they carried with them to repair damage to a uniform.  The housewife we recovered at State Mound in Frankfort, KY, was found along with the remains of a Mexican War veteran, who survived that war but was ultimately assassinated (stabbed).  The housewife was found wrapped in wool, presumed to be the back of the uniform.  I had a high school student volunteering with me that summer, and as part of his project we began minor conservation of the bundle to see if it was more than just an iron concretion.  And it was!  Pins, buttons, and a buckle--perhaps tied together with string long decomposed--was observed after clearing away some of the rust.  

Here's the section of the technical report:

Housewife Sewing Kit

            During the cleaning of the textiles from Green’s burial another interesting artifact was recovered: a bundle of straight pins, two buttons, and a buckle.  There are two interpretations for the use of this compound artifact.  One interpretation is that this artifact represents a sewing kit, affectionately termed a housewife, that was common during the Civil War.  Most housewives found in museum collections or used by re-enactors, however, are larger and generally wrapped in fabric which would have separated the items from each other.  Alternatively, this could be a bundle used to pull the uniform taut behind the back for presentation of the dead.  However, this second interpretation does not adequately address why so many clothing type artifacts, such as the buckle and two buttons, would be found bundled together in fabric.

As fun as the project was, the best part was the reburial ceremony.  To see the lives of those men as relevant in 2005 as they were more than a hundred years ago; priceless.

Historic veterans reburied in donated caskets.

My former boss Dave Pollack doing public archaeology, graveside.

JAG for Kentucky National Guard among distinguished speakers.
Honor guard, choir, the works!

Text: Sarah Miller, FPAN staff with excerpt from "Archaeological Investigation of the State Mound, Frankfort, Kentucky" by M. Jay Stottman and David Pollack with Contributions by Peter E. Killoran, Sarah E. Miller, Phillip B. Mink, Christina A. Pappas, Eric Schlarb, and Lori Stahlgren.  Kentucky Archaeological Survey (2005).

Photos: Sarah Miller, FPAN staff and Dave McBride, formerly KAS staff

FAM Focus: Fort Clinch State Park

Fort Clinch, located in Fernandina Beach, is a fort without a fight.  Maybe that's part of what makes it such a fascinating Civil War spot--but at any rate, it's a beautiful place to visit, located where the St. Mary's River empties into the Atlantic Ocean. 

Fort Clinch at sunset.  Courtesy Florida State Parks.

In addition to the fort never seeing a battle, it was never actually finished!  Construction on the fort began in 1847, and was hindered by financial issues and lack of resources until the onset of the Civil War.  Prior to the war, enslaved African-Americans were often sent to work at the fort--the pay earned for their labor, of course, was given to their owners.  During the Civil War, both Confederate and Union occupations continued construction, but both faced the priority of the war at hand and endured setbacks related to building.  Given the circumstances, each was far more concerned with fortifying their outpost than finishing it.

Aerial view of the fort.  Courtesy of Florida State Parks.

The fort was originally planned to protect the ports and waterways between Fernandina and St. Marys, Georgia--particularly after a railway was extended from Fernandina to inland Florida.  The waterway would prove important for the same reasons during the war--to move goods into and out of the area.  In April of 1861, about 2000 Confederate troops moved in to occupy Fort Clinch.  Almost immediately, Union forces established a blockade that squeezed off the influx of supplies to the fort, making life there cumbersome.  This was not to last long, however.  Faced with a siege and the taking of Jacksonville by Union troops, the fort was ordered abandoned less than a year later.  In March 1862, the Union soldiers took it over with no resistance, using Fort Clinch as an outpost for the rest of the war. 

An interior look at Fort Clinch.  Courtesy of Florida State Parks.

Archaeology at Fort Clinch has been minimal, occurring in response to minor construction events.  Even at that, the work done revealed part of a foundation for an army barracks, plenty of military-related artifacts, and even evidence of everyday life at the fort in fragments of ginger beer bottles.

A historic photo of the fort.  Courtesy of the Florida Memory Project.

After the Civil War ended, the fort was largely abandoned until seeing use again during the Spanish-American War.  Its history also includes New Deal-era restoration efforts, and it is one of the oldest state parks in Florida.

For more information about Fort Clinch (or to plan a visit) see the  Florida State Parks website.

To see some great historic photos of the fort, visit the Florida Memory Project.

"What Is It???" Wednesday: Personal Artifact

In keeping with the Civil War theme, the artifact above is from the burial of a Civil War veteran.  It was found wrapped in wool fabric assumed to be a coat, first appearing to be an iron concretion.  Minimal cleaning and conservation revealed it to not be one artifact but several made out of different materials.  The artifact is personal to me as an unique find in my former life as a staff archaeologist in Kentucky.  It is also a very personal artifact to the officer, as it would have been carried with him most places he went.  As far as I know, this is the only example of this object to be found archaeologically. 


First to answer correctly gets 5 cannon shaped Civil War bookmarks mailed to the address of their choice (if you already have one, consider your local library or school!).

Note: remains and artifact were reburied with much respect paid to the veteran.  More information on this non-Florida Civil War site to follow next week.

Last WIIW answer:  Debby, you've done it again!  I knew it was a wooden chain from the Maple Leaf, but I didn't know much of the information she provided in her answer:

The pic is a short-timers clock. Looks like it is from the Maple Leaf. Each piece which is carved signifies the days not in battle, if i remember correctly. It is a beautiful piece. Was able to study it and catalogued it myself.

Thanks for playing and for contributing to my information about that unique find!  For more information on the Maple Leaf read Amber's blog from last week or join us Thursday, March 22nd out at Mandarin Museum for our encore event.  Click the link to view Remember the Maple Leaf event listing on our website.

Text: Sarah Miller, staff Florida Public Archaeology Network
Image: Dave McBride, former staff for Kentucky Archaeological Survey

FAM Focus: The Maple Leaf Shipwreck

Courtesy of www.mapleleafshipwreck.com.

On April 1, 1864, the Union steamship Maple Leaf was destroyed by a torpedo in the St. Johns River.  The blast killed four men and the ship sank quickly.  Though its sailing days were over, the Maple Leaf's destruction rendered the ship more significant from historical and archaeological perspectives.  The ill-fated steamship shines a spotlight on the significance of the St. Johns River in the Civil War struggle for Florida.  As a submerged site, the shipwreck provided a wealth of information for archaeologists to interpret, as well as prompting some innovative methods.

The Maple Leaf was actually the first of four Union vessels sunk by torpedo in the St. Johns in 1864.  These shocking attacks illuminate the significance of the St. Johns River itself during the war.  Early on, the Union took control of many of Florida's coastal areas, staging frequent attacks on port cities.  In spite of that strategy, much of Florida's center still belonged to the Confederacy; this allowed for transportation of salt, cattle, and other essential goods out of Florida to soldiers fighting in other parts of the country.  The St. Johns River provided critical access from the Union-controlled coast to inland areas, allowing federal troops to stage attacks on inland railways and armies.

The St. Johns River flows through northeast Florida, a major waterway inland from the coast. Courtesy of Google Maps.

The broad threat of Union access to Confederate strongholds was amplified by orders for General Pierre Beauregard to abandon his post at Camp Milton for more critical fronts in the war.  Among the orders he left behind for defense of the area were to lay torpedoes in the St. Johns.  The timing of Beauregard's orders proved fateful for the Maple Leaf; the torpedo that sank it had been placed only two days before the steamship's attempted return from Palatka.

 The damage could have been worse in terms of human cost, but things couldn't have gone much worse regarding the ship's cargo.  Nearly all of the ship's freight, almost 400 tons of soldiers' personal belongings and military effects, were lost, sinking with the ship.  However, that sad piece of the story is proved quite a boon for archaeologists, whose excavations in the early 90s revealed so much about the daily lives, needs, and activities of soldiers.

Conducting archaeology to retrieve those materials, though, proved an incredible challenge.  The St. Johns River is not known for clear waters--an abundance of tannins make it dark and very low visibility, if any.  When archaeologists from East Carolina University undertook fieldwork (along with a group of amateur archaeologists who had discovered the wreck), their first goal was to map the wreck.  This project took multiple field seasons, and for good reason.  To see anything under water required bringing down a ziploc bag full of clear water, holding it up to one's eyes, and aiming a flashlight through the back to the target area.  I got tired just describing that process!  What an ordeal.

Author's rendering of an underwater look at the Maple Leaf.

Preserving the artifacts was no less a challenge.  The site was chock-full of personal belongings--among them objects made from wood, leather, and paper.  When those organic materials are underwater and under the muck of the river, they're in what's called an anaerobic environment: no oxygen can get to them, slowing down their decay.  Once archaeologists bring them to the surface, they're exposed to sunlight and air, and often begin breaking down rapidly.

This wood-link adornment is one of many organic objects retrieved from the  Maple Leaf.

One of the first concerns any archaeologist has when considering site excavation is how and where to curate artifacts.  We have a responsibility to make sure that in discovering materials from the past we're not also destroying them.  So if we don't have measures in place to make sure they'll remain in the best possible shape, and if we don't have a safe place for them to be cared for, we don't have a dig.  These typical concerns became quite hefty to ECU and their team.  Excavation often was slowed by the need to keep up with conserving the artifacts that had been recovered.

Even objects like this powder flask need lots of love.

In the end, excavation provided insight to the lives of the soldiers whose belongings were lost.  Artifacts like the one shown above give a glimpse at how soldiers passed idle time, and maybe even how they could count the days.  They also started to make predictions about how cargo was loaded--whether by regiment or otherwise, and how the explosion would have affected site formation. 

Want to learn more about the Maple Leaf?  You can visit the Mandarin Museum at Walter Jones Historical Park, which has hands-on interpretation of the site and its excavation. 

Hands-on interpretation at the Mandarin Museum!

The shipwreck is also commemorated at two different locations in Jacksonville.  The first person to send me a photo proving you've visited one of these markers (I wanna see your smiling mug!) win a packet of FPAN swag!  One marker is shown below, and the other one's a bit tougher--it discusses use of torpedoes.

Courtesy of www.waymarking.com

To find more on the Maple Leaf online, see this site report and this account by Union military who were aboard the ship.

Did you know?

The Maple Leaf's first voyage into Florida carried soldiers to Jacksonville--the very same soldiers who took over Yellow Bluff, the site we explored last week!

The pilot of the Maple Leaf, Romeo Murray, was an African-American born on Fort George Island!

To explore more of Florida's Civil War sites download FPAN's new Destination Civil War app!

Better Know SAAA Speaker: Charlie Ewen

My advisor from ECU is down to visit and give Tuesday night's lecture for the St. Augustine Archaeology Association.  I had time to pick his brain about early Florida sites, advice for students, pirates, and follow up on essential things he taught me: ethics and professionalism in archaeology.

1. You are scheduled to talk Tuesday for SAAA at Flagler College about DeSoto and the Spanish in Florida.  Given recent events in the media (National Geographic and Spike TV shows) has this impacted your plan for tomorrow’s talk?

Given all this furor, I'd like to modify the emphasis of my talk a bit.  My presentation at the SHA meetings was "Fitting in Research during your 15 minutes of fame" and  I'd like to give that spin to my DeSoto talk and discuss some of the circus surrounding the project and how we got things done under the glaring spotlight of public scrutiny, while trying to work with the developers at the site.  They'll still get all the facts, but it might show that archaeology can be still done the right way in a popular setting.

Dr. Ewen talks archaeology with 30 teachers at Flagler College.
2.    Charlie, you were my advisor at ECU (and favorite professor).  I remember you saying archaeologists should not be collectors, that we shouldn’t even start on that kind of hobby.  What are the dangers, particularly for archaeologists, in becoming collectors of artifacts?

 I am everybody's favorite professor, it's a heavy responsibility, but my shoulders are broad ;-)  It's a slippery slope when a professional gets into personal collecting.  It removes your objectivity.  The excuse that it is your "personal type collection" to help with your work is a rationalization.  Sooner or later, material that should be curated with material from a site in a public repository, ends up in your personal collection because you have a better appreciation.  And that's the last anyone sees of it.  Next thing you know you've cashed in your credentials for guest shot on reality TV show about metal detecting.

I    3.  I loved the opportunity to take Public Archaeology in grad school.  Are you still teaching it?  If so, how has that coarse changed since I took it back in 2000?

I am teaching it right now.  Same format with updated texts and new stories.  We still go over the legislation affecting archaeology, talk about what cultural resource management and contract archaeology are.  The students then write a proposal for a project I give them and then we do it and write the final report while talking about how to interpret the work to the public.  This semester we are going to look for dead rebels in a Civil War earthwork at the request of the New Bern Battlefield Park.

4.  4.  We get asked a lot by students, high school and college, how to prepare for a career in archaeology.  Any favorite piece of advice you can give?

Read as much as you can about archaeology.  Join the local amateur society; most states have them.  Volunteer at local museums. Take advantage of any opportunities to learn more about archaeology.  I went on my first dig when I was 16 and a junior in high school (1973!)

5.   5. Gearing up for Florida’s 500th and St. Augustine’s 450th commemoration, I’m curious if the DeSoto site is the earliest historical site studied by archaeologists?  Could you also give us a list of some of the other sites and locations you’ve worked?

Oh, probably safer to say that it is certainly one of the earliest and most extensively studied.  I have worked at many sites over the last 30 years.  Everything from a Mississippian mound site in Illinois, to a French fort on the Mississippi River (Fort de Chartres). Two fur trading posts in Wisconsin.  In St Augustine – the Ximenez-Fatio site and the Trinity Episcopal site.  Puerto Real in Haiti.  Many sites during my 6 years in Arkansas.  Tryon Palace, Fort Macon and Historic Bath as well as a mess of smaller projects in NC.

6.  6.   My favorite publication by you is the chapter you and Russ Skowronek wrote for Box Office Archaeology, “A Pirate’s Life for Me!: But What Did That Really Mean?”  What do you think is the hardest myth that archaeologists doing education and outreach need to overcome? 

I am not sure we need to actually overcome these myths about the past.  They are what draw us in and no one learns unless they are listening.  Once we have the public's attention we can tell them, as the late Paul Harvey used to say, "the rest of the story".  And if properly told, the rest of the story is as interesting as what caught the public's attention in the first place.  And THAT is what my colleagues and I need to work on.  How not to kill a an interesting story with "just the facts".

Come meet Charlie and hear his presentation Tuesday night, 7 pm in the Flagler Room at Flagler College for the St. Augustine Archaeology Association.  Event is free and open to the public.  You can also catch him as part of our Advocacy Workshop at City Hall on Wednesday, March 7 wearing the hat of Society for Historical Archaeology, Chair of the Ethics committee.

Three generations: me, my advisor Charlie Ewen, his advisor Kathleen Deagan.

Text: Sarah Miller, FPAN staff with guest Dr. Charles Ewen, Anthropology Professor at East Carolina University who has been doing archaeology in the eastern U.S. And Caribbean (including St. Augustine) for the last 39 years.

Sneak Peek: Military Button Bingo

Courtesy of the Library of Congress
          You are what you eat is an old saying that has some weight to it. For Archaeologists, determining a person’s diet is more of a process where what you are is what you have eaten. Analyzing teeth and bone to determine dietary routine or social class is paramount to understanding past cultures and archaeologists take every opportunity to do so. So if you are what you eat, are you also what you wear? Clothing and fashion vary from culture to culture and often is used as a defining characteristic of a particular culture. For example, how many people identify ancient Greeks and Romans with togas and Americans with baseball caps? Whether we like it or not, the clothing we wear tells everybody a little something about ourselves. 

So what about the buttons on the clothing we wear? Many Americans and others around the world find buttons fascinating, but why? Perhaps it is because buttons can tell us something about the people who wore them or even help us better understand ourselves.

 When it comes to these little round objects, military buttons are probably one of the best examples of continuous change and seriation. Because militaries love uniforms and buttons often adorn them, buttons have been around since the invention of the modern professional soldier. In the case of the U.S. military, buttons have been in service since 1776 and have a long and rich history. So in the spirit of Archaeology Month and its emphasis on the Civil War, I would like to share with everyone a little bit about U.S. military buttons with a primary focus on those in use during and before the Civil War.   
Because the military is made of many different groups with their own specific jobs and tasks, it is appropriate that each group would have their own unique button face. Each of the buttons tell us a little bit about each group in their design and decoration. Some organizations change their names and must have new buttons produced to reflect their new nomenclature, while others stay the same. For the purpose of this article, we will only look at some Infantry, Artillery and Mounted buttons.  
The United States Infantry has a long tradition of being the backbone of military force in America’s conflicts. In the Civil War alone, some 2,000,000 men served as infantry. These men needed buttons and the archaeological record has analyzed and recorded many of the different variants that have existed. The design adopted in 1821 that depicted a spread eagle with a shield inscribed with an “I” was issued to enlisted men until 1854. The 1821 design saw action in the Civil War as officers still used the design until 1902 and veteran infantrymen still were in possession of the older buttons.  
Courtesy of Digging In: the Historic Trails of Nebraska website
From the capture of cannons at Fort Ticonderoga and their usefulness in securing Boston from the British, Artillery has played its part in U.S. military history as well. Field Artillery and Static Artillery were used in the Civil War to supplement both Confederate and Union forces. Again, an 1821 design with a spread eagle with a shield inscribed with an “A” is found on artillery buttons. Like the infantry design of 1821, the artillery design also fell out of favor in 1854 but saw action in the early parts of the Civil War as Officers continued to use the design until 1902. 

Mounted troops first appeared in the U.S. military during the Revolutionary War when Light Dragoon contingents were organized to fight the British. After being disbanded at the conclusion of the war, Dragoon regiments were not seen again until 1833. The Dragoon buttons were similar to both the Infantry and Artillery Spread Eagle designs, but had a “D” inscribed upon the shield. In 1842, one regiment of Dragoons was converted into mounted riflemen and issued their own unique buttons with an “R” inscribed upon the shield. The Dragoon and Mounted Riflemen regiments were used up until 1855 when they were converted into U.S. Cavalry Regiments. The Cavalry regiments would have been issued the Spread Eagle design with a “C” inscribed upon the shield, but the antiquated “D” and “R” buttons were worn by veteran military personnel and in 1854, the use of letters on enlisted men’s uniforms was abolished. Cavalry Officers, however, did use the Spread Eagle design with a C inscribed upon the shield until 1902. 
Courtesy of OpenLibrary.org
Looking at the changes that occurred in just these three branches of service, we can see that changes in buttons and military terminology are part of American Military history. The disbanding of Dragoons and Mounted Riflemen in favor for Cavalry is a complete story in of itself and illustrates changes in military tactics and technology. The replacement of the Spread Eagle design for a general service button for enlisted men in 1854 is another story worth looking into. Yet all of these great illustrations of military history can be told through just the chronology of buttons. Many other artifacts can tell similar stories for their respective cultural materials. Pottery, pipestem, lithic, tombstone and button seriation are just a few examples of how analyzing the archaeological record can lead to an improved understanding of our history. 

        A note about context before I sign off. Although the buttons by themselves can tell a unique story, the context in which they were found can tell us even more. The location on a battlefield can indicate troop movements, pre-battle encampments, the areas that saw the heaviest fighting and much more. Essentially, just collecting buttons without proper documentation can lead to the loss of valuable information. Like any artifact, buttons without context are just neat little trinkets. 

            For more on buttons, Warren Tice's Uniform Buttons of the United States 1776-1865 is a great resource for those who are interested in other branches of the U.S. military and their unique buttons. Also, stay tuned for a button lecture and button bingo activity sometime in the near future


FAM Focus: Yellow Bluff Historic State Park

Dedication Monument at Yellow Bluff State Park.  Photo credit: Florida State Parks.
It's our favorite month of the year again, Florida Archaeology Month! This year's theme is the Civil War.  As part of our celebration, our blog will take a look at some of northeast Florida's Civil War sites to visit.

First on our list of sites to explore is Yellow Bluff Historic State Park, located on New Berlin Road in Jacksonville.

Yellow Bluff is an unobtrusive little site; it was mainly an earthwork, so not much has been built or installed on its grounds.  But though it may not seem all that glamorous, the fortification there played an important role for defending the St. Johns River during the Civil War.  Established by the Confederacy in the summer of 1862, it stood across from a companion fortification across the river on St. Johns Bluff.  The mouth of the St. Johns proved a critical point of control for both armies as a shipping port for cattle and other desperately needed supplies.

Yellow Bluff also bears the distinction of having been operated at the hands of the 8th Regiment of United States Colored Troops.

If you visit the site today, you can still see some of the T-shaped earthen berms established by the Confederacy in 1862.  You will also see cannon, but don't be fooled!  These cannon were not a part of Yellow Bluff's defenses originally.  Deriving from a shipwreck salvaged in the 1930s, these cannon are actually British weapons from about 1700.

NOT a Civil War-era cannon!  Photo credit: Florida State Parks.

Yellow Bluff Historic State Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.  Find more information on the park here and here.

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