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Civil War Archeology

The months of March and April saw key events in the American Civil War, including its beginning and end. Archeology documents events at these places, and the 150th anniversary of the war begins in 2011—so start your planning to visit the battlefield parks now, armed with knowledge about archeological finds! Find out about upcoming events at the American Civil War homepage.

Battle tactics, personal items, and tent cities have all been found archeologically on battlefields preserved and protected as NPS sites. But battlefields were farms, homes, workplaces, and playgrounds before soldiers entered the scene. Real people lived and worked on the landscapes before thousands of Americans made enormous sacrifices in armies. Archeology tells us what documents might not: the exact locations of skirmishes, consumer choices of African Americans, and untold stories of life in battle.

Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated the President of the United States in March 1861. See a video by an archeologist who has worked on Lincoln sites.

The Civil War began on April 12, 1861 after shots were fired at Fort Sumter National Monument in South Carolina. In addition to information about the fort walls, archeologists located a hospital, fort features, and cemetery. Read more about Fort Sumter archeology.

On April 6, 1862, Confederate forces attacked Union forces at Shiloh National Military Park in Tennessee. Casualties were heavy: 13,000 out of 63,000 Union soldiers died, and 11,000 of 40,000 Confederate troops were killed. Archeologists using a variety of remote sensing technologies found mass Confederate graves and earthworks.

Soldiers fought at Pea Ridge National Military Park in Arkansas on March 7-8, 1862. The Union’s victory cemented its control over Missouri. Archeologists’ analyses of artifacts provide details on the roles of particular munitions in the battle.

After an embarrassing defeat at Fort Pulaski National Monument in Georgia in 1861, Union leaders constructed batteries on nearby islands as part of a plan to recapture it. On April 10, 1862, the batteries opened fire on the Confederates holding Fort Pulaski. Archeologists have excavated Fort Halleck, one of the batteries that helped the Union recapture Fort Pulaski. Read more about Fort Pulaski and Battery Halleck.

The Civil War ended on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse National Historical Park in Virginia, when Grant and Lee agreed on the terms of Lee’s surrender. Archeologists have recovered the locations of town buildings and outbuildings, particularly the McClean house (the site of the surrender), the courthouse, and Clover Hill Tavern (where paroles were printed for Confederate soldiers). Preliminary work has also identified possible locations for work buildings such as a blacksmith’s shop.

  • Aerial photo of Fort Sumter. [photo]
  • Archeologists use GPS to record data. [photo]
  • Archeologist holds artifact found at Pea Ridge. [photo]
  • The Mclean House, where Gen. Lee surrendered.

TSM/MJB