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Bivouac Areas

Bivouac areas are where soldiers spent most of their time. The greatest archaeological deposits are found in these camps. Refuse was policed up and deposited into trashpits or piled as middens, personal items were lost or discarded in privies, and military equipment was abandoned and destroyed during the haste of a withdrawal. It is little known that during the Civil War more men died in camps due to disease than were killed in battle. As scientists, the greatest opportunity for us learning about soldier’s everyday lives is to excavate and study bivouac areas.

We excavated a War of 1812 barracks area at Point Peter in St. Marys (GA). Little was found in the way of sanitary conditions at Point Peter. Instead, oyster shells and other trash was simply piled next to the barrack buildings. A nearby well had been abandoned and backfilled with a great deal of faunal materials and military items. Our faunal analysis showed the soldiers actively exploited the local environment for fish and wild game to supplement their diet, instead of relying simply on issued beef rations. Ethnobotanical study of plant and seed remains showed the soldiers also harvested wild plants and fruits to use as both food and medicines.

At Camp Baird, an 1863 Civil War camp of the 32nd U.S. Colored Volunteers on Hilton Head (SC), we found evidence of strict discipline. Company streets, enlisted men’s tents, officers quarters, and mess areas were all laid out precisely according to regulations. Little refuse was allowed to be scattered about; instead we excavated a series of large trashpits with numerous bottles, faunal (animal) bone, and personal items.

Twentieth century military sites are increasingly being recognized for their archaeological significance. We identified and recorded the main cantonment of Camp Wheeler, in Macon (GA). Camp Wheeler was a substantial training area first used during World War I as the training area of the 31st (Dixie) Infantry Division. Over 28,000 men were stationed there during 1917-18. During World War II, Camp Wheeler was reactivated and used to induct and train recruits. Over 207,000 individuals went through basic training at Camp Wheeler during 1942-45.