Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: Material Culture and Warfare: The Civil War from a Multi-disciplinary Perspective
Abstract: The study of material culture is tailor-made for understanding warfare in a more complex and multi-disciplinary way than traditional military history has to offer, but it has only rarely been done thus far by academic scholars.
Historian Sarah Jones Weicksel's presentation focuses on how to apply material culture methodology to military occupation of conquered Southern territory. In studying how Union soldiers dealt with the built environment, and how dispossessed Southern owners felt about their condition, she deals with the intersection of traditional military history and the social history of civilian life during the conflict.
In addition to bringing into play the material culture angle, this panel brings into play the work of historical archaeologists who have worked on Civil War sites. Their discipline is heavily invested in the study of material culture. To date there is little interface between the Civil War archaeologist and the historian of the Civil War but the two have much to learn from each other. Among other things, one of the links between them is the developing trend to apply material culture concepts to their efforts to understand the Civil War more fully.
W. Stephen McBride focuses on the archaeology and material culture of Camp Nelson, Kentucky. Camp Nelson was a fortification, a rendezvous and training camp for white and black soldiers, and a refugee camp for former slaves. The material remains of this complicated occupation and use of the site offers many ways to understand how objects can illuminate our understanding of food ways, social rank in the army, and social classes among civilians.
Steven D. Smith presents his findings stemming from decades of archaeological investigation of Civil War sites in that state. He discusses artifacts dug from battlefields, naval finds from underwater investigation, and the recovery of human remains.
Earl Hess, Lincoln Memorial University
Sarah Weicksel, University of Chicago
Participant's Paper Title: The Material Culture of Occupation in the American Civil War
Participant's Paper Abstract: When the 25th Massachusetts occupied Newbern, North Carolina, Union soldier David Day found himself "nicely settled in the fine mansions of the lordly fugitives, who but yesterday ruled these spacious homes and paced the pictured halls." He wondered, "what strange infatuation, bordering on insanity, must have possessed these people, to bring this terrible calamity of war upon themselves." Day suggested that by choosing to leave, the former inhabitants had nullified their ownership of this house and its furnishings.
The effects of occupationare of great interest to scholars who have explored the role of occupation in the context of civilian morale, gender relations, military discipline, looting and the problem of property ownership. Indeed, the war itself entailed a redefinition of the relationship between people and property through debates over confiscation and the destruction of the institution of American slavery.
Objects and houses were central to the process and experience of military occupation, as well as soldiers' and civilians' perceptions of property. As objects change hands, the meanings and associations they store also change. The manner in which the exchange happens?by theft, purchase, or gift?has important implications. At the same time as soldiers like Day enjoyed the luxury of occupying a house, the former inhabitants wondered about the use of their homes. The absence of their belongings affected the experience and aesthetics of everyday life for civilians. But what did those objects mean to the soldiers who lived with, confiscated, or stole them? How did living with and using the enemy's belongings mediate their own relationship to property in the material world?
I analyze material objects and the built environment, particularly houses and furnishings, alongside a range of photographic and textual sources. In doing so, I offer new insight into the military occupation of southern homes during the Civil War.
W. Stephen McBride, Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park
Participant's Paper Title: Soldiers, Sutlers, and Refugees: Archaeology of Camp Nelson, KY (1863-1865)
Participant's Paper Abstract: Camp Nelson was a U.S. Army supply depot, training camp and hospital facility established in June 1863. At its peak in covered over 4000 acres, had over 300 buildings, including warehouses for quartermaster, commissary, and ordnance stores, 4-8000 soldiers, 1-2000 civilian employees, and corrals and stables for 14,000 horses and mules. It became Kentucky's largest training center for U.S. Colored Troops and a large refugee camp for the wives and children of these African American soldiers. It also supplied a number of major campaigns including Knoxville, Atlanta, and Saltville and Marion, Virginia. The post was finally closed in June 1866.

In this presentation, I will combine archaeology and archival material to examine life in this demographically and functionally complex army post. Questions related to material culture acquisition, social status, foodways, housing, daily activities/work, and defense will be examined on a number of functionally diverse sites including a USCT encampment, African American refugee encampments, the camp's commercial district which included stores, photographic galleries, eating houses, and a tavern, the Camp Nelson Prison, and one of the camp's forts. By combining archaeological and historical records I believe we can attain a richer view of Civil War life.

I will also discuss Camp Nelson as a modern day historical park, known as Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park, and how archaeology and history have been combined to communicate the Camp Nelson story to the public. The park, which covers 600 acres and is operated by Jessamine County, has a museum/interpretive center with exhibits (many using archaeology) and a film, miles of interpretive trails, and various special events, including scheduled excavations with volunteers and students. University archaeological field schools have also been taught at the park as a means of both teaching archaeological methods and how archaeology can help tell the Camp Nelson story.
Steven Smith, South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology
Participant's Paper Title: South Carolina's Civil War: An Archaeological and Material Culture Perspective
Participant's Paper Abstract: The Civil War began in South Carolina with the fall of Fort Sumter in 1861 and effectively ended when Union General William T. Sherman marched through the state in 1865. During the intervening four bloody years the Union attempted to recapture Charleston, the symbolic birthplace of the rebellion. In hindsight that effort can be characterized as a languorous siege of Charleston with timid punctuated probes inland along the coast. Meanwhile South Carolina's manpower was being bled dry in battles to the north as the shrinking ranks of local forces attempted to guess the Union's next major move. When that move finally came in the form of Sherman's onslaught across the state, the war already had been lost in Virginia.
Today, South Carolina archaeologists are revealing the material evidence of four years of mostly coastal warfare, represented by artifacts, remnant camps, batteries, forts, landscapes, shipwrecks, and battlefields. This work of survey and archaeological excavations has changed our current understanding of Civil War military history in South Carolina. Outstanding examples include: 1) the analysis of human remains and recovered artifacts at Folly Island, South Carolina, that led to a greater appreciation of the role of northern African Americans and southern slaves in the Union army, 2) the discovery and recovery of the Confederate submarine Hunley, which has completely changed our understanding of the development of submarine warfare, 3) the survey and mapping of earthen defenses revealing the Confederate's innovative use of the railroad to defend the South Carolina coastline. Other archaeological sites also will he highlighted included a prison camp for Union officers, and battlefields like River's Bridge and Congaree Creek.
Judith Giesberg, Villanova University

College of Arts and Sciences

Gottschalk Hall
University of Louisville
Louisville, Kentucky 40292

Office Hours

M-F 8:00am to 5:00 pm


tel (502) 852-6817

fax (502) 852-0770

Social Media