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The Battle of Buffington Island: An Archaeological Perspective PDF Print E-mail
Written by G. Michael Pratt   
Friday, 17 November 2000

THE BATTLE OF BUFFINGTON ISLAND: AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE*

G. Michael Pratt

Heidelberg University
Ohio Archaeological Council © 2001

In the May and June of 1999, the Center for Historic and Military Archaeology, Heidelberg College, conducted a metal detection survey on over 797,000 square meters (79 ha.) of private property within the limits of the 1863 Battle of Buffington Island, Ohio's only Civil War battlefield. (Figure 1) The project was carried out under a grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program (GA 2255-99-013) with the assistance of the Meigs County Pioneer and Historical Society.

Figure 1. Survey areas within the Buffington Island Battlefield, Portland Bottom
Figure 1. Survey areas within the Buffington Island Battlefield, Portland Bottom
 


Buffington Island, the largest engagement of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan's July 1863 raid through Indiana and Ohio, marked the turning point in this well-known Civil War episode. After successfully evading Federal attempts to catch or block his expedition, Morgan turned south hoping to cross the Ohio River and return to friendly territory. A combination of factors delayed his crossing and in the early morning of July 19, 1863, two columns of Federal cavalry and U. S. Navy gunboats simultaneously attacked Morgan's two brigades. Although Morgan and a majority of his men escaped from the battlefield, the loss of many officers and men, the expedition's baggage and its artillery left the Confederates fugitives. Within a week, Morgan and his remaining command were prisoners-of-war.

The archaeological survey was conducted utilizing metal detection survey methods designed to assess the entire Portland Bottom area of the Ohio valley for the presence of battlefield remains and to intensively sample areas of artifact concentration in an attempt to define areas of intensive fighting. Field survey was carried out during the period May 29 - June 13. The project involved initial "sweeps" of transects in each survey area followed by an intensive survey in areas where high artifact densities were encountered. Intensive survey involved 100% coverage of 15m2 sample squares by two different types of detector. The survey recovered and accurately mapped over four hundred artifacts positively or possibly associated with the battlefield.

Laboratory analysis was conducted through Heidelberg College's Center for Historic and Military Archaeology. Analyses of the type and distribution of some 238 dropped and spent small arms and artillery projectiles were carried out and distribution patterns of artifact types were generated. Analysis of these data resulted in a more precise location of several key elements of the Battle of Buffington Island than had been previously determined by the historic record. Key elements include the initial contact between the Federal and Confederate forces, Federal General Judah's attack on Colonel Basil Duke's Confederate brigade, the flanking attack by the advance of General Hobson's Federal column, the loss of the Confederate artillery and baggage train, and the collapse and surrender of the rear elements of Duke's brigade.

The results of the ABPP-CHMA survey demonstrate that Hobson's flanking attack on the Confederate forces occurred within the perimeter of proposed gravel mining operations, and determined that mining will result in the loss of significant areas of the Buffington Island Battlefield. (Figure 2)

Figure 2. Proposed gravel mining areas, Portland Bottom
Figure 2. Proposed gravel mining areas, Portland Bottom
 


References Cited

Pratt, G. Michael
  2000   The Battle of Buffington Island: The End of Morgan's Trail. A Report on the Archaeological Survey American Battlefield Protection Program Grant No. GA-2255-99-013. Submitted to the American Battlefield Protection Program, National Park Service, Washington, D.C.

*This material is based upon work assisted by a grant from the Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Interior.

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