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Archaeologists inspect Union's 'Camp Misery'
Future Stafford school site, which once served as a Union camp during the Civil War, is undergoing archaeological excavation

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A volunteer inspects an artifact from the Union winter campsite in southern Stafford, which will be a high school site in the future.
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Date published: 10/9/2010

BY JEFF BRANSCOME

Archaeologists and historians hope to learn more about a Stafford County site dubbed "Camp Misery" during the Civil War.

And time is running out.

The Stafford school system is scheduled to open a high school in 2017 on the land off Leeland Road in southern Stafford.

The state Department of Historic Resources is funding the latest venture, which continues through Sunday. The property is considered threatened.

"This may be our last shot at it," said David Hazzard, an archaeologist with the DHR. The state agency has been conducting annual excavations on the land since 2008.

Some Union soldiers called the area "Camp Misery" because of its harsh living conditions in the winter of 1862. Many shared huts--smaller than many walk-in closets--with four people for weeks or months, according to the state historians.

Yesterday, officials with the DHR, James Madison University and the Archaeological Society of Virginia worked to identify features of those huts. Some slowly removed dirt with trowels, and others searched for artifacts using screens.

"A great deal of attention is paid to the sacrifice of troops on the field of battle, but those same troops are rarely considered with respect to the unpleasant and deadly circumstances they faced in mass winter camps such as the one we are studying," JMU anthropology professor Clarence Geier said in an e-mail.

One volunteer found what he thought was a piece of a Civil War-era button. Artifacts will be taken to JMU's Harrisonburg campus to be identified and interpreted.

"That's one of the great things archaeologists are able to do--show you things you can't necessarily read about," said Alie Wood, a research assistant at JMU.

Today and tomorrow, Stafford students--mostly elementary-schoolers--will help with the work, said Eric Powell, the division's social studies coordinator.

"It's hands-on experience of what they're expected to know, as well as giving them a broader insight into what historians do and how we know what we know about history," he said.

Hazzard said they're adding details to the pages of history.

"You're putting your finger on history here," he said.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402
Email: jbranscome@freelancestar.com