Monday, April 25, 2011

Excavations in Florida Reveal River Defense Information

Excavations reveal new details about Confederate battery at Torreya State Park

Overlay of 1936 Civilian Conservation Corps map of earthworks on modern topographic map.

A season of archaeological field work has added significantly to our knowledge of the heavy artillery batteries that Confederate forces constructed to defend Florida's Apalachicola River and its vital tributaries, the Chattahoochee and Flint.

A significant transportation corridor that provided navigable access into the heartland of Florida, Georgia and Alabama, the river system was one of the most active in the South when the War Between the States erupted in 1861. After Confederate troops evacuated the City of Apalachicola in 1862, a series of defensive positions were built along the banks of the rivers to keep out the Union Navy. Operating in conjunction with the warship C.S.S. Chattahoochee, these batteries mounted large cannon and were the final line of defense for a vast plantation belt, vital Confederate shipyards and military industries at Saffold and Columbus, Georgia, and the important communities of Chattahoochee, Bainbridge, Fort Gaines, Eufaula and Columbus.

Of the Confederate positions along the rivers, the best preserved is the gun battery at Torreya State Park just north of Bristol, Florida. A hiking trail there leads past the earthworks that once protected an array of heavy cannon. Individual gun emplacements are visible, as are connecting trenches and magazine remains.

I've recently had the pleasure of corresponding with Brian Mabelitini, who is directing archaeological work at the Torreya fortifications. The field work was completed last summer and he is now engaged in analyzing data and assembling references on the battery. He was kind enough to provide the following summary of his work:

During the summer of 2010, archaeological excavations were conducted at the Hammock Landing Battery on Neal’s Bluff in present-day Torreya State Park by the University of West Florida and the Florida Public Archaeology Network. These investigations were focused toward understanding the construction methods of the battery and its appearance during active operation, as well as the creation of an accurate topographic map of the earthworks. The site areas examined included Gun Emplacement 2and its associated powder magazine. These excavations revealed the plank floor of the gun platform and the walls of the magazine to be in a remarkable state of preservation. Preliminary analysis of wood samples collected from the platform and magazine suggest the now rare Torreya tree may have been utilized in the construction of the battery. Although a few arms related artifacts were recovered, including 24-pounder grape shot, Maynard rifle bullets, and frictions primes, the presence of British-style pull tab primers shed light on the types of materials available to the Confederacy under the Federal blockade. A final report of the archaeological investigations is currently being prepared.

You can learn more about Torreya State Park and its various points of interest, including the gun battery, by visiting: