Mass Grave Discoverd At Bentonville Battleground

By Alex Keown, Daily Times Staff Writer
Written February 9, 2007
BENTONVILLE - Archaeologists from Wake Forest University and the
state of North Carolina believe they have discovered a mass grave of
Confederate soldiers at Bentonville Battleground in Johnston County.
The search for the grave began in order to attempt to answer some
historical questions of what happened to Confederate soldiers being
tended at a field hospital at the site of the battle.
Donny Taylor, Bentonville site manager, said there have always been
stories of mass Confederate graves associated with the battle in
Johnston County.
Taylor said there was also anecdotal evidence of the dead Confederate
soldiers from a turn-of-the century speech given to a United
Daughters of the Confederacy chapter in Kinston around 1900.
In the speech, a daughter of the family whose home was used as the
field hospital mentioned the men who had been left there. The men
perished at the hospital, and the family was left to dispose of the
bodies following the battle in March of 1865.
Nearly 150 years later, a search to answer what happened to those men
was undertaken. The team of archaeologists spent two days in October
searching for the grave. The first day was a cold rainy day and
yielded no solid results. However, the crew returned two weeks later
after a 19th century photographs surfaced showing 23 individual grave
markers outside the family grave site of the Harper family, who lived
at the site of the battle. Once the photo was discovered, new
coordinates were plotted and investigated. During the second search,
the archaeologists inspected a grove of trees that lies between the
road and the family plot - a grove of trees that wasn't present when
the battle was fought.
Ken Robinson, director of public archaeology at Wake Forest
University, thought using a ground radar system would be the perfect
way to find any unmarked graves without disturbing the ground. The
system is pulled along the ground and radar shows images of what may
be located beneath the surface.
"This is a type of archaeology that's not invasive and allows us to
see what's under the ground without disturbing anything. It's great
to use when you don't know exactly where what you're trying to locate
is and don't want to spend time digging lots of test trenches,"
Robinson said.
Backed by John Mintz of the North Carolina Department of Archives and
History and Tom Beaman, a Wilson County historical archaeologist and
other volunteers, the group plotted out a grid roughly 80 by 80
meters around the family burial site and began searching.
Robinson said nothing conclusive was found during the first day of
searching, but after the photo with the grave markers turned up, the
team decided to expand the area they were searching to include the
grove of trees. Once the ground radar passed through the grove,
Robinson said he began noticing several anomalies in the soil about
six to eight feet below ground.
Why a mass grave was chosen over individual graves isn't known.
Taylor said he believes the individual markers shown in the
photograph were for symbolic purposes.
"The data we collected shows a strong disturbance of the soil, which
is why we suspect they're the grave. Although we'll never know for
certain until we go back and test," Robinson said.
Robinson is recommending a planned excavation of the site.
Taylor said the state will be making decisions about what to do with
the information of the suspected grave after Robinson's report is
"We'll most likely put up some kind of sign to help with the
interpretation of the site, but we don't know what we'll do about the
graves," Taylor said. | (252) 265-7847

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