Researchers announced Friday that some of America's first veterans have been found after archeologists unearthed the skeletal remains and accompanying artifacts of 14 Revolutionary War soldiers.
The South Carolina Battleground Preservation Trust announced the excavation and discovery of the remains of 14 soldiers who were killed in the gruesome Battle of Camden on Aug. 16, 1780.
A team of archeologists from the South Carolina Institute of Archeology and Anthropology and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, along with biological anthropologists from the Richland County Coroner’s office and the University of South Carolina unearthed the skeletal remains and accompanying artifacts of the soldiers.
"These young men demonstrated their allegiance in an intense battle for liberty. They are truly America’s first veterans," said Doug Bostick, CEO of South Carolina Battleground Preservation Trust. "We have a responsibility to honor their sacrifice by ensuring their remains are protected in perpetuity and their stories of bravery are shared."
An archeologist holds a French musket flint found from one of the Continental burials. (Sarah Nell Blackwell)
Fired and flattened musket ball found at the burial site in Camden, South Carolina. (Sarah Nell Blackwell)
According to the Trust, the remains, some less than six inches below the surface in seven separate locations across the battlefield, were located during site research, carefully excavated and removed over an eight-week period beginning in September.
"This discovery is particularly significant to the history of our state and nation," Dr. Steven D. Smith, a research professor at South Carolina Institute of Archeology and Anthropology and principal investigator for the project said. "This is a rare opportunity to examine and analyze a large sample of Revolutionary War soldiers to get information about their health and diet, age, gender, and compare the forensic data to the historical record."
Archeologists cleaning Continental burials at the Battle of Camden site. (Sarah Nell Blackwell)
The team's preliminary field examinations shows that 12 of the bodies are Patriot Continental soldiers from either Maryland or Delaware, one is likely a North Carolina Loyalist, and one served with the British 71st Regiment of Foot, Fraser’s Highlanders.
SCIAA archeologist James Legg has conducted research on the Camden Battlefield for more than 40 years and led the onsite field team.
"People visit battlefields like Camden, Cowpens and Kings Mountain every day and don’t often consider that they are walking in unmarked cemeteries." Legg said. "The dead are still there."
Melted musket ball uncovered from the excavation site. (Sarah Nell Blackwell)
The Richland County Coroner's Office assisted in the final steps of removal and transportation of the remains to the offices in Columbia, South Carolina.
In the ensuing months, the coroners officer will gather information about the war veterans.
"Over the next five months, we will gather information to uncover details such as age, race and potentially the region of their birth, further telling the personal stories of these soldiers." Bill Stevens, Richland County Coroner’s Office deputy coroner and director of anthropology said.
The Battle of Camden, which is also known as the Battle of Camden Court House, was a major victory for the British in the American Revolutionary War.
British forces under Lt. Gen. Charles and Lord Cornwallis routed the U.S. forces led by Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates outside of Camden, South Carolina, strengthening the British hold on the Carolinas following the capture of Charleston.
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