Archaeology Students Study Revolutionary War Camp Site
By ROBERT MILLER, News-Times
REDDING, Conn. (AP) _ Working carefully in a small excavation on the forest floor, Steph Pietras and Danielle Winstanley extracted a hand-made nail from the soil.
This is not the thrill it might have been a few weeks ago.
“We’ve found lots of nails,” Pietras said. “It would be nice if we could find a buckle or a musket ball.”
Nevertheless, members of the Western Connecticut summer archaeology class carefully recorded the exact location where the women found the nail in the wooded landscape. It’s one more bit of information adding to a storehouse of knowledge about the Revolutionary War winter camp of Gen. Israel Putnam.
Pietras and Winstanley are part of the class organized by Western Connecticut State University anthropology professor Laurie Weinstein. The class is mapping what they believe is one of the sites where part of
Putnam’s large army camped in the terribly hard winter of 1778-79.
So far, Weinstein said, almost everything the team has found at the site– nails, musket balls, belt buckles, a piece of cutlery — is of Revolutionary War vintage.
Only some horseshoes– thrown by horses while they worked the land in the 19th century– are newer artifacts.
There may be many more to find.
“There may have been 1,000 men here,” Weinstein said. “Putnam had an army of 3,000 men.”
That’s not counting the camp followers– the wives of soldiers, the women who attended to washing and other soldierly needs.
“It would be nice if we could find something of theirs,” Weinstein said.
The Continental Army decided to use the Redding area to quarter winter troops under Putnam to protect the Hudson Valley to its west, to be on hand to stymie any British invasion from Long Island Sound and to shield Danbury, a major supply depot for the revolutionary cause.
Living conditions in the camps were akin to what Washington’s troops suffered at Valley Forge a year earlier. There, men lived in small huts. There were shortages of warm clothing and food amid the bitter cold temperatures and deep snow.
“We arrived at Redding about Christmas or a little before and prepared to build our huts for our winter quarters,” wrote one soldier. “And now came on the time again between grass and hay, that is, the winter campaign of starving.”
Historian Dan Cruson of Newtown, who has helped supervise the archaeological work at Putnam Memorial State Park, said Putnam’s troops were spread in three camps of about 1,000 soldiers each. One camp site, in West Redding, was destroyed during construction of a rail line and a housing development there.
“To the best of our knowledge, there’s nothing left of it,” Cruson said.
The site Weinstein is working on is on steep slopes and has suffered from erosion over the years, Cruson said. But what is there is adding to what’s already been learned at Putnam Park.
“It’s a nice supplement,” Cruson said.
What the students working under Weinstein haven’t found are chimney piles — a feature of the hut remains at Putnam Park. They believe the farmers who turned the Redding landscape into farmland at the beginning of the 19th century used those stones to help build walls.
Weinstein and her students have been working at this site since 2007. She is the overall leader of the project, while Bethany Morrison of Western is the field leader, supervising the students’ work as the dig proceeds.
On Wednesday, she was teaching them to create a 3-foot-square plot with a level floor. The work goes slowly — even small roots have to be clipped gently from the soil. Pulling on them, Morrison said, could disturb what’s underneath.
“It’s assumed that if there was a hut here, it would have a level floor,” Morrison said. “So all the artifacts we find should be at the same level.”
Another Western professor, Cosimo Sgarlata, is supervising the mapping of the site. Using geographic information systems technology _ GIS _ to locate each find, Sgarlata said, he can then superimpose the data over a topographical map of the site.
“It allows us to find patterns,” he said.
Weinstein said her study of the site may last another year or two. Organizing the archaeology summer field school takes a lot of time, she said –time she needs to dedicate to writing.
She hopes by year’s end the site will be declared a state archaeological preserve, to protect it against artifact hunters– thieves armed with metal detectors.
And, she said, if the Western class ceases its work on the site, others will take up where it left off.
“This place won’t be abandoned,” she said.
Information from: The News-Times, http://www.newstimes.com
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