Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Civil War Site Threatened Volume 51 Number 1, January/February 1998
by Geoff Williams

The site of the Battle of Buffington Island is threatened by a planned sand and gravel mine along the banks of the Ohio River. A preliminary archaeological survey, conducted by Orloff Miller of Gray & Pape in Cincinnati, found no surface evidence of the July 1863 battle, in which Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and 2,000 men, planning to cross the low waters surrounding Buffington Island to reach West Virginia, were met by Union gunboats and encircled by 10,000 troops led by Brigadier General Edward H. Hobson and General James Shackelford. Morgan and 600 Confederates were eventually captured, and oral accounts suggest that as many as 900 Confederates were buried at the site. Three future presidents, William McKinley, Rutherford B. Hayes, and James Garfield, fought there. Only four acres of the battlefield are currently protected as a state memorial.

Miller's team did find a wealth of Native American artifacts. "We've got evidence for almost every single period of prehistory that's known for the region," he says, including tips from arrows and spears dating from the early Archaic (7000 B.C.) to the late Archaic period (500 B.C.) and a Hopewell stone blade. Hopewell people dominated the region from 200 B.C. to A.D. 500.

The Ohio Historical Society, the Shelley Company (which wants to develop the land), and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources are reviewing the investigations. Miller believes Gray & Pape will probably be authorized to continue its study before any construction is allowed. Franco Ruffini of the Ohio Historical Society says that the possibility of the state's arranging a land swap for territory further down the river has been discussed.

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© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America