Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Drexler, ed.: "HISTORICAL ARCHAEOLOGY OF ARKANSAS: A Hidden Diversity"

[Historical Archaeology of Arkansas: A Hidden Diversity edited by Carl G. Drexler (University of Tennessee Press, 2016). Hardcover, photos, maps, illustrations, notes, index. 274 pp. ISBN:978-1-62190-182-2. $49.95]

Though the disciplines of historical and conflict archaeology hardly need to justify themselves at this point, the nine essays in Historical Archaeology of Arkansas: A Hidden Diversity provide yet more ample evidence of the fruits gained by the interdisciplinary approach to historical investigation. Volume editor Carl Drexler's introduction surveys historical archaeology in Arkansas from the early excavations of the 1940s to the more sophisticated ones of today, listing the major projects that have been completed.

Leslie Stewart-Abernathy's first chapter explores why we should conduct and support historical archaeology. Its practitioners do it for preservation purposes, artifact understanding, complementing the written historical record, and raising awareness of understudied groups. Mary Brennan's following essay describes the work done at Treat, Arkansas, a small community of extended family that worked the land from the 1840s to well into the twentieth century. She notes that archaeology was vital to discovering and interpreting physical spatial relationships (e.g. between homesteads, buildings, boundaries, farms, etc.), which led to improved understanding of the layout and hierarchy of frontier family networks. The archaeologists at Treat gained cultural insights into survival techniques while also uncovering evidence demonstrating how the local environment was impacted and manipulated.

The first of two Civil War-related chapters* is authored by Duncan McKinnon and is a study of the Confederate cemetery at Fayetteville, which was created by the ladies of the Washington County branch of the Southern Memorial Association. The ambitious goal was to reinter all known Confederate dead located in grave sites all over NW Arkansas. The majority of remains removed to the cemetery were the slain of the Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove battles, and these were collected between April and May 1873. The octagonal-shaped cemetery itself was dedicated on June 14, 1873, with burial plots subdivided by state and arranged into four pyramidal, raised beds creatively oriented along the cardinal axes of direction (Missouri-N, Arkansas-E, Texas-W and Louisiana-S). A geophysical survey using ground penetrating radar was performed in the early 2000s to determine whether the beds were composed of mass graves (with the mostly nameless marble headstones symbolic and/or representative of numbers) or individual burials. It turns out the latter was the case. Further work is needed to correlate individual ground anomalies (presumably associated with graves) with the surface and buried markers located above them.

Five chapters look at the historical archaeology of commercial and domestic buildings. Andrew Buchner explores the findings of a historical and archaeological investigation of a stoneware manufacturing site at Benton, Arkansas. The piece connects the Howe pottery to the leading factory enterprise of NW Arkansas during the late 19th century, with the project's kiln, waster pile, clay pit, and artifact studies providing a great deal of evidence regarding the technology, facility layout, practices, maker's marks, and consumer wants of the industry. Alicia Valentino's essay next examines the blacksmith shop attached to the well known Van Winkle mill complex. Archaeology was key to discovering the layout of the shop, as well as the tools, equipment, and technology used, but the findings also complement historical inquiries into the leading role smithing played in serving the needs of frontier communities. Jamie Brandon and Jerry Hilliard's piece began with the task of determining what might be learned from excavating a site thought to have been Zachary Taylor's log home in Fort Smith, but it ended with a greater appreciation of the Catholic presence in frontier Arkansas, with the building converted into the first convent of the Sisters of Mercy. Eric Proebsting's chapter interprets the antebellum pioneer history of the Lewis homestead, where archaeologists discovered key details about its log home architecture, who built it, and the materials involved. David Markus's chapter is a detailed archaeological assessment of the urban home and detached slave dwelling of the merchant Block family of Washington, Arkansas. While it is apparently common to not find much in the way of artifacts marking religious identity in antebellum Jewish homes, the investigation did find enough material culture to gain some understanding of Jewish life in the Upper South.

The other Civil War chapter, authored by Carl Drexler, begins with an overview of conflict archaeology in Arkansas, listing previous work on fortifications, battlefields, army camps, and home front sites. Differing from extensive aggregrate studies of artifacts numbering in the hundreds and thousands (e.g. the sweeping early 2000s studies of the Pea Ridge and Wilson's Creek battlefields by Doug Scott et al), Drexler's chapter is most concerned with an interesting small find consisting of a case shot fragment and canister balls consistent only with 24-pounder howitzer ammunition, the most interesting part of this being that the only battery from either army armed with those guns (Landis's Missouri State Guard battery of 2 24-lb howitzers and 2 12-lb howitzers) was by scholarly consensus not present during the battle. Drexler dismisses the possibility [perhaps too hastily?] of an undocumented possession of one of those guns by another battery (Union or Confederate) in favor of his determination that a portion of Landis's Battery must have been on the field. However, Landis himself clearly stated in his 1895 battery history that the unit did not fight at Pea Ridge and there is no written documentation from any other source that might suggest otherwise. However persuasive one finds Drexler's article, it does demonstrate at least the possibility of small archaeological finds (even single artifacts) altering established interpretation of Civil War battles. This specific question regarding the Landis gun is also not entirely academic. One of Landis's howitzers was recently discovered among the Petersburg collection of artillery tubes, and an inter-park trade request has hitherto been quashed due to the above mentioned discrepancy in the historical record. If accepted, Drexler's new argument might result in getting that 24-lb howitzer to Pea Ridge National Military Park, where it can join the ranks of other material objects that offer tangible bridges to the past for battlefield visitors. It's an interesting mystery, but it seems more evidence is needed.

Taken together, the essays in Historical Archaeology of Arkansas comprise a very strong supporting argument for the utility of the field in understanding Arkansas's 19th century society, culture, architecture, technology, industrial and economic activities, and conflict history.

* - Citations for the Civil War articles (for those that wish to look them up later):
• Drexler, Carl G. "Thunder in the Hollow: The Archaeology of Missouri State Guard Artillery at the Battle of Pea Ridge." Historical Archaeology of Arkansas: A Hidden Diversity. Ed. Carl G. Drexler. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2016. 163-190. Print.
• McKinnon, Duncan P. "A Symbolic and Sacred Landscape: The Confederate Cemetery in Fayetteville, Arkansas." Historical Archaeology of Arkansas: A Hidden Diversity. Ed. Carl G. Drexler. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2016. 45-56. Print.

More CWBA reviews of UT Press titles:
* Service with the Signal Corps: The Civil War Memoir of Captain Louis R. Fortescue
* Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi, Vol. 2: Essays on America's Civil War
* To Live and Die in Dixie: Native Northerners Who Fought for the Confederacy
* To Retain Command of the Mississippi: The Civil War Naval Campaign for Memphis
* Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi - Volume 1: Essays on America's Civil War
* Rethinking Shiloh: Myth and Memory
* Ruined by This Miserable War: The Dispatches of Charles Prosper Fauconnet, a French Diplomat in New Orleans, 1863-1868
* The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee
* To the Battles of Franklin and Nashville and Beyond: Stabilization and Reconstruction in Tennessee and Kentucky, 1864-1866
* Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 3: Essays on America's Civil War
* Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 2: Essays on America’s Civil War
* Great Things Are Expected of Us: The Letters of Colonel C. Irvine Walker, 10th South Carolina Infantry, C.S.A.
* Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 1: Classic Essays on America’s Civil War
* Crimson Confederates: Harvard Men Who Fought for the South
* Yale's Confederates: A Biographical Dictionary
* The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged
* The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign: Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion
* Echoes of Thunder: A Guide to the Seven Days Battles
* Little to Eat and Thin Mud to Drink: Letters, Diaries, and Memoirs from the Red River Campaigns, 1863–1864
* Earthen Walls, Iron Men: Fort DeRussy, Louisiana, and the Defense of Red River
* Through the Howling Wilderness: The 1864 Red River Campaign and Union Failure in the West

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