Man punished for removing remains from Wilsons’ Creek

From the Kansas City Star:

Springfield man admits taking bones from Civil War battlefield
Springfield man to pay $5,351 after taking battlefield bones.

By Brian Burnes

These days, it’s rare to find bones on a Civil War battlefield.

It’s rarer still when a visitor pilfers those remains.

But that’s what happened last year at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield near Springfield, authorities said Wednesday. A collector of Civil War artifacts riding a canoe down Wilson’s Creek spotted a bone jutting from an eroded creek bank and stopped for an impromptu — and illegal — dig.

On Tuesday, Coy Matthew Hamilton, 31, of Springfield, signed a diversion agreement to avoid federal prosecution. He promised to pay $5,351 in restitution and perform 60 hours of community service. He’ll work alongside National Park Service rangers at Wilson’s Creek, site of the Aug. 10, 1861, battle — a Confederate victory considered the first major engagement in the Civil War’s western theater.

Hamilton couldn’t be reached for comment. But Michelle Law, an assistant federal public defender who represented Hamilton, said he was eager to make things right.

“My client has every intention of following through with the agreement he’s made with the federal government,” she said.

Hamilton admitted to investigators that he found the remains while canoeing with a friend in February 2011.

Described in case documents as an “avid, self-taught amateur archaeologist who routinely spends his free time hunting for artifacts,” Hamilton set out in the canoe after recent heavy rains, as he “knew from experience that this could reveal archaeological artifacts.”

On the afternoon of Feb. 27, Hamilton and a companion spotted a bone sticking out of an embankment. “Hamilton excavated two femur bones and pieces of a pelvis,” according to a report.

His companion urged him to stop, “but Hamilton’s enthusiasm was too strong.”

Several days later, Hamilton sent the bones, through an intermediary, to the National Park Service, which administers the battlefield.

Investigators soon figured out who he was….

Mike Calvert, president of the Civil War Round Table of Western Missouri, has heard anecdotal stories of possible trench graves or unmarked burial sites connected to Civil War actions near the Little Blue River in eastern Jackson County.

But he’s never heard of any local incident like this.

“It definitely should not be done,” Calvert said, referring to such scavenging. “Not just because it is a National Park Service site, but there is also such a thing as the consecrated dead.

“This man should have known better.”

Mr. Hamilton indeed got off with light punishment, all things considered. He set out to find something, selecting a time when he expected things to surface. Although he later returned the remains, the fact is he removed them. Could professional archeologists have determined more if the site not been disturbed? There’s no way to tell.

There are many old taboos that are broken as routine. Disturbing the resting place of the dead shouldn’t be one of them.

Ed Bearss in town tonight!

A plug for our Civil War Roundtable, meeting tonight at the old Loudoun County Courthouse.  Our speaker this evening is Edwin C. Bearss and the topic is the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.

Yes, I know we are about a month off of the proper “sesquicentennial” schedule.  But Mr. Bearss is a busy guy (he’s not retired, just moved his office out to the field!).   Most readers recognize Bearss as a favorite (no THE favorite) on the Civil War tour and lecture circuits.  What makes this presentation a bit more interesting is Bearss connection to the battlefield.  Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield is a “centennial” site – formed in 1960.  Bearss was on the team that established that battlefield, particularly the interpretation and presentation.  Research done in that direction formed the basis for his book on the battle.

So if you are around Leesburg this evening, please stop by the old Court House (at 18 Market Street downtown).  I’d recommend you stop in early to get a seat, as this one is sure to draw a crowd!

The Guns of Wilson’s Creek Battlefield: A Virtual Tour

Last month I offered up a “tour” of the cannons on the First Manassas battlefield, with a little help from Google maps.  At first I held off doing the same for Wilson’s Creek.  Although I’ve visited the battlefield recently and have notes to work from, the problem was this line up:

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Replica Carriages and Guns at Wilson's Creek

Last September when I visited, I figured these carriages and guns were waiting placement on the field in consort with the 150th observances.  My concern is that anything posted regarding cannon placement on the field might already be out of date.

But then again, the Google maps feature allows the editor to move pin points as needed.  So if my notes are out of date, perhaps a more recent visitor could coach me through updates.  With that in mind, here’s the location of guns at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield:

Guns representing Federal batteries appear in blue; Confederate in red; and purple are those guns used for general displays.  I’ve added photos to the call outs on the map and provided links back to blog posts about the particular type of gun.  All told I located ten authentic cannons at Wilson’s Creek, along with six replica guns.

The National Register of Surviving Civil War artillery lists a 6-pdr Field Gun Model 1835 on the battlefield.  But that piece was not on display in September 2010.  I believe it was moved to another park.

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Terrible field of view from the final position of Backoff's Battery.

Most of the guns used in the battle were 6-pdr field guns and 12-pdr field howitzers.  The Park’s collection however includes a number of non-representative types.  The James rifles are the Type 1 version, which at least have the exterior appearance of a 6-pdr field gun.  But the single Napoleon in the park is definitely out of place.  I can suggest a trade to another park, but I’m not the guy making that call!

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Totten's Battery on Bloody Hill

Although the guns at Wilson’s Creek are small in number, they have an important place for the park’s interpretation program.  Overshadowed by the “memory” of close quarters infantry combat, artillery played an important role at Wilson’s Creek.  Having the cannon on the field helps visitors understand the how the artillery was used in the battle and what impact the gunners had on the events.