Monday, April 29, 2013

The Forgotten Battle: Credit Island, Part II

Hi and Welcome Back for the second installment about this little-known War of 1812 battle! You can find the first part here.

Ever wondered how archaeologists reconstruct the blow-by-blow details of battles that occurred in the distant past? Just keep reading - Chris Espenshade will explain it all to you. And stay tuned, because this series will continue next week! Thanks for reading.
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Interpreting the Landscapes of Battle: Typical Approaches to ABPP Grant Projects

Each War of 1812 battlefield has its own characteristics and challenges. To create a battle narrative that guides preservation and interpretation, there are generally four major data sources:

KOCOA/Military Terrain Analysis
Archival Data
Archaeological Results
Collector Data

In a perfect world, all four classes of data would be abundant. The Archival Data includes after-battle reports, diaries, letter, and maps. Such information must be used carefully, as it is well-demonstrated that various biases can affect the accuracy of the Archival Data (more on this in Post 3).

The KOCOA/Military Terrain Analysis requires the analyst to study the landscape from the perspective of the soldier, applying inherent military logic. KOCOA looks at key terrain, decisive terrain, observation, field of fire, dead space, cover, concealment, obstacles, avenue of approach, avenue of withdrawal, and mobility corridor. By applying Inherent Military Logic and defining these key features of battlefields, the researcher is able to match the battle narrative to the landscape.  For certain battles, the landscape and military behavior provide a strong input for the revised battle narrative.

Archaeological data, as seen in a number of projects on this web-page, can provide firm information on where actions occurred on the landscape. The plotting of fired and dropped bullets, fired artillery rounds, and dropped equipage can often allow for the definition of battle lines and positions. When a battlefield has reasonably good integrity, the archaeology becomes very important in creating or supporting a revised battle narrative. For most battlefield situations, controlled metal detector survey is the best method for recovering spatial data.

Metal Detecting in Progress, near head of Credit Island.  Many twentieth century items were recovered, but no battle-related material.  
Lastly, many American battlefields have been examined for decades by avocational detectorists.  These folks generally come armed with a strong interest in local history and a metal detector.  Such collectors can often provide valuable data on artifact distributions, and many have fairly sophisticated interpretations of their favorite battlefields.

Unfortunately for the Credit Island project, the local avocational metal detectorists did not have any information on any battle artifacts. In addition, despite our eight days of archaeological  metal detecting in the high probability areas of the battlefield, no battle-related artifacts were recovered. This was due to the nature of the battle, the natural impacts of Mississippi River flooding, and the modern development in many of the best locations. These negative findings shifted the emphasis of the study to the archival data and the KOCOA/military terrain analysis.  As is so often the case in battlefield studies, you work with what you have.

Area of Suspected British Artillery, Facing North-northeast.  Unfortunately for the archaeologists, approximately three feet of modern fill dirt have been deposited here.  On the positive side, the bike path can provide public access to interpretive signage.

This research – conducted by Commonwealth Cultural Resources Group -- was sponsored by the American Battlefield Preservation Program and the City of Davenport, Iowa.  This material is based upon work assisted by a grant from the Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Interior.


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