By: Chase Cook, Capital Gazette reporter
Local historians have long been seeking a piece of this area’s Civil War-era history: the third site of Camp Parole.
Now they think an archaeological dig may turn it up on a property recently much in the news for other reasons: the site of the proposed Crystal Spring mixed-use development.
The developers, who are preparing to present another version of their plans for residential and retail development on the site, say a initial dig won’t be necessary, as artifacts would most likely be turned up when construction starts.
Some historians disagree.
“At a minimum, we as a community and the city as the relevant government authority owe it to the men who spent time in that camp to do a thorough archaeological and archival investigation of one of Annapolis’ few surviving links to one of the nation’s most divisive and bloody periods of history,” said Jean Russo, a local historian, in an email.
Camp Parole held formerly imprisoned Union soldiers — estimates range from a few thousand up to 20,000 — as they waited to be formally exchanged for imprisoned Confederates.
It was an honor system: Send back your prisoners and we won’t return them to the fighting until an exchange has been made. Both sides participated in the process, which later gave way to prisoner-of-war camps.
Annapolis historians believe Camp Parole, or at least one of the sites used for it, could be near the Mas-Que farm, where Crystal Spring — a $200 million mixed-used project including assisted living for seniors, town houses, a hotel and retail — has been proposed.
Given that the camp covered a lot of ground, historians believe Civil War artifacts — buckles, bullets, buttons — are likely spread out through the area, including Crystal Spring.
They’ve asked that an archaeological dig take place before work on the development starts.
The developers said there are no plans for an initial dig, but that they would take precautions and protect any artifacts dug up during construction.
There are processes in place to protect anything found, said Marshall Breines, president of Hillspoint Management Corp. The corporation is the founding corporate partner of Affirmative Hillspoint LLC., the property’s developer.
Breines also said the likelihood of anything being found decreased as developers shrank their plans.
“That ground has been walked across 150 times,” Breines said. “If there is something, it will be underground.”
The developers have yet to submit their third attempt during the tenure of Mayor Mike Pantelides at a forest conservation plan — an early document, preceding a detailed site plan, that deals with the project’s impact on wooded areas.
The previous forest conservation plans by the developer were sent back by the city, with recommendations.
Historians and Crystal Spring opponents say an initial archaeological investigation, to pinpoint areas that are good candidates for test digs, should take place before the plan is approved.
This could prevent artifacts from being buried even further during construction, said Gerald Winegrad, an environmentalist and former state senator.
“These historians have more than documented the need for an archaeological dig,” Winegrad said.
The city can initiate such a dig if officials think items of historical significance are likely to be found on the property.
Historians said finding artifacts wouldn’t stop the development — but could finally establish the location of Camp Parole.
As the number of soldiers grew, parole camps were set up at three county locations during the Civil War. Russo and other historians have collected maps, documents, letters and reimbursement claims they say point to the Crystal Spring site as a possible location of one of them.
According to a report sent to the city, two other locations have been pinpointed: one at St. John’s College and another on the periphery of Annapolis in the area now known as Parole, after the camp.
Annapolis was a major travel hub during the Civil War, with Northern soldiers going through by train and steamboat to get to Washington, D.C., and points farther south, said Will Mumford, a local historian.
Mumford and Russo belong to the Annapolis History Consortium, which researches local history.
The camp helped the Union Army keep track of its returned soldiers. It is believed two other parole camps were set up in Ohio and Missouri, according to the report sent to the city.
The camps ensured the soldiers would return to the ranks after the formal prisoner exchange was completed.
“They tried sending them home first, but when it came time for the soldiers to return, the army had trouble getting them back in rank,” Mumford said.
Soldiers were only loosely guarded, but knew if they returned to the fight before the exchange was completed, they would likely be executed if again captured by the enemy, said George Hughes, an Annapolis resident and historian.
“They kept pretty good lists of these people until they were exchanged,” Hughes said. “If you were paroled and fought before you were exchanged, they would shoot you.”
Hughes, who also belongs to the consortium, said his interest in the Civil War stems from family history. His great-grandfather served in the war. So did a great-uncle, Joe Allen, a bugler in the First Vermont Cavalry who rode into battle on a horse named “Old Abe,” after President Abraham Lincoln.
Hughes tracked Allen’s history, learning his great-uncle took part in an episode in the Battle of Gettysburg known as Farnsworth’s Charge.
Hughes said that, as a bugler, Allen likely rode near the front and saw dozens of Union soldiers killed as they rushed toward the Confederates.
Hughes’ has documents showing Allen came through Annapolis and visited Camp Harris, which many believe later became the site of Camp Parole.
This, Hughes said, is further proof Annapolis has a rich Civil War history worth preserving, especially if something is found on the Crystal Spring site.
“We should have some sort of exhibit, small museum or something,” Hughes said. “You know, to say this was part of Annapolis’ history.”