Workers Find Human Bones Underground at South Carolina College Campus
Tuesday , August 11, 2009
Workers repairing an underground steam pipe at the University of South Carolina in Columbia found human bone fragments — believed to be the eery relics of a Civil War hospital that once treated injured soldiers fighting for both the North and the South.
“We don’t know what it is,” Richland County Coroner Gary Watts told South Carolina newspaper The State, adding that the fragments found range from a skull cap to half-inch pieces.
“It probably is Civil War remains, but we’re still going to do this as if it were a crime scene,” Watts told the paper.
The coroner's office and the State Law Enforcement Division are excavating the steam pipe trench and examining the soil.
The coroner says he expects to know Tuesday if the remains are from the Civil War era. He has an anthropologist working on the case. Watts says the bones could be amputated body parts.
The fragments were found behind DeSaussure College, the second oldest building on campus. It was completed in 1809.
The building now serves as the offices of the college of social work on campus. It is named for the attorney from Sumter County who fought in the Revolutionary War.
Later, Henry William DeSaussure helped establish South Carolina College - now USC - during his 18 years in the Legislature, a university spokeswoman told The State.
During the Civil War, the school rented many buildings to the Confederacy as a hospital to treat the wounded from both sides of the battle.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Posted on Tue, Aug. 11, 2009
Civil War might echo in bones found at USC
Fragments at Horseshoe could date to 1860s
By CLIF LeBLANC
USC’s historic Horseshoe might hold a new and macabre piece of South Carolina’s past.
Workers repairing an underground steam pipe on Monday noticed human bone fragments behind the second-oldest building on campus, where a Civil War hospital once treated injured Confederate and Union soldiers.
“We don’t know what it is,” Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said of fragments that ranged from a skull cap to half-inch pieces. “It probably is Civil War remains, but we’re still going to do this as if it were a crime scene.”
The coroner’s office and the State Law Enforcement Division are excavating the steam-pipe trench and examining mounds of soil dug from it.
Watts said he expects to know by midday today whether the remains are nearly 150 years old. The coroner’s office has an on-staff anthropologist who is completing his doctoral work at USC.
University archivist Elizabeth West said she was taken aback by the find.
“Until today, President (James Rion) McKissick’s grave was the only known grave on campus,” West said. McKissick died in 1944 while serving as school president and is interred on the grounds of South Caroliniana Library on the Horseshoe.
The bone fragments were discovered behind DeSaussure College, completed in 1809, West said.
The building now houses the offices of the college of social work in the serene environs of the Horseshoe. It is named for the attorney from Sumter County who fought in the Revolutionary War. Later, Henry William DeSaussure helped establish South Carolina College (now USC) during his 18 years in the Legislature, a university spokeswoman said.
During the war between the states, the college closed as students left to fight the Union army, said West, the archivist.
The school rented many buildings to the Confederacy as a hospital to treat the wounded from both sides of the battle.
Because of the proximity of the hospital, the remains could be amputated body parts, West and Watts said.
“That was a very common practice,” the archivist said. “During that time, they could not save damaged limbs. It certainly would not surprise me if they buried them out back.”
The repair crew reported finding the bones about 11:30 a.m. in a parking lot behind DeSaussure, which is on the north side of the Horseshoe near McKissick Museum.
The coroner said the fragments were in mounds of dirt taken from a trench, which had been dug more than a week ago. Some bones also were found about 2 feet below ground level in the trench.
Rain showers last week must have washed away some of the soil, exposing the bones, Watts said.
The steam-pipe repairs are part of an upgrade of the heating system to some campus buildings, spokeswoman Karen Petit said.
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.