Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- Right in the middle of Columbia, a prison-of-war camp held about 1,200 Union soldiers during the Civil War.

Now, the Bull Street property known as "Camp Asylum" is being developed, and before that project starts, a team is exploring what may have been left over from the camp.

For the small team of archaeologists at the site, digging on the project that is expected to last through Friday, this is about piecing together Columbia's part in the Civil War.

"The story that's here is unique to Columbia," said Chester DePratter, head archaeologist in the project.

Camp Asylum sits behind walls that once housed the state's mental health facility.

It's what was likely left behind by Union prisoners held there during the Civil War, that's got DePratter excited.

"We'll be able to tell the stories of individual prisoners," DePratter said. "We know from diaries and letters and written accounts after the war, that the prisoners here did complete excavation of at least one tunnel for escape."

They have been using specialized tools to help them lay out mapping of the three-acre space, as well as a machine essentially able to see through the ground, called a ground-penetrating radar.

"In the end when we're done, we'll have a big map that will detail exactly what this site looked like when the prisoners were her," DePratter said.

DePratter says the only structural evidence of what was once a prisoner camp during the war are the walls that surround the area, making every find more important.

Wednesday, DePratter and his team discovered a button they said is from the jacket of a Union soldier, as well as a half-dime, worth 5 cents, Depratter said.

"We'll find things that the prisoners probably buried in the small holes in the ground," said DePratter.
"We'll be able to tell the stories of individual prisoners as well as the larger picture."

All of it work DePratter is happy to do.

DePratter said the dig will last through spring.

He said he is looking to put together a documentary, part of which will feature Camp Asylum.