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ECu archaeology dig unearths home at Fort Macon

(June 11, 2001)   —   The Confederates burned it. Union troops planted guns and soldiers in its ruins. And until recently the site of the old Eliason (commandant's) house, built in 1827 at Fort Macon on North Carolina's scenic Bogue Banks, has remained hidden deep below the coastal sand.
This summer, an archaeology field crew from East Carolina University uncovered the site of the old house including parts of the foundation. The excavation of the house on the state park property has also turned up scores of artifacts dating back to the Union siege of the fort in 1862 and earlier.
Dr. Charles Ewen, the ECU archaeologist who is directing the project, said students working at the site for the past three weeks have uncovered numerous military artifacts including bullets, percussion caps, canon ball fragments, scabbard tips, uniform buttons and insignia. Personal use items included glassware, ceramics, wine bottles, coins, parts of watches and a comb with a soldier's initials and regiment scratched on it.
Ewen said the artifacts and the remains of the foundation were buried under about five feet of sand.
The structure had been the home of U.S. Army Lieutenant William Eliason, the officer in charge of the construction of Fort Macon. Eliason had built the house for himself in 1827. Located about 600 yards from the fort, the house was to become commandant's house when the fort was completed.
In spring of 1861, soon after the fall of Fort Sumter at Charleston, a secessionist militia seized Fort Macon. Confederate troops, expecting a siege and assault by Union forces, burned the nearby buildings including the Eliason house to clear a field for cannon fire from the fort.
The federal army reclaimed the fort in April of 1862. Ewen said the Union troops used the site of the burned house for guns and troops during their attack against the fort.
After the war, the location of the house was lost and forgotten until recently when Paul Branch, the park historian for Fort Macon, decided to conduct a search. With hopes of pinpointing the site, he studied aerial photographs and historic maps. One of the old maps used in his research had been prepared in 1841 by Captain Robert E. Lee.
Branch calculated the general vicinity of the house and recovered a few artifacts that led him to believe he had relocated the structure.
Building on the information gathered by Branch, East Carolina University's summer field program in archaeology began work during May and June to expose and sift through the remains of the Eliason house. Ewen said he hopes the artifacts and research collected about the house will provide additional information about military life in antebellum coastal North Carolina.