Newly Uncovered Civil War Site on UT’s Morgan Hill to Be Honored

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KNOXVILLE – A newly uncovered Civil War battle site on the land known as Morgan Hill on the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, campus will be honored as the land around it is put to use as sorority housing.

The site, which consists of Confederate cannon emplacements and trenches facing the Fort Sanders area, was uncovered during archaeological surveys of the area prior to preparing the land for construction of UT’s Sorority Village.

UT archeologists and members of the East Tennessee Civil War Association believe it is the only archaeologically confirmed Confederate battle site in Knoxville.

Plans for the 21 acres between Neyland Drive, Kingston Pike and Alcoa Highway will be slightly modified to commemorate this key location in the Siege of Knoxville, which took place from Nov. 18 through Dec. 4, 1863, and more specifically the Battle of Fort Sanders on Nov. 29, 1863.

UT will preserve approximately 60 feet of the south end of the trench where Confederate soldiers did battle and mark it with a plaque. The view to the east, facing Fort Sanders, also will be preserved.

Plans for Sorority Village have been under way for more than three years. Work on the infrastructure for the 13 residential houses along with a central meeting facility for all chapters will begin in early September.

“The university appreciates the historical value of this site and we are proud to commemorate the battle and those who took part in this significant event in our nation’s history,” said Jeff Maples, senior associate vice chancellor for finance and administration. “We are pleased to work with the East Tennessee Civil War Association to determine the best way to honor the history, but also accommodate the needs of our campus community.”

A trench was indicated in the location of the site on a Civil War-era map created by Union engineer Capt. Orlando M. Poe, but it previously had not been excavated. A team of archeologists with UT Knoxville’s Archaeological Research Laboratory (ARL) uncovered the area over the past four months.

The group, led by Elizabeth Kellar DeCorse, research assistant professor, and senior archaeologist and field director Michael Angst found unusually well-preserved evidence of cannon emplacements, including the original ruts left by the cannon wheels, and artifacts including friction primers, belt buckles and metal remnants believed to be left from when soldiers in the trench burned available items to stay warm.

Because the site is the first archaeologically substantiated Confederate battery position used in Knoxville’s Battle of Fort Sanders, it helps shed light on history.

“Confederate records of the siege and battle are woefully incomplete or totally missing. This fills in some of those gaps,” said Steve Dean, president of the Civil War Alliance. “Aside from the physical location pinpointed by the project, the careful archaeological work has provided a glimpse into the difficult conditions experienced by the soldiers who were in the trenches.”

One unique feature of the trench is that a number of small hearths were carved out of the sides of the trench to allow soldiers to light fires in relative safety within the trench itself. Records from the era show that the winter of 1863 into early 1864 brought particularly bitter cold to the Knoxville area.

“UT is to be commended for funding the archaeological work and furthermore helping preserve at least a portion of the site. Our shared goal should be that the legacy of the Civil War, the terrible struggle that helped define this country’s future, will be properly memorialized and available to the public to appreciate,” Dean said.

A display about the excavations on Morgan Hill will be added to the long-term exhibition on the Battle of Fort Sanders at UT’s McClung Museum. (http://mcclungmuseum.utk.edu/).

About Sorority Village
UT is covering $1.25 million of the $4 million infrastructure project for Sorority Village, which involves installation of utilities, roads, parking and site preparation. The 13 residential houses will be built in phases. The first phase includes a shared facility that includes a nonresidential space for Alpha Kappa Alpha and a central meeting space for all chapters.

Sorority chapters are contributing to the remaining infrastructure costs and funding their chapter houses in full through private donations and mortgage agreements that will be paid through residential rent and chapter fees.
Once construction is completed, the total private investment in Sorority Village will be at least $45 million. Alumni leaders from participating sorority chapters have been raising private funds for the facilities over the past several years.

“We appreciate the collaborative relationship with sorority leaders and our shared commitment to a high-quality development that will enhance what is scenic and historic land for the university,” said Maples. “Sorority Village will be a significant addition to our campus and the Knoxville community, as well as a great example of a successful private-public development partnership.”

The houses will range from 8,000 square feet to 17,000 square feet and house up to 48 women each.

Morgan Hill is named for Harcourt Morgan, UT’s 13th president and founding director of UT’s Agricultural Experiment Station, who also once lived on the property.

Pictured: The illustration accompanying this release is courtesy of Charles Faulkner, professor emeritus of anthropology at UT Knoxville.

C O N T A C T :

Jay Mayfield, (865-974-9409, jay.mayfield@tennessee.edu)

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