Civil War mass grave discovered at historic Williamsburg

Archeologists in Williamsburg, Virginia, have made a new discovery regarding a battle fought there during the Civil War.

They are set to excavate a mass grave of soldiers who died during the battle.

Archeologists excavating the city’s historic Powder Magazine — an octagonal tower where gun powder and military equipment had been kept — were working to restore the building to its original design. During the process, they found multiple human remains.

Jack Gary, the director of archaeology at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, said the remains were found in March 2022. They were quickly covered back up until archaeologists received permission to study the site from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

On May 5, 1862, Union Forces under Gen. George McClellan caught up with the Confederate Army led by Gen. Joseph Johnston, who had just retreated from Yorktown, Virginia, to Williamsburg after a monthlong siege.

“No real action happened within the city, most of it happened just outside of the city limits through a series of ravines around these forts that the Confederates have built,” Gary said.

Confederate troops pulled out of the town later that night, after the battle that was meant to stall forces from marching on Richmond.

Gary said a Baptist church that once stood next to the Powder Magazine served as a field hospital during the fight.

“There’s descriptions and references to mass graves being dug somewhat regularly as the soldiers died, and them being buried just outside of the church,” Gary said.

It is unclear at this time how many are in this mass grave or which side, Confederate or Union, buried their dead there.

“That’s one of the questions that we’re trying to answer with the excavation to see if we can determine the affiliation of these individuals, they may also be civilians,” said Gary.

Crews will now work over the next several months to remove and study the remains, including using DNA analysis before the remain are interred in individual graves.

Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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