By Mark Wineka, Salisbury Post
Archaeologists with the N.C. Department of Transportation will revisit the York Hill area along the Yadkin River to determine whether an earthen berm represents a military remnant from the Civil War.
If it is, the Department of Transportation might have to take steps to protect the earthwork from the future expansion of Interstate 85, planned to begin at this river section in 2007.
In its original archaeological report, the state described the berm as a modern feature of the landscape.
Salisbury historian Ann Brownlee disagreed and pointed to an independent site inspection by East Carolina University Professor Lawrence E. Babits, who concluded last December that upper and lower earthworks on the Davidson County side of the river were connected to the Civil War battle April 12, 1865, at Camp Yadkin, better known today as York Hill.
"It's good news in that they're paying more attention to it," Brownlee said of the highway department's willingness to return to the site.
Babits said the berm in question overlooks the Yadkin Ford and is about 75 yards long, 5 feet thick and a foot high.
Department of Transportation archaeologist Brian Overton said Monday the state hoped to revisit the area in a few weeks.
Meanwhile, the State Historic Preservation Office also has suggested that the Department of Transportation prepare "a complete, thoroughly documented synthesis of the Civil War engagement at Fort York that cites available historic sources and any contemporary accounts of the construction or modification of the fort and related defensive features."
David Brook, administrator of the State Historic Preservation Office, said in an April 28 memo to state highway officials that his office looks forward to the archaeological report, the research into the "skirmish at Fort York" and the railroad history in the area.
The Department of Transportation's Office of the Human Environment has asked the North Carolina Railroad Co. for access along its right of way to do the archeological investigation.
"It has been suggested that the feature represents either a Civil-war era military earthwork or is the result of railroad improvements and maintenance or possibly both," Archaeology Supervisor Matt Wilkerson said in his request to the North Carolina Railroad.
"At this point, the age and nature of the feature are unconfirmed. Extensive historical research of military records and other background sources have failed to produce firm, substantiating evidence for either case."
On April 12, 1865, three days after Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox, a federal calvary struck Confederate forces of about 1,000 men at Camp Yadkin.
The focus of the six-hour artillery bombardment was Fort York, a defensive structure on a high, rocky hill immediately north of today's U.S. 29. Under the command of Gen. Zebulon York, the Confederates used the fort to defend a railroad bridge
Brownlee believes a 1.8-mile area relates to the fight and should be considered a historic battleground.
"I'm real pleased that they're researching the history and looking at it more closely than they have in the past," Brownlee said. "I'm hoping that if they do a good job on that, then the importance of the rest of the battlefield will become apparent."
When word spread of the Department of Transportation's decision to revisit the earthen berm, "you can't imagine the hoorays and finallys coming into my e-mail," Brownlee says.
Brook noted in his memo that since the Department of Transportation archaeological report was first reviewed, numerous citizens expressed concern about the I-85 project's effect on historic resources.
"Our staffs have met on numerous occasions over the past six months to discuss this project and the additional work needed to resolve the issue of the berm and other archaeological and historical items potentially affected by the project," Brook said.
Brownlee considers the whole Trading Ford area the most important historic site in this region of North Carolina.
This area along the Yadkin River has ties to Native Americans, early colonization and the Revolutionary and Civil wars.
Brownlee has constantly reminded state officials that the area is rich in Indian relics, Civil War earthworks and traces of important Indian paths, ferries and bridges that meant a lot to the settlement of the South.
Brownlee acknowledges that I-85's expansion to eight lanes in the Trading Ford area will occur. DOT plans to build eight lanes and new bridges across the river some 500 feet south of the existing I-85 bridges.
But Brownlee favors construction that would cause the least disturbance to the historic landscape.
She contends the Department of Transportation could use the four existing lanes of I-85 for half of the new road and build the additional four lanes upriver, so the road project could possibly avoid the Camp Yadkin site and what was once Yadkin Ford.
Brownlee has organized the Trading Ford Historic Area Preservation Association, which will hold its next meeting at 7 p.m. May 27 at Rowan Public Library.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.