Bones found near site of Civil War hospital

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 25, 2001

Bones, iron nails and pottery excavated by employees for the Duff Green Mansion are in the foreground as work continues to plant trees on the property. (The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[07/25/01] All Harry Sharp had in mind was planting three cypress trees on a lot he owns west of Duff Green Mansion on First East Street.

But Tuesday morning, he found that maintenance worker Tony Walls unearthed bones from the holes dug beside a fence that separates Sharp’s property from the Lake House owned by John Wayne and Becky Jabour.

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Although probably animal bones, the question quickly arose: Could they be limbs amputated from Confederate soldiers during the Siege of Vicksburg?

Duff Green, owned by Sharp Enterprises and operated as a tour home and bed and breakfast inn, was built in the 1850s by Judge William A. Lake as a wedding gift when his daughter married Duff Green. During the summer of 1863, it was used as a hospital as federal troops and gunboats surrounded the city.

“I was told they did hundreds and hundreds of amputations during the siege and the limbs were stacked to ceiling height in two rooms,” said Sharp, pointing to the southwest corner of the Duff Green.

He also said the limbs were supposedly buried in the large lawn that was just to the west of the mansion. During the years between the Civil War and about 1986, when Sharp bought the house, several small houses were built on the lot. They were moved after Sharp bought the property. His intention was to restore part of the lawn adjacent to the house.

“They (the Greens and Lakes) kept livestock here and they had several outbuildings, and the caves where the Greens stayed during the siege were over there,” he said pointing to a corner of the lot. “They were filled in in the 1920s.”

Sharp said two large bones that appeared to be some type of leg bones, were found first, and then several smaller bones, including some teeth and what appeared to be a jaw bone.

“They looked to us like they may have been human,” Sharp said displaying one bone, one end of which was obviously cut with a saw while the other could have been broken. A couple of other bones also had ends with saw marks.

Shortly after finding the first bones, Sharp called the Vicksburg Police Department to report the find.

Lt. Bob Donahue and Patrolman Penny Jones arrived to watch and see if any more bones were recovered.

“The first thing I’ll do is show them to an orthopedic surgeon and then to a pathologist. I’ll just follow the evidence wherever it leads,” Donahue said, adding he could not tell if the bones were human or not.

In addition to the bones, the diggers found a scrap of some fabric; heavily rusted, square nails and spikes; pieces of old bottles and shards of pottery and china.