Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas from Detecting Saxapahaw!!

I wanted to wish everyone a very happy holiday season!

This is also a great time to look back at the year in metal detecting.  2011 was a great year of detecting!  I got permission to detect some amazing historic sites, and I was blessed to have recovered quite a few nice relics and coins.  So I put together this "year in review" video to show you some of the best finds of the year.  I hope you enjoy watching!

Thanks for visiting Detecting Saxapahaw, and Merry Christmas to you all!!  I'll see you in 2012!!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My First Yankee Plate

Hey everyone!!  I had a great afternoon detecting today, and can't wait to share it with you!

I was recently asked by a friend to help him locate something with my metal detector.  He had been practicing with throwing stars, and lost one in the tall grass at his home.  I was meant to go look for it yesterday, but we were rained out.  With no rain this morning, I headed over only to find that he wasn't in.  "Oh well" I thought, "I have some time.  I may as well go detecting somewhere!"

I have been researching the route used by a portion of the Confederate army to retreat in 1865 (after a draw at the Battle of Averasboro and a loss at the Battle of Bentonville) and the Union troops pursuing them.  I found myself out that way, and headed over to a section of the old road where I had permission to detect.  I was hoping to be lucky enough to find a spot where soldiers had stopped to rest, or failing that, perhaps the odd dropped item from the men marching through.

There were two things I found a lot of - shotgun shells, and aluminum cans.  The cans produce a really loud, strong, high tone on my detector.  You can tell it's a larger object, and 99 times out of one hundred it is, in fact, an aluminum can.  But every once in a while it isn't... so despite finding can after can, I continued recovering them.  I even recall thinking to myself "Yep, another can" as I was digging a plug of clay on a loud, shallow, high tone.  "But every once in a while..."

This is what I saw stuck to the bottom of the plug, although the front hook was still buried in the clay.  I didn't know what it was, and assumed just more junk.  That is, until I took it out of the dirt and flipped it over.  Then I knew exactly what I had, and I was ecstatic.  This is my very first Union belt plate from the Civil War.  The brass hooks embedded in the lead solder back attached the buckle to a leather belt.  An example of this buckle, originally oval in shape, can be seen in the image of a Federal infantry soldier above.

It's obviously quite damaged from nearly 150 years exposed to the elements.  One of the "puppy paw" style attachments is missing, but the hook and one paw remain.  I'm not at all concerned with the condition - this is a great find in any shape.  I feel incredibly blessed to have recovered both a Confederate and Union buckle this year.  I'm still in shock about both finds!

Oh yea, and about my friend.  After I finished up at the old road, I went back to his house.  In about 15 minutes his throwing star was recovered.  Thanks for reading, and I hope you all have a happy and blessed holiday season!!  Merry Christmas from Detecting Saxapahaw!!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Detecting the Battle of Averasboro, NC

Yesterday I met up with my friend Dwight from the Triangle Relic Recovery club, who had invited me to detect a site he obtained permission to search near the Battle of Averasboro, NC.  On March 15-16th, 1865, Confederates under command of General Hardee engaged Union forces, attempting to slow down the advance of General Slocum and the left wing of the Union Army.  The battle involved roughly 25,000 Union troops, and 6,000 Confederates.  After an intense battle, Hardee withdrew his troops under cover of darkness.  They retreated to the Bentonville area where they would once again participate in a major engagement on March 19th-21st.  Casualties were heavy on both sides, with over 600 Union and 800 Confederate men killed or wounded.  While the Union advance had been slowed somewhat, it was not stopped as much as anticipated, and the casualties were much more damaging to the already smaller Confederate army.

We detected most of the day in a cotton field where part of the engagement had taken place.  The stubble from the cotton plants made swinging the detector challenging, but not impossible.  My results for the day were five bullets, all fired. The first two shown here are slightly deformed round balls.  The next two are three ring bullets, both highly deformed by impact.

The final bullet shown here (actually, the first I recovered yesterday) is a very nice Enfield bullet, used mainly by the Confederates.  Although it doesn't show any impact damage, this is also a fired bullet.  Close inspection shows faint rifling marks along the side of the round, formed as the bullet passed through the barrel.  This rifling creates a spin on the bullet, allowing for much greater range and accuracy than previous smooth-bore muskets. 

The other obvious sign that this has been fired is the unique circular impression on the nose of the bullet.  As multiple rounds were fired, carbon residue would build up inside the barrel.  To fire properly, the bullet must be fully seated at the base of the barrel, and carbon residue could make loading quite difficult.  To force a stuck bullet down the length of the barrel, a great deal of force was sometimes required on the ramrod.  In this case, the force of the ramrod left a visible mark on the nose of this bullet.

After recovering relics from the fight, Dwight and I stopped to reflect at the nearby Confederate cemetery.  A monument to the battle stands between eight headstones.  Rather than names on the stones, it was simply the number of men in each mass grave.  Some were identified by state - "4 GA. Men", for example.  This one was simply labeled "9 DEAD".  While I always have a good time out relic hunting, and yesterday was no exception, it is important to stop and think, from time to time, about the gravity of the relics being recovered.  I recovered five bullets from a North Carolina cotton field.  Nearly 150 years ago, these same bullets were being fired with the intent to end the life of another human being.  There I was, standing over the graves of men killed by similar bullets to those still in my pocket.  Men who died fighting for their cause.  It's enough to give you chills.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Colonial Bit Boss and other Horse Accessories

After Thursday's brief search turned up a matron head large cent, I was excited to get back to the area and see if I could locate any areas of increased human activity.  My friend Brad and I spent some time yesterday combing over the field.  What we discovered was that the big penny was a "needle in a haystack" - we didn't locate any groupings of targets there, and I must have been very lucky to have found that one good target.

Anxious to find something before the day was out, we headed over to an old faithful spot, a field which used to contain a building along the old roadbed of Saxapahaw Bethlehem Church Rd..  Regular readers may recall some of the better finds from the area, including colonial flat buttons, a Revolutionary War era musket trigger guard, and a very nice script letter Bingham School uniform button.  Although finds from this site have slowed, it still produced one excellent keeper for me.

This copper alloy piece is known as a bit boss or bridle boss, a decorative piece used on a horse bit.  It would have had two attachment holes on tabs at the top and bottom, and worn as a pair on either side of a curb style bit.  Below are several images showing the use of a bit boss.  The illustration on the left shows a curb style bit, with red circles indicating where the bit bosses attach.  The central bar goes in the horse's mouth, and the loops attach to the reins which allow the rider to control the horse.  The central image is taken from an early 17th century illustration, showing a horse with an ornate bit boss.  On the right is a fancy modern curb bit in silver, with a gold bit boss, based on 17th century Portuguese designs.  The Union Army used a bit boss imprinted with the letters "US" which is high on my wish list.

This particular bit boss likely dates from the mid 1700's to early 1800's.  It seems to be made from a copper alloy similar to tombac, as shown by the fragmentation where the piece is broken, as well as the relatively low conductivity.  Air tests show a 50 on the White's VDI scale, which is much lower than expected for a typical brass piece of this size.  I have previously found several other pieces of horse tack along different parts of the old Sax Beth road bed.  The copper disc below is known as a bridle rosette, another decorative bridle accessory.  The straight bar across the back of the rosette attaches it to the bridle above the horse's temple.  I have also included an image of a bridle rosette in use for demonstration purposes.  Because of the very basic design of this copper rosette, it is very difficult to estimate its age.

My favorite rosette came from a mid-1800's house near Saxpahaw.  This rosette has a brass back (the attachment bar is missing) which was once gold-plated.  The front of the rosette is a flat-topped glass dome.  Vibrantly colored pictures were placed inside, allowing it to be seen through the glass top, with common themes including horses, dogs, and flowers.  The orange/red color is water damage from many years below the ground, but some of the original pink flower and leaves can still be seen.  This type of rosette was particularly popular from about 1870 to just after the turn of the century.  You can see a non-dug example of a floral themed glass rosette here.

This larger piece was recovered at the Buckner century farm on Sax Beth Ch. Rd.  It has a brass front and lead back, with a channel to attach to a strap of some kind.  I have always assumed this to be another piece of decorative horse tack similar to a rosette, but I'm not sure exactly what it is.  If you have any idea, please let me know in the comments below!

Finally, I will leave you with an update on the coin I found on Thursday.  I was able to find just one piece of detail remaining on the coin, but it was enough to narrow it down considerably.  The line of the nose and forehead of Lady Liberty is still present, which indicates a leftward facing bust.  This can only be the matron head large cent (1816-1839), as previous large cents had a rightward facing bust.  I have provided a gif image below the fold, which shows an overlay of my coin and the matron head large cent, confirming this hypothesis.  It's not the easiest to see, but concentrate on the bridge of the nose. 

I apologize for the extremely long-winded blog post - I tend to get carried away sometimes!  But I hope you enjoyed reading, or at least looking at the pictures.  Until next time, thanks for stopping by, and God bless!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Oldest Coin / Worst Condition

I just received permission at another old farm property on Saxapahaw Bethlehem Church Rd., so I spent an hour after work today exploring it.  I knew the relics present were likely to be few and far between, but the proximity to several late 18th century and 19th century buildings meant there was potential for some really great finds.

Over the course of the hour I only found three good signals.  The first two were shotgun shells, but just as the sun was setting I received a very strong high tone.  I cut a fairly shallow plug in the red clay, and  quickly spotted the green disc protruding from it.  Based on the location, I knew it had to be an old copper coin.

This is my third large cent, but unfortunately it's worn completely smooth.  You can see my first two large cents (also found near Saxapahaw) in a previous post.  Despite having no discernible detail, I can still tell that it's my oldest coin to date.  My first two large cents (1844 and worn-date) are off the "coronet" variety, which is comprised of two subtypes.  Both are "braided hair coronet" large cents, produced between 1840 and 1857, and measure 27.5mm is diameter. 

This new large cent is 28.5mm in diameter, and not as thick as the braided hair coronet.  This makes it an older version of large penny, though I'm not sure exactly which one.  The larger diameter was used on five previous versions of the US large cent from 1793 to 1839, as well as older foreign copper coins used for early currency.  It is most likely the "matron head coronet" cent, minted from 1816-1839.  The matron head sported a larger "matronly" bust of Lady Liberty.  The change to the braided hair coronet came from negative public reaction to the matron head, and replaced the earlier Lady Liberty with a more youthful, slimmer figure.  Below is a comparison of the early matron head design with the braided hair variety.

With the extent of the wear and corrosion on this coin, I'll never know exactly which type it is, beyond a large cent made during or before 1839.  It's still my oldest coin to date, and despite the condition, I'm very excited to have found it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

That's Neat! ... But what is it?

One of the most common questions I received at the Saxapahaw Holiday Market was "How do you know what all of this stuff is?"  It's a perfectly valid question - some of my favorite finds don't look like much unless you know the context of the original piece.  For identification of dug relics, the internet is the greatest tool available, although there are also plenty of hard-copy reference books, too.  Going to detecting club meetings such as TRR in Raleigh and ONSD in Greensbro are quite helpful, as there are always people there who know a lot more than I do.  Perhaps the best way to identify relics, in my opinion, is by using any of the multitude of metal detecting internet forums.  As I covered in my second blog post here at DS, some finds are common to many different kinds of older sites.  Reading forum posts from other relic hunters with pictures of their recovered objects is a great way to know what it is you're uncovering as you find it.  I posted an example of this a few days ago, when a forum post helped me identify a mid-800's parasol slide.

If you still don't know, many forum's have a "What is it?" or "ID Help" section.  Here's an excellent example of how these collaborative spaces can help us identify some interesting older relics.  A thread was started recently in the "Help to ID my finds" section of the Friendly Metal Detecting Forum showing a small copper or copper alloy item, about 3/4" by 3/8".  Comments provided some speculation about what it might be, but confirmed that this item has been found at late 1800's to turn of the century sites in a variety of locations.  Above is an example that I found at an older home near Saxapahaw.

Another user posted a slightly more complete example - it turns out the brass piece was originally attached to a strip of iron.  One more piece to the puzzle.  The break in the case came when user Cambria09 posted this example of the same item, but this time stamped with the word "Armorside".  A google search for that term brought up a lot of interesting unrelated webpages, but one of them stood out.

This is an 1895 advertisement for Armorside Corsets, which certainly fits the time-frame of our mystery item better than Jeeps, knights, or robots.  Could this be it?  Using that information to narrow down our search, I located this original corset, ca. 1885, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  As you can see, we have found our unknown brass piece in use. 

Recovering old things is really only a third of this hobby.  Researching where to find them and understanding what you have found are both integral to the enjoyment of metal detecting for historical relics.  This little brass piece now has a place in my display among other late 1800's to turn of the century fashion accessories.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it, and God bless!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Reflections on the Saxapahaw Holiday Market

The Saxapahaw Holiday Market was this past weekend, and I had an absolute blast showing off some of my local detecting finds!  The community was very supportive, and quite interested in what I've recovered from sites all around Saxapahaw and surrounding towns.  I met a lot of wonderful people, with some great questions and engaging conversation.  It was neat having folks come up to me and say "Hi, I read your blog!"  It was so much fun sharing our town's history.

I also got to see all the wonderful creations of the other market vendors.  Some of them I have known in the past, like local artist Steve Durland, Sue from Roxy Farms Antiques, and Heather and Tom from the Haw River Ballroom and Cup22 Coffee Shop (all of whom have let me detect their historic properties).  I got to meet some new friends, too, like local artist Rose Rosely, whose work is really fun and creative.  There were lots of other local businesses represented, including Out of the Fire clay sculpture, Metaform Movement, the Haw River Canoe and Kayak Co., and more.

It was great seeing the whole community come together for a celebration like this.  It was an amazing experience - it just felt like home.  I really do love it here in Saxapahaw, North Carolina.  It was great meeting many of you there, and for those who missed it, here are some images of my displays (more below the fold).  Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy!  Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and God bless you all.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Battle of Bentonville: Union lead and Confederate brass

Hey everyone!  Sorry for the delay in posting the detecting report from Friday's trip to Bentonville.  I've been too busy having fun at the Saxapahaw Holiday Market down at the Haw River Ballroom!  I'll have more to say about the event in my next blog post, but it's a real pleasure showing off my finds and seeing the excellent local vendors here.  I'm blogging from the ballroom as we speak, so come on over and say hi!

Friday's trip was a lot of fun.  I went out with three of my friends, including Jim from Silent Remnants.  We went to a couple of different promising spots, but the most productive turned out to be the same field we detected last time we were down there.  In addition to Civil War era finds, it also yielded the post was coin shown below.  It's an 1876 Indian Head penny, one of the lower mintage coins in that series with just under 8M produced.

I ended up with four and a quarter bullets for the day.  Two of them have been very heavily chewed, one beyond recognition.  I can tell that the other one is a Williams cleaner type 3.  Many people claim that the term "to bite the bullet" refers to literally chewing bullets during a field amputation to manage the pain, but this is likely not the case (or was used very rarely).  The origin of the term is still debated, however most accounts of field surgery refer to a thick leather strap being used, which seems a much more practical tool.  Why do we find these chewed bullets them?  Many animals, including cows, rodents, and especially pigs have been known to chew on lead, and likely account for most of the chewed civil war bullets recovered.

I recovered two interesting bullets today  The first of these is this "carved" bullet, cut into quarters by a soldier.  Soldiers used a large number of activities to pass the time in camp, and the soft lead bullets provided an excellent medium for whittling.  They sometimes carved small figures of lead, and often crafted pieces for games such as chess.  Silent Remnants just posted an excellent picture of a carved bullet chess piece recovered in Virginia.  It's impossible to know exactly what the purpose of this cut bullet is.  Even still, it provides a more personal connection than a typical dropped bullet, having been shaped by an individuals hands nearly 150 years ago.  The other odd bullet I recovered is a flat based 50 caliber no-ring Minie ball, but I haven't been able to identify the exact type of bullet yet.  It does show some damage to it, and I suspect that this may also be a heavily carved bullet.

The find of the day was a heavily corroded South Carolina state seal uniform coat button.  The back fell apart when the packed sand was removed, but has a "Scovill MFG Co. Waterbury" raised-mark/depressed-channel backmark.  The front is so heavily corroded that it's nearly impossible to see the device (front image), however the state seal of South Carolina can be seen clearly in the impression from inside the button.  Despite the condition, it is still a very nice find, and I'm blessed to have dug my fourth different Confederate button in as many months.

Thanks so much for looking, and I hope you enjoyed reading!  Head down to the Saxapahaw Holiday Market today if you get a chance, and look for my pictures and reflections on the event in the next few days!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Meet me in Saxapahaw!

Hey everyone!

I have been asked to show off some of my local finds at the Saxapahaw Holiday Market.  It's being held at the Haw River Ballroom next weekend, December 10th and 11th from 9am to 9pm.  There will be all sorts of excellent local artists and vendors present, so come do some holiday shopping and interact with the community.  While you're there, be sure to stop by and see some of my finds, talk about history, or just say "hi!"

In my last blog post, I told you about a trip to the old Morrow home site, and showed a few interesting pieces I found there.  Well, I also dug this unique little brass piece, which I didn't post because I had no idea what it was!  As chance would have it, I recently saw one posted on the JustGoDetecting forum, and it was ID'ed as part of the slide mechanism of a mid 1800's parasol.  Cool!  I then found this excellent example online, showing a period parasol and the slide mechanism.

Also, some of you may recall hearing about one of my detecting partners, Jim.  He's an all around great guy, super nice, and a dedicated and talented detectorist.  And now he can add one more accolade - he started a blog!  Check out Silent Remnants for some great relics, stories, writing, and photography.  Click his giant red shovel to see more!

Welcome, SXPHW Facebook fans!  Thanks for the link :)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Detecting Report: The Old Morrow Field

Among the earliest settlers to this area was William Morrow Sr. and his wife Jane Parks Morrow.  William was born in 1734 in Ulster, Ireland, but immigrated to either Pennsylvania or North Carolina, before eventually relocating to the area known as Oaks, NC sometime between 1750 and the Revolution.

The circa 1855 home of William's son, William P. Morrow, still stands on Sax Beth Ch. Rd., and is unavailable to detectorists.  The original William Morrow homestead, located nearby, burned sometime prior to the Civil War.  I obtained permission from the land owners where the house once stood to detect the property last year, and it never fails to produce a few colonial or early American items, as well as some later period finds with a bit of patience.

I spent just an hour searching the site yesterday, and found several interesting items.  These included two early flat buttons, the most common period find on the site.  Made of copper or copper alloys like tombac, these flat buttons would be attached to clothing with a looped wire shank.  Occasionally they are designed on the front (particularly the older 18th century buttons), but often have markings on the back of the button around the shank.  These can include laurel wreath designs, and maker or quality marks.  The quality marks, found on many early 19th century buttons, refer to the quality of the gold gilt applied to the button, and often include phrases such as "extra rich", "double gilt", or "best colour".  Buttons of this style have been used throughout the middle 1700's and early 1800's, declining from fashion going into the Civil War period.  The larger of the two buttons found yesterday has no markings, but the smaller cuff button does appear to have a barely visible wreath pattern around the shank.

The other interesting piece from yesterday's hunt is this small convex copper oval.  It has a square shaped peg, bent over.  I believe it may be part of an early cuff-link, though I'm not sure on the ID.  I was surprised when I began cleaning it to find writing along the edge.  Although some letters are clearly visible, the words are difficult to decipher.  I have posted several enhanced images below the fold - feel free to make your best guess about what this item might be, and what it says in the comments section!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Trigger Guards: The Civil War in Bentonville and the Revolution in Saxapahaw

Yesterday was Black Friday, but instead of going out shopping, I took a trip down to Bentonville, NC with some friends to go detecting.  We tried a new field today that we just recently received permission to search.  It was the site of a Union artillery position during the three day Battle of Bentonville, March 19-21st, 1865.  You can see the results of my previous trips to Bentonville here and here.

We had hoped this field would produce, and we certainly weren't disappointed!  We recovered a lot of great history in a day, including knapsack pieces, horse tack, cartridge box finials, and of course, a number of bullets.  The find of the day was made by my good friend Jim, who recovered a great brass fuse adapter from a Union Hotchkiss artillery shell, shown above.  It's a great find, and locating at a Union artillery position during the battle made it even that much better.  Congrats, Jim!

Here are my finds for the day.  Some are the standard finds from most Civil War sites - brass grommets and rivets, unidentified period brass, and melted lead.  The two mushroomed bullets are particularly interesting, and were found in very close proximity to one another.  I also recovered my first Williams Cleaner bullet that has the base still attached.

One of the 58 caliber three-ring bullets is particularly interesting, and the first such bullet I have personally recovered.  It shows a bore hole from an "extracting worm", a corkscrew device used for pulling bullets out of the barrel of a gun.  This would have been done to remove a bullet stuck in the barrel, or to unload a loaded firearm to make it safe to handle without firing the bullet.

My best find of the day was the front half of a rifle trigger guard.  I believe it to be from a pattern 1853 Enfield rifle, based on the location of the hole used for a rifle sling attachment.  The Enfield was used by both sides during the war, and was the second most widely used infantry weapon.  An Enfield rifle from the Charelston Museum is shown below

Coincidentally, I just recovered another interesting trigger guard near Saxapahaw about a week ago.  I found it during one of my shorter hunts on Saxapahaw Bethlehem Church Rd.  It was the only good find that day, and at the time I hadn't yet identified it, so I held off on posting.  Since then I have identified it as an acorn finial from the front of a much earlier trigger guard.  Such finials were common on English fowler guns in the mid-late 1700's.  Several colonial era flat buttons have previously been found in the area, which also date to the same time period.

English fowlers were a type of smooth-bore flintlock musket.  They had very long barrels, and were designed for hunting game birds.  Now of course I can't say for certain that this particular gun was used in the American Revolution.  English fowler guns were, however, used during the war.  The British were typically issued Brown Bess flintlock muskets, though officers were meant to supply their own firearms, which have used such an acorn trigger guard as seen on English fowlers.  The Americans, on the other hand, pressed whatever weapons available into service.  A hunting rifle of this sort would certainly have been used by "citizen soldiers" going into battle.  Below is an original example of a 1770's-1780's musket, believed to have been used during the American Revolution, which bears a similar acorn motif trigger guard finial.  I can't say whether or not my trigger guard piece came from a musket used in the Revolution, but it is of the time period, and was found on muskets that were used during the war.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Detecting Report: Salem Academy

Hey everyone!  My friend Jim came by today, and we detected a few spots around Saxapahaw.  We went out to Salem Church Rd. in search of "Salem Academy", a small school found on the 1893 Spoon map of Alamance county.  The building is gone, but I had its location narrowed down to one of two fields.  We asked for and received permission to search the first field, but found very few signals.  Our initial investigation lead us to believe the school was in the other field. 

Sadly, that field is now the site of the Salem Church cemetery, which of course we couldn't detect.  As we were finishing up in the first field, a man came up to us on a gator asking "what we were looking for out there."  I responded "Whatever we can find!" and told him of our quest for the school site.  Jerry confirmed our suspicion that it was on the cemetery grounds, but told us that we could see the school building if we liked.  It turns part of the schoolhouse was moved and used as an addition to a house on his property!

Jerry showed us some great old cart trails on his land, and allowed us to detect around one of the homes there.  The house appears on the 1893 map as belonging to J. Bradshaw.  Despite the amazing potential of this property, the old finds just didn't make their way under our coils today.  We still had a great time enjoying the beautiful day, talking with Jerry, and seeing some more local history.  Hopefully I'll have some more great finds to show you on the next trip out!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My find of a lifetime: Digging Virginia at "Diggin' in Virginia"

It was Day 1 of my very first “Diggin’ in Virginia” event. My White’s DFX and SEF coil were humming along, and I had a few bullets in my pocket already when I met up with a guy I carpooled with from North Carolina. We sat out on the field on a beautiful fall day eating our lunch. I was simply loving life. Jim got a call from another friend of his who wanted to hunt a spot together, so we finished up our food and started further north

When we got there, we found the hill we wanted to hit covered in GPX’s and TDI’s.  Those machines are much more expensive than my DFX, and designed using a different detection mechanism to work best in this highly mineralized red clay.  Jim and I went down to the base of the hill, and both started picking up some more lead. After a time, I heard a guy up on that hill saying that he just pulled an Union Eagle "I" infantry button. Well, despite the number of dug holes up there, if there are still finds that’s where I want to be. So I meandered my way up to the crest of that little hill overlooking the pond.

The signal itself wasn’t even very good. I would find out that several pieces of iron in and around the hole were masking the target underneath. Using a VLF detector at DIV, you learn to dig the worst little blips, and this was certainly a better signal than some others that produced bullets. I dug, hoping for another piece of lead, but what I saw when I moved the clay was gorgeous green brass, and I knew right away what it was. What I was looking at in the bottom of the hole, just a few inches deep in a field riddled with dig holes, was the back of a tongue from a tongue and wreath buckle. I let out an exclamation not suitable for polite company.

A tongue and wreath buckle is a two part buckle, consisting of the "tongue" half and the "wreath" half.  Each half connects to one end of a belt with a loop.  The solid circle tongue fits inside the open circle wreath, forming one piece and keeping the belt closed.  What I was looking at was my very first Civil War belt buckle.
I very carefully worked around it, loosening the clay. I wish I had taken an in-situ photograph or some video, but I was beyond excited to recover my first plate. I didn’t expect to find one, but I really wasn’t ready for what came next. When I pulled out the tongue for the first time in 150 years, and turned it over, I was presented with the figure of Virtus over the slain tyrant – which, as some of you may recall from my October button find here in Saxapahaw, is the Virginia state seal. I repeated my exclamation.

This particular buckle would have been worn by a Virginia Officer on his sword belt.  In fact, here is a replica of a belt buckle with an identical tongue.  The buckle that reproduction was made from was worn by General Robert E. Lee himself.

Another gentleman called over to see what I’d found. I wanted to speak, but no words came. My heart raced, my breathing was erratic. I walked over, the buckle in my outstretched hand. I dropped to my knees, and sat down. I was shaking. It was an overwhelming experience like no other. Before too long there was a crowd, and several of the hunt organizers came to photograph the find. (It’s worth noting that my hunting partner used the lull in detecting activity to clean up on bullets!)

As if that wasn’t enough, here’s where it gets really cool. Out of the crowd, another digger (Greg) walks up and asks to see the tongue. Then he pulled out a small piece of brass, and laid it next to the broken loop on my buckle – a perfect fit. He had dug it earlier in the morning on that same hill. I asked him how much he wanted for it, and he told me they deserved to be together, and I could have it. What a guy!! I tried to pay for it, but he insisted. I will still find some way to do something for him though; he deserved it for that kind of generosity.  Unfortunately the wreath was never recovered, and may still be sitting up on that hill.

I still can’t really believe what I found. It has been speculated, based on the number of Union buttons, bullets, and other relics found on the hill, that the buckle was a souvenir taken from a Confederate casualty and lost in the Union camp.  To think about the officer who wore that so long ago gives me chills.  I was only able to find few other examples of a Virginia tongue and wreath plates online which had been recovered with a metal detector, and only one other of this style.

The buckle was the talk of DIV on day 1, and news of the find had reached my carpool at the other end of the property even before I did.  It was voted to the top banner of both the TreasureNet Forum and JustGoDetecting Forum in less than 24 hours.  The buckle received a mention on The Relic Roundup radio show, and was photographed to appear in both American Digger Magazine and North South Trader Magazine.  I would consider it one of the top three relics of the entire hunt (the others being a Confederate sword hilt and a complete two-piece "CS" buckle).  DIV founder John Kendrick later referred to the Virginia tongue as "the top find of the hunt".

I am truly blessed beyond what I deserve, and give thanks to God for this find of a lifetime.  I hope you enjoyed the story and pictures.  Now I'm back home to look for more history right here in Saxapahaw!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Back from Diggin in Virginia!!

And it was so much fun!!  The invitational relic hunt took place over three days in an area known as Hansbrough Ridge in Culpeper, VA.  The ridge and surrounding fields consisted of hundreds of acres of Union camps and picket posts during the winter of 1863-1864.  In addition to the camps, there was some fighting near the south west of the ridge line associated with the Battle of Brandy Station and a smaller section of Confederate camps.  The photo above shows Cole's Hill, at the very north of the site.  The white spots up on the hill are soldier's tents.

I saw some simply amazing finds unearthed this weekend, and made some good ones of my own.  There were literally thousands of bullets, buttons, and other artifacts uncovered.  Numerous buckles and plates were recovered, including US box plates, at least three US eagle breast plates (one by my friend, congrats Jim!), a NY belt plate, TWO "CS" tongue and wreath buckles, and more.  There were at least three soldier's ID tags found.  I even witnessed an officer's sword recovered!  It was simply mind-blowing.

I also got to spend time with several of my friends from the Triangle Relic Recovery club in Raleigh and the Old North State Detectorists club in Greensboro, carpooling up together and hunting at the event.  I met a lot of great new people, too, including YouTube sensation Beau aka AquaChigger, DIV founders John and Rose K, and our driver to the hunt site "Woodland" Mike Post of Woodland Detectors.  Woodland Mike is a great guy and a fellow Tar Heel, so look him up if you decide you want to take up this great hobby.  It was the people who made this trip an unforgettable experience, and the finds were just icing on the cake.

My finds for the hunt included quite a bit of camp lead (bits from bullet making or melting bullets), two brass rivets, period rimfire shell casings, and two iron buckles.  I found the back to one cuff button (many buttons fall apart in the fields from the fertilizer and plow action), and one broken pre-civil war tombac button.  One of my favorite finds is this brass knapsack hook which came out of a brief exploration of the woods.

I recovered 24 bullets in total over the three days.  The 11 unfired Sharps bullets (top and bottom rows) were all found on a hill near the southern portion of the property.  I also recovered quite a few smaller caliber pistol bullets in that field, though I've yet to ID many of them.  I found several three ring minie balls similar to the ones I have found previously at Bentonville, NC and my own farm here in Saxapahaw.  One of these is a first for me, though - the base of the bullet is imprinted with a small star, a maker's mark unique to the Washington Arsenal.  The third bullet down in the left hand column is my first William's cleaner bullet.  The post on the back end would have had a zinc disc attached, which acted to scrub out the residue of a dirty gun barrel when fired.

The item front and center in the photograph is very special to me.  It truly is the find of a lifetime - but this post is long enough, so I'm going to keep you in suspense for another day.  Thanks for checking out the blog, and come back tomorrow night and I'll recall the story of this find, as well as it's great significance.