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.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Detecting Saxapahaw is going "Diggin' in Virginia"!!!

Sorry for the lack of updates lately.  I have gotten out for a few short hunts, and found some more neat things to show you, I just haven't had to time to post them yet.  I'll get around to it before the end of the month, though!

Right now I'm gearing up for the "Diggin' in Virginia" three-day invitational hunt.  I was fortunate enough to be selected for the event, which will include seminars on Civil War history, advances in metal detector technology and techniques, and of course three days of metal detecting on hundreds of acres of prime Civil War territory (battle sites and long-term camps).  Just to be clear, all the hunt sites are private land with owners permission, as always.  To say I'm excited would be an understatement - I'm like a kid on Christmas Eve!

I leave bright an early with several guys from the Raleigh detecting club.  I'll try to keep you posted, if not via blog posts, then smaller updates on the Facebook page.  Wish us luck!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Detecting the vineyards, and a Tarheel Confederate in Saxapahaw

Hey everyone!  I got an email in response to my call for old sites from the owners of Benjamin Vineyards asking if I would like to search their property on Whitney Road.  It was once farmland belonging to a prominent local doctor, Dr. McPherson, who lived very near by.  It appears on the 1893 map of Alamance County as belonging to the Stockard family.  It became a vineyard in 2002, and now sells local wines and hosts vineyard tours, wine tastings, and private events.

I spent several hours roaming the property, looking for any signs of significant activity.  Unfortunately I didn't stumble upon any hotspots, and the finds were limited to bullet casings and shotgun shells (although some of the shells were manufactured over a century ago!).  Just the same, the weather was amazing, and the scenery couldn't have been prettier.  Strolling through the rows of grape vines and around the scenic landscape was a meditative experience, and one I'm sure I would have missed out on if not for this great hobby.  A special thank you goes out to the owners of Benjamin Vineyards for the kind invitation to their property.

After returning home and finishing the rest of my daily "to do's", there was still a little bit of daylight remaning, and I decided to use it up detecting around Victory Calls Stables.  I detected on the half of the farm where most of my CW relics have come from, including last month's Civil War era Virginia state seal button.  A detecting partner of mine also recovered a North Carolina state seal button from a neighboring property.

I was having trouble finding targets that weren't iron (and dug some of those for good measure), when I had an epiphany. Several of my period finds have come from the area around a specific set of fencelines. And while I've detected hard all around them, I've never gotten right under the fence. So I shut off the electric top strand and worked my way along the fenceline.  Sure enough, I got a weak signal.  I moved some clay and it got stronger. Using a pinpointer and hand digger to avoid scratching whatever it might be, I carefully removed the clay to reveal a flatbutton with no shank, typical of the 1800-1860's timeframe.

I instantly noticed that this particular button was actually convex in shape.  The next thing I noticed was that it had some design on the front.  I knew what I was hoping for (having seen this button during my research), and brushed the front of the button to reveal a circle with the letters "NC".

What I was holding is known as a North Carolina Sunburst button, used on uniforms of NC troops during the Civil War.  It's a "local" button, a term used to describe buttons made in the South during the War.  This is in contrast to many pre-war buttons that continued to see use, such as the Virginia state seal button I found nearby.  They were crudely made one piece stamped copper buttons, with soldered shanks.  The solder joints were usually poor, and frequently failed, so finding one with an intact shank is nearly impossible.  Original solder marks can be seen on the back of the button, along with a weak impression of the stamped device.  This makes the second Confederate button from my own farm, and third from these two properties.

I feel once again blessed and humbled to be given to oportunity to recover another rare piece of our state's history so close to home.  As always, feel free to email me with anything you would like to see featured here, or any tips for old sites in the area, or leave a comment on the facebook page.  Thanks for checking out the blog and in advance for any comments you may have.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Detecting in Saxapahaw: Buckles, buttons, coins, and ... peacocks?

Following yesterday's fun but less-than-successful Halloween hunt, I really wanted to get out there and try again.  I went down closer to Saxapahaw proper to detect the Buckner Farm on Sax Beth.  The property is a North Carolina "century farm", or a property actively farmed by the same family for more than 100 years.  It appears on an 1893 map of Alamance County as part of the Newlin farms, who are of course counted among the founding fathers of Saxapahaw.

Both my detecting partner Brad and myself have searched this property in the past, but the good finds just kept on coming today!  The oldest finds for the day came from the same hole (a note for the new detectorists - always always check you hole before replacing the sod!).  The first one out of the ground was a flat button without the shank, typical of the 1800-1860 timeframe.  The second find is a really nice small buckle.  Both tines are still intact, and it has a great flower pattern on the front.  The center bar is marked "GERMANY."  This is most likely a suspender buckle or pants waist adjuster, typical of the 1850's and 60's (matching the later timeframe of the flatbutton found with it).

I also managed to find several old coins today, including two wheat pennies (1940 and 1918), and two silver dimes (1958 Roosevelt and 1937 Mercury).  Both dimes were surprisingly shallow for a worked site, so I'm sure there's more out there to find.

The coolest find by far is this large brooch, which was once silver plated.  It was recovered in two pieces, so again I remind new detectorists to always check your holes.  The front image is of two peacocks kissing, their bodies forming a heart.  The decorative style looks to be Victorian to me, but I'm can't say for certain on the age.  Regardless, this is my favorite piece for the day, and I'm really thrilled to have found it!

Thanks for checking out the blog, and you can also keep up to date with Detecting Saxapahaw on Facebook.  Until next time, happy hunting and God Bless!