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!


  1. Great writeup! If you go back next year, do you think you'll hunt the same hill for the wreath? :)

  2. I don't know if/when they'll hunt the ridge again. I probably would spend some more time up on that hill. There's a lot of good stuff left to find in that particular spot. I'll be there's some huts or firepits to dig out, too.

    But if we went back I think I might want to spend some more time in the woods. I didn't get up on the ridge at all. Also, I think there's parts of the bean field that were neglected that should put out nicely.

    But it would be really amazing to find the wreath... so I'd have to try at least some!

  3. Great find! Is there any way to restore the piece? Is that even recommended?


  4. Thanks!!

    That's as good as it gets, I'm afraid. I could send it off to be professionally cleaned, there are a number of relic restoration experts, and some of their results are really fantastic. You always run the risk of damaging it, though, so I plan to leave it as is. I've done as much cleaning as I feel comfortable with, I'm very happy with the detail you can see, and I'll leave it there. The only thing I might do is send off the broken loop to be straightened, still undecided about that.

  5. great blog!! thanks for your work...