Saturday, January 21, 2012

Unearthing the Weapons of War

I went along with Jim from Silent Remnants to perform a site survey in an area he has been researching, looking for relics from the Civil War.  The field we detected had been the site of a home since the early 1800's, and was along the route used by Northern troops as they marched through central North Carolina in 1865.  While we didn't find a large quantity of relics, we each had one quality find - the very weapons used to fight the American Civil War.

My weapon find is in the form of this heavily plow-damaged thick brass oval.  Because my camera is down (I'm waiting on a new one to arrive in the mail!), I've included scans of the piece, so I apologize for the poor quality images.  It may not look like much now, but this was once the central portion of a sword guard, likely used by a Union cavalryman or infantry officer.  The blade of the sword ran through the central rectangular hole, and the raised ring on the "bottom" of the piece (image on the right) attached to the sword handle.  Unfortunately it won't be possible to identify the make of the sword because so much of the brass is missing, but it does seem to resemble the Ames model 1840/1860 cavalry saber.  I have included a picture of an original M1860 cavalry saber, and a complete sword guard of this type in dug condition can be seen here.  Despite the fact that I only recovered a heavily damaged portion of the hilt, the rarity and importance of this relic are such that I'm thrilled to have found it in any condition.
Jim made his weapon recovery not far from where this sword was found, and they may have even been lost by the same soldier.  I count Jim's find among the very best I have ever personally watched come out of the ground - head over to Silent Remnant to check it out!

I apologize that I can't post pictures of my other recoveries until my new camera arrives.  These included two flat buttons (late 18th to early 19th century), horse tack buckles, a small brass bell, and several other pieces of miscellaneous brass, some of which I still haven't identified.  I found a large rectangular buckle which I initially thought was a sword belt plate, but quickly realized was post war upon removing it from the hole.  It's still a great find, and I will feature it as a separate blog post once my camera has arrived.  Thanks for looking, I hope you enjoyed reading, and God bless!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Civil War brass that I didn't know I had

I have posted in the past about identification of recovered relics, and particularly the use of detecting forums and the wealth of knowledge they provide.  Here is yet another example of why it's so important to take the time to understand what it is you're finding.  I recently posted a grouping of finds made at an old house site near Swepsonville, NC.  They included a pocket knife, two interesting buckles, and this unknown brass item.

I also posted these finds at several of my favorite detecting forums.  Two people at the TreasureSpot forum left comments about the unknown brass piece.  It was identified as the top hook from a bayonet scabbard!  The bayonet hung from a belt, sheathed within a leather scabbard with brass throat and drag.  Below is an example of an Enfield bayonet and scabbard from the Ridgeway Civil War Reference Archive.
The top hook which I dug connected the throat with a leather belt loop, known as a frog.  The following picture shows the bayonet scabbard, both with and without the attached leather frog.  I'm not at all surprised to find a Civil War era relic, like this bayonet scabbard hook, at the old house where I recovered it.  The Confederate retreat from Bentonville, and pursuing Union soldiers, passed very near to this spot at the end of the war in 1865. 

Without knowing this history or investigating this item, it could easily have been mistaken for a piece of farm trash or unidentifiable, miscellaneous brass.  For the novice relic hunters out there, it is always important to save unknown pieces of interest, because it could very well be an important discovery.  I hate to imagine my reaction to learning what this piece is once it had already been recycled!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

1700's US Copper - another feather in my Liberty Cap

Hey everyone!  I got to out yesterday, once again following the trail of Union soldiers marching through central North Carolina in 1865.  It's important to remember, though, that many of the roads used during the Civil War existed well before hostilities, connecting the towns, mills, churches, schools, and plantations of the earliest North Carolina settlers.  Jim and I found ourselves at one of these "crossroads of history" yesterday, now nothing more than a plowed cotton field.  We were also joined by another local relic hunter, Mike, who happened to be driving past and saw us out in the field!  Like any good (obsessive, like myself) relic hunter, he had his machine with him, and we invited him to join in the search.

Jim found the only likely Civil War relics of the day - four (yes, four) brass boot toe plates.  This makes perfect sense to find along the road where a large column of troops marched.  While I didn't find any relics that can be directly related to the American Civil War, what I did recover made for an excellent day of detecting.  The first of these was a man's wedding ring, with no inscription, made of brass.  Being a brass ring, and found at that location, means it is likely quite old.  However, the continued use of this area for some 200+ years means it won't be possible to date with any accuracy.  Sadly, my digital camera died the other day, so I won't be able to post a picture of it until the camera is replaced.  But I can show you my other two nice finds using a flatbed scanner!

The best finds of the day for me were two US large cents.  Considering I only found three large cents in all of 2011, this was a good day for me to say the least!  The first one, shown above, is of the braided hair variety (1839-1857), and appears to be in decent shape below the surface damage.  I may attempt a peroxide bath to clean this coin in the future, and I'll certainly post the results if I do.  For you budding numismatists out there, DON'T clean your coins unless you're certain they hold little to no numismatic value.  Doing so will greatly reduce or destroy any associated value.

The other cent really got me excited though.  It's heavily worn, but even in the field I could see one small area of detail remaining.  I knew it would be enough to ID the coin, and I knew it didn't match up with a typical matron head penny, and was too large to be braided hair.  A comparison of the detail to known coins matches with the Liberty Cap large cent - a first for me, and my very first coin from the 1700's!!  WOOHOO!!  My dug coin is on the left, with a an excellent 1796 Liberty cap from PCGS coinfacts on the right for reference.  Notice the detail in the red circle on my coin, corresponding to the top of Liberty's hair.
The US first began minting their own coinage in 1792, beginning with the silver half disme (spelled with an "s").  In 1793 they introduced the first United States copper penny, known as a flowing hair large cent.  This very rare coin is comprised of two subtypes, the chain cent and wreath cent.  The design of the penny was highly criticized at the time, and changed to the liberty cap design later in 1793.  The coin shows Lady Liberty holding a cap on a pole, a symbol of freedom at the time.  The reverse of the coin features the classic laurel wreath and denomination.  The denomination, "One hundred for a dollar", was also originally stamped along the thick edge of the coin.  During 1795, President Washington reduced the overall weight of the coin.  The decreased thickness meant the edge lettering could no longer be included on most 1795 and all 1796 liberty cap cents.  In 1797, the design was again changed to the bust cent, meaning my coin dates somewhere between 1793 and 1796.  Based on the thickness of my coin (it is comparable to the matron head large cents I have previously dug) and lack of edge lettering (though they may have simply been worn off), I believe this coin is most likely a 1795-6 large cent  I will need to take an accurate weight measurement to confirm this.

It's amazing simply to hold a a coin minted during the Presidency of George Washington himself.  It's fascinating to think of the hands it passed through before being lost in in that field so many years ago.  I'm glad to have recovered it and to be able to share it with you here.  It is this connection to our history, in this particular case the history of our fledgeling nation establishing its place in the world, that drives the passion I have for detecting.  Thanks for looking, and I hope you enjoyed reading!!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

My oldest silver coin - I think?

Hey everyone!  I apologize for the slow down in posting for a bit.  There's a reason it's called relic "hunting" and not necessarily relic "finding".  I've been focused on locating a few specific sites recently, which still seem to elude me.  So for a change of pace I went back to my roots and searched an old home site near Swepsonville, NC.  The owner told me it had been detected many times in the past - and he was right.  There weren't nearly as many non-ferrous tones as I'd expected.
 My recent finds in that area included a cool old pocket knife, brass tack or belt buckle, and this unknown brass piece.  I also found a small brass thimble, which is because I gave it away before taking these photos!  I really like the round brass buckle on the right.  It's most likely a sash buckle, dating from the mid 1800's to early 1900's.  The center bar is braised on and very sturdy, though the outside ring is quite a bit thinner.

I also went out again yesterday to a section of old road that I've been investigating with Jim from Silent Remnants.  We were disappointed with the results at what we imagined to be a promising location, but I still managed to find this small silver disc.  I believe it to be a coin based on the size and shape, though it is very thin and all detail is worn smooth.  What is it with me and finding smooth coins lately?  The square hole is not uncommon in older coins, as they were sometimes holed to be sewn into clothing or tied together to avoid losing them.  As far as age, I believe this to be my oldest silver coin to date - and here's why.

Modern dimes measure 17.9 mm in diameter.  But this particular coin is 18.8 mm.  This matches the diameter of early US dimes, which were larger and slightly lower in silver content.  When the seated liberty design was introduced in 1837, the silver content was raised, which required a small size reduction to maintain the total silver content (and thus value) of the coin.  Based on the diameter, the location it was found, and the square hole I believe this coin to be either a draped bust (1796-1807) or capped bust (1809-1837) US dime.  Of course, foreign silver coins still circulated in the United States well into the 19th century, so we'll never know for sure.  The Spanish 1 Real silver coin, for example, was very common in circulation during our nations first century, and approximately the same size.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Relics from Sherman's Army

During the last days of the American Civil War, Sherman’s army had nearly 100,000 troops marching through North Carolina, pushing back Johnston’s Confederates as they advanced north.  Jim from Silent Remnants invited me to help him search a site along one of the roads used by some of these Union forces.

When we arrived on site we were greeted by some of the most welcoming land owners I’ve yet encountered.  They were very helpful in directing us to promising locations and explaining the history of the area.  The biggest challenge with this particular location was the brush.  The spot we searched was well back in the woods, filled with some of the thickest brambles and underbrush I’ve ever been through.  We did more walking than detecting, doing a site survey to locate good areas.

In the places we did swing, however, we were able to recover a few period finds.  I chanced upon the first item right in the path, a bent up piece of period brass.  Unfolding it revealed a toe plate from a soldier’s boot.  We also found another small area of relics, perhaps where a soldier sat down to rest.  In a short time I had recovered four 58 caliber Minie balls, and the base portion of a Williams cleaner bullet.  The last signal in the area was rock solid, and higher than that of the previously dug bullets.  I was so happy to pull out a big copper disc – my first large cent of 2012.  The penny is lacking a date, and the condition leaves a lot to be desired, but it may be my favorite dug coin yet.  Finding it in that location along with other items from the Civil War leaves little doubt that it was carried and lost by a Union soldier nearly 150 years ago.  I'm very happy to have been given the opportunity to recover these historic items.  Thanks for reading and God bless!