Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Saving History from Destruction

Hey everyone!  In my last post, I had gone out with Jim from Touch the Past to a camp site used by Union troops on their march through North Carolina at the end of the American Civil War.  What was once natural woods and open fields have succumbed to the steady march of "progress" to include strip malls and suburban neighborhoods.  We found a few bullets during a site survey at a large swath of development, bulldozed, graded, and ready for building.  With time limited before concrete and asphalt lock away those relics forever, we knew it was imperative to make a return trip as quickly as possible.

We spent two days this weekend hoping to save some more history, and managed to do quite well on bullets.  Day one yielded six 58 caliber Minie balls, conical bullets named for their French inventor, Claude-Etienne Minie.  Due to the earth movement at the site, one of these was found sitting directly on top of the ground!  I also recovered three Williams cleaner bullets, complete with the zinc base used to remove build up from the rifle barrel when fired.  I found one mangled round ball, several large pieces of melted lead (often referred to as "camp lead"), and two brass rivets.  The small brass wire in the same picture is part of a J hook, used on a knapsack.  It is broken in two places - the left is missing a button-like end, and the right is missing the remainder of the wire that would loop back around giving the "J" hook its name.

Day two at the site again proved to be good for bullets, yielding three more 58 caliber three-ring minies and three Williams cleaners along with some smaller camp lead.  I found a few post-war items of interest as well, pictured below.  The half-dollar sized token is an aluminum coupon for Palmolive soap, possibly from as late as the 1950's.  I noticed the top of the bottle sticking up from the ground, and carefully excavated it intact.  It reads "Syrup of Black Draught", a laxative produced since the late 1800's.  The button is iron backed, with an anchor in wreath design on the front.  Given where it was found I was really hoping for a Civil War era Federal Navy button, but it turned out to be a considerably more modern fashion button.

I had a great weekend getting out with Jim to save some history, and managed to have some of my best days ever with regard to bullets.  I do regret not finding this site before grading took place, as there is no telling how many more relics have been pushed and buried under feet of earth.  But on the other hand, I am proud to have saved a few more pieces of American history from being lost forever beneath the ever expanding concrete jungle.  And that, as they say, is what relic hunting is all about.


  1. Cool finds.

    I am surprised, given the history of the area, that new construction is not preceded by an archaeological survey.

  2. Oh pulltab, don't get me started on that subject!!

    The establishment, quite frankly, has neither the time nor the motivation to protect a site like this one nor the artifacts it contains.

    The state is severely lacking in funds and employees for any study. A camp like this one adds little to the established knowledge of the war. It is well documented that troops were in the area (that's how the site was found in the first place). We know who was there, and why. There are examples of most relics that would be unearthed at a site like this already in possession of the state. So there is very little "new" to be found at such a site.

    I'm not faulting the Office of State Archeology - in fact, I have worked on site with them in the past using a detector. But they have limited resources, and allocate them the best they can. Sites like this one just don't make the cut, so it's up to the amateurs to do what we can before progress takes over and destroys it.

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