Sunday, April 29, 2012

Civil War brass I didn't know I had (Again!)

Hey everyone!  I've been scouting some new properties, which can often take time before it produces results.  In between scouting trips, Jim and I would headed back to our "old faithful" construction site, hoping to rescue a few more relics before the new buildings go up.  We've done a fairly good job cleaning the place up, but it's a large area and there are still a few more dozer-scattered bullets to be found.  Here are a few bullets found on recent trips.

Now, in the past, I've talked about the fun of identifying unknown relics and the importance of hanging on to things you can't quite ID.  Recently I found yet another example of this, and pulled another Saxapahaw Civil War relic from my scrap box.  But the story actually starts back in 2010.  One of my early finds here in Saxapahaw was this large, flat, brass oval.  I didn't know what it was, but it was interesting and I knew I should keep it, so into the scrap box it went.  Several months went by, and I happened to be perusing one of the numerous detecting forums on the web when I found a post of one user's best Civil War recoveries.  Scrolling through pictures of buckles and buttons, there I find this same large, flat, brass oval.  I jumped up and ran to my box to recovered my piece, and sure enough, it was an exact match.  It was ID'ed as the pan portion (sometimes called the "clam shell" or "mouse ear" ) of a shoulder epaulette or shoulder scale.

These brass pieces, issued to Union troops, were made up of several pieces that form a row of armor over the shoulder.  They were intended to reduce injuries from cavalry sabre strikes to the shoulder, but proved to be rather ineffective in actual use.  As a result, they were often discarded by soldiers, so finding one at a late-war site (for example, here in Saxapahaw) is much less common.  Here is a picture of a Union soldier showing shoulder scales in use, as well as an original non-dug pair of shoulder scales.

Recently I had a bit of a deja-vu moment.  I was browsing some recent finds on a detecting forum, when I happened across a small brass piece which looked familiar.  I once again ran down to the scrap box, and sure enough I had recovered the same small brass item from the field where the shoulder scale pan had been found.

The shoulder scale attached to the uniform using a brass turn-key piece, which I had already recovered without realizing it!  The image below shows a pair of reproduction turn-key attachments, as well as a pair of original scales demonstrating how the turn-keys work.  The turnkey I found is pictured above.  My first thought was to grab the DFX and search the field again for the rest of the scales, but it will have to wait, as the field is currently in hay.  I will, of course, keep you updated should I find some more of it though!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Confederate Button? Yankee Knife? Not so fast...

Hey everyone!  I haven't found anything amazing lately that would warrant it's own blog post, but I thought I'd post a few things I have found lately over several hunts.  In the process, I'll make a short commentary about a subject few relic hunters want to discuss, but which is important for us all to be aware of.  Namely, the temptation to identify an item the way you want it to be, even if the evidence is lacking to make that claim.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Last weekend I took a trip down to the Battle of Bentonville, NC with a few guys from the Raleigh detecting club.  The heavy rains in the area preceding our visit made for a wet, soggy, and cold day of detecting.  It was also comparatively slow in terms of finds for all of us, but I did manage two 58 caliber three ring minie balls and one Williams cleaner bullet.  The find of the day was made by John, who recovered a US bridle rosette, although the plow had beaten him to it and bent the brass piece nearly in half.

Wednesday after work I had a bit of time, and decided to do some more detecting right here in Saxapahaw.  I was working a Confederate site on a farm near town, which I believe may have been a small picket post.  It sits on a low hill with a view of Saxapahaw Bethlehem Church Rd. and the old White Cross Road (NC 54), and would have provided a safe but effective watch post to cover the Confederate crossing of the Haw River further North.  I have previously recovered several military related items which date to the Civil War, including coat size buttons from both Virginia and North Carolina.  I only found one period item in my short hunt on Wednesday, which turned out to be this tiny (very tiny!) two piece brass cuff button.  The brass back has no backmark, and the shank is broken off.  The device (design on the front) of the button shows a star pattern, with rings of dots at each point.  This would fall under the collector's classification as a "flower button."

And here is where the temptation comes in.  The Confederate army was very poorly equipped compared to the Union, and this included uniforms and uniform buttons.  It is well established than many Confederates wore makeshift uniforms, often consisting of civilian-use gilted flower buttons or flat buttons. It is easy to find similar civilian buttons online listed as "Confederate."  So did I find another Confederate button in that field near home?  It's tempting to say yes.  It was found very close to (actually, in between) the two Confederate buttons previously recovered in the field.  It is fitting in both design and construction for the period, although the size is a bit unique.  I have not found any distinctly non-military period finds in that area.  As tempting as it is to declare this a "Confederate button," I will stop short of making that claim.  Although it MAY have been used by a Confederate, it was designed as a civilian button, and the field in which it was found has been farmed by civilians for some 200+ years.  This is why responsible relic hunters stress the importance of good record keeping.  The best I can do is record the provenance of the item for the future, and to ascribe any more significance to it would simply be disingenuous.

I also took a trip yesterday down to a Union Camp that I have been searching with my buddy Jim.  We haven't located the main camp exactly, but have been working the outlying areas trying to hone in on a central location.  The result of yesterday's scouting trip was three bullets - two 58 cal minie's for me and a fired Williams cleaner for Jim.  This is an interesting bullet, as the vast majority of cleaners that I have seen dug have been dropped rather than fired.  They were considered by the troops to be less accurate or harder to load, and were often discarded without firing.  I also recovered a pocket knife, made of iron with a brass end.  Since it was found near the camp site, it clearly belonged to a soldier, right?  No?  Good, you passed the test.  Pocket knives like this were made during the period, but their design has changed very little since then.  I will have to do some more research to find out if this is a period knife, although it's likely that I will never really be sure.

Thanks for reading, and thanks in advance for any comments you may have.  God Bless!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

An Unexpected Relic from a different Great War

I finally got back to some digging back home in North Carolina, and made an unexpected but very interesting find.  I was back at the construction site with Jim last week, looking for more bullets from a Civil War camp site which is currently being developed.  Most of the targets we've been recovering there have been of the Civil War period, but the land was originally part of a farm, so we occasionally find more modern items as well.  My take for the day was four more bullets (three 58 caliber minie balls and one Williams cleaner type two), two small rivets, some melted lead, and the base to another Williams cleaner bullet.  I was surprised when I uncovered a small holed coin from the site!  Given the hole, I thought it was likely from the Civil War period, but cleaning it revealed a relic from a different Great War.

One side of the coin shows the Reichsadler, or Imperial Eagle, the heraldic symbol of Germany.  The other side identifies the coin as 10 Pfennig, along with the country of origin, the "Deutsches Reich" or Imperial German Realm.  The date on the coin holds a special significance - minted in 1918, this coin marks the end of World War I and the fall of the German Empire that created it.  This explains the hole in the coin, as it was almost certainly a souvenir brought back from the war.  This is one of those special sort of finds that I really wish could talk.  It would definitely have a story to tell, and it is fascinating to think about the places it has been and the things it might have been witness to.  I have included a picture of a non-dug example of this coin below, so you can see what it would have looked like before it was lost.