Monday, September 24, 2012

Detecting the Battle of Bentonville

The Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina took place on March 19-21st, 1865.  It was the last great offensive for the Confederate Army under General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding about 20,000 men.  The Union, under General William T. Sherman, was comprised of about 60,000 men.  The results of those three days of combat were more than 3,000 men killed or wounded, along with a decisive Union victory that left the Confederate army fleeing and the end of the war in sight.

On the third and final day of the battle, March 21st, General Joseph Mower requested permission to conduct “a little reconnaissance” to his front on the Union right wing.  This quickly escalated, and he lead two brigades on a full scale attack on the Confederate left wing, defending General Johnston’s headquarters as well as the highly important Mill Creek bridge.  This attack, which became known as Mower’s Charge, broke the confederate flank and reached as far as Johnston’s headquarters, forcing a Confederate retreat.  The charge was ended by a counterattack from Confederate General William Hardee (whose only son was mortally wounded during the counterattack), as well as orders from General Sherman to pull back to avoid a larger confrontation.  During the night of March 21st, the Confederates retreated across the Mill Creek bridge, ending the battle.  The drawing above is a depiction of Mower's Charge from the Frank Leslie Illustrated Newspaper.

With field crops now being to be harvested, I was able to get out with my good friend Jim to do some detecting near the site of Mower’s Charge.  I had some very good luck this trip, and broke out of my recent detecting slump in a big way.  Above is a picture of all my finds from the battle.

I recovered three bullets during the day.  The center bullet is an unfired 58 caliber three ring minie ball, the most commonly used ammunition.  To the left is another 58 caliber bullet, heavily deformed from impact after firing.  This is an excellent example of the power of the weapons used, and shows why they were capable of such devastating wounds.   On the right is another type of minie ball, this one a 577 Enfield bullet.  This is a much less common round, and only the third such bullet that I have personally recovered.

After the battle, Union Lt. Matthew Jamison of the 10th Illinois wrote “[We] form line of battle in a heavily wooded country and move forward instantly, scarcely giving time to form the line and to allow the skirmishers to deploy.  Nothing joins our extreme left – skirmishers engaged – as we advance rebel batteries shell us.”  He is describing the advance of Mower’s Charge, and the Confederate batteries (groups of typically four cannons each) firing explosive projectiles (shells) towards their approach.  One of my finds includes this heavy piece of iron, a fragment from a Confederate pentagonal cavity exploding shell.  The pentagonal internal cavity, filled with gunpowder and a particular geometry used exclusively by late-war Confederate artillery, allowed for more consistent fragmentation upon detonation and thus greater damage to enemy troops below.  I have discussed this type of projectile previously, this being the second pentagonal cavity shell fragment I have found near Mower’s charge.

My favorite find the day, though, is this rusted iron piece – a lock plate from a rifle broken or lost during the battle.  It is most likely from an Enfield rifle, although several other less common rifles used similar locks.  The hammer on the outside (which would strike the percussion cap to fire the weapon) is missing, but the internal mechanism seems to be quite intact.  Below are pictures of an original Enfield rifle showing how the lock plate attached to the gun, along with a reproduction lock plate showing the internal mechanism.  I will clean and preserve the iron by electrolysis to prevent further corrosion, and will post new pictures of the results when that is complete.

It is difficult to comprehend the circumstances of that day on March 21st, 1865 when this gun was lost.  We will never know for sure exactly why it was left there, given the incredible amount of musket fire, artillery explosions, fierce fighting, injury and death that was going on around it.  Artifacts like this always provide such a personal connection to the war that was so brutal on both sides.  That is the reason I pursue this great hobby of relic hunting, and share it with you here on Detecting Saxapahaw.

Last but not least, in case you thought it was too easy, here’s an example of some of the many pounds of junk I carted away!  Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for my upcoming electrolysis update!

1 comment:

  1. Great job saving these relics for others to enjoy...

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