Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas from Detecting Saxapahaw!!

Hey everyone!  I just wanted to wish you all a very Merry Christmas from my family to yours.  I spent the yesterday with my wife's family touring some of the museums in Raleigh, and of course I had to make a stop in at the Civil War exhibit at the Museum of History.  It was very well put together, with some really great artifacts on display.  I will say that it was quite a bit smaller than I imagined from the emphasis on the exhibit shown at their website.  It's still definitely worth checking out if you're in the area.  The exhibit is housed within the Museum of History and next door to the Museum of Natural Science, so there is plenty there for your viewing pleasure.  We had a great time learning together and spending time with each other this holiday season. 

I wish you all a happy holidays and Merry Christmas from Detecting Saxapahaw!!

 North Carolina uniform coat, NC Museum of History
Notice the NC sunburst buttons!
6 Pounder cannon used by North Carolina troops, NC Museum of History

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A three-cannonball day!!

I got out again over the weekend with my friend Jim from Touch the Past, and had one heck of a day. I got a total of four bullets for the day, three of them 58 caliber three ring Minie balls and one Williams cleaner bullet.  I recovered these two interesting finials, one made of brass and the other from lead.  The brass finial is from a cartridge box, and is used to affix the leather flap to keep the box closed.  An example of a Union cartridge box showing that style of finial in use can be seen here.

In the field I believed the lead finial on the right might also be from a cartridge box, as some Confederate boxes used lead finials.  The design isn’t quite right for a box finial, though, and I think it is more likely from a Confederate bayonet scabbard tip like either of these two examples.  I also found another button which I didn't record on video, since it was so caked in stuck on dirt that I didn't realize it was a Confederate uniform button!  This one is the second NC sunburst to come from the field.

Just before lunchtime, Jim came over to show me a canister shot ball he had just dug.  Canister shot is a type of anti-personnel artillery ammunition consisting of a larger number of smaller iron balls, effectively turning the cannon into a giant shotgun.  On our last hunt we pulled several friction primers from this area, as well. Thinking that we might be in an area to find some artillery, I started paying a bit more attention to the iron signals, just in case. The signal itself wasn't "loud" per se, clearly evident, but not blowing my ears off like I might expect. But it did cover a large surface area.  I had scooped out the blade length of my shovel and the signal was still in the hole (and now it was loud!)There was no signal with a handheld pinpointer yet, meaning it was still quite a bit deeper, so I called over Jim to check it out. I was worrying my pinpointing was off, and it was going to be something smaller in the side of the hole. With his confirmation that I was spot on, I kept going down, and down, and down. And then it showed up - the top of my first artillery projectile! The picture with my shovel in the hole is to the top of the cannon ball, which is still in the hole in that shot.

When I could feel it break loose, I called Jim back over and we shot some video, which is posted below. While I was digging out the first one, I thought I felt the shovel knock on something in the side of the hole. So I kept on going, and sure enough, number two came out of the hole.  In taking that one out, I exposed the third one just below those two. I kept expanding the hole outward, and checked with the pinpointer and DFX to be sure, so I know I didn't leave any behind. Man, what a thrill to find one, let alone three at once!!

All three are six pound solid shot, which would be fired from a model 1841 Six-Pounder cannon.  They measure 3.58 inches in diameter, and are made of solid cast iron.  The six-pounder cannon, while incredibly popular during the Mexican War of the 1840’s, was being phased out during the Civil War in favor of Twelve-Pounder Napoleons and other larger guns.  Six-Pounders were still used in the Confederate artillery that was desperate for any cannon, and the Union still employed them in the Western theater as well as attached to cavalry for increased mobility using the smaller guns.  Solid shot ammunition would primarily be used in targeting enemy cannons, houses, wagons, and earthworks, and could be devastating against personnel if fired into a column.  Here is a video showing a six-pounder cannon being fired.

The artillery was cleaned using electrolysis to remove the built up rust and prevent further deterioration.  This process is necessary for iron relics to stabilize and preserve them.  They still need a few more finishing touches and a wax coating, but this is pretty much how they'll look for the future.  Below is the video from the hunt, which includes the cannonball recovery and some of the cleaning process.  Thanks for looking, and for the comments. I hope you enjoyed the story, pictures, and video of my exciting three-cannonball day!!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Diggin' in NC and a truly North Carolina relic

Well, I'm back from my detecting trip to Virginia, but still finding plenty of Civil War relics right here in the Old North State.  I got out with my friend Jim to a spot that he had researched, and we both made some great recoveries.  I'm really excited with the variety of relics I was able to find.  Here are my finds for the day.

The lead around the outside comprised most of my finds.  This included three round balls and a number of dropped and fired three ring minie balls.  The bullet in the top row center appears to have been carved, and I think it was originally a Sharps bullet.  I found an interesting variety of brass finds, too.  This included two J hooks (one missing the button end).  You may recall that I just found my first J hook at the beginning of last month, and I describe this item's use in that blog post.  On the right side of the group finds photo are two fragmented Spencer carbine bullet casings, used in ammunition for a Spencer repeating rifle by the Union cavalry.  On one of the two casings, only the flat base remains, which is not uncommon when these fragile pieces are recovered from the ground.  We found several fired Spencer bullets and brass casings in the area previously.

The three copper tubes are particularly interesting, and something I have never found before.  They are known as friction primers, and are used to fire cannons.  The longer tube would be filled with gunpowder, while the perpendicular nib contained a material that would spark with minimal friction.  The primer's longer tube would be inserted into the cannon, and a line known as a lanyard attached to the primer.  This would allow the artillery operator to stand well back from the cannon, and when he pulled on the lanyard, the friction would spark, igniting the gunpowder in the primer tube.  This flash set off the cannon's main charge to fire the projectile.

The most unique recovery goes to this 1844 One Shilling coin from Britain.  Until the Coinage Act of 1857, foreign silver could be used as legal tender in the United States, so finding foreign coins in Civil War or pre Civil War sites is not unusual.  I'm typically not as excited by coins as I was before I started relic hunting, but a unique find like this would certainly be the exception.  In my opinion, it is a relic first and foremost, and will be displayed as such.

The best find for the day was actually my very first signal of the day - a North Carolina sunburst uniform button.  The condition leaves a lot to be desired, but a Confederate button in any condition is an excellent find.  As is typical with these NC buttons, the shank is no longer intact.  This is my second NC sunburst button, and the first (which is in much nicer condition!) was found right here in Saxapahaw last year.  Jim recovered several confederate bullets in the area (including an excellent "57" marked Enfield and a Charleston high-base minie), and the round balls I found were also likely used by the rebels.