Thursday, April 4, 2013

DIV Recoveries Part 3: Oh, the Iron-y.

I'm back for the third and final post of my DIV finds series - the iron!  Most detectorists do their best to avoid digging iron at all costs.  We spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on machines to help us discriminate out the countless nails, farm tools, nails, fence wire, and nails that are omnipresent over just about every home site, field, and woods.  Did I mention we dig a lot of nails?

But there is a time and place for digging iron, and there are a lot of great iron relics out there waiting to be found.  One of my favorites finds from this trip is this iron heel plate from a soldiers boot, complete with the original nails to secure it to the heel.  The iron heel plate resembles a small horseshoe, and served the same purpose - to help keep the shoe from wearing out as quickly as the soldiers marched, often twenty or more miles per day.  While I was able to find quite a few images of original Civil War soldier's shoes online, few showed the bottom of the shoe.  However, I did find this virtual-museum image of a British military shoe from the 1850's, with the heel plate clearly visible.

The rest of my iron finds are fragments of exploded artillery shells.  I was really hoping to find a complete shell this time around, and while several were found in the area I was searching, I wasn't one of the lucky ones to get my coil over it.  I am still very happy with the fragments I recovered though.  They include two large sections of a 12lb round shell and several smaller pieces from unidentified shells.  Failing to find a full shell, the most sought after fragments are the tail section and the artillery fuze, and I was fortunate enough to recover one of each.

The base is from a Union Hotchkiss shell.  The shell was comprised of three parts, as shown in the cross section from the Ridgeway Reference Archive.  The top section contained the explosive charge to detonate the shell.  Around the middle section is a lead band, or sabot, used to grip the rifling in the cannon barrel.  This imparts a spin on the shell allowing for greater range and accuracy compared to a smooth bore cannon.  The bottom piece is an iron base cup, the section which I found.

The fuze I recovered is from a Federal 10lb Parrott shell.  The iron ring is the nose section of the shell itself, sheared off by the shell's internal explosion.  Within the iron ring is a white metal (zinc and lead) time fuze.  The hole in the center of the fuze would accommodate a paper fuze with slow-burning gunpowder lit by the flame of the propulsion charge as the shell left the cannon barrel.  The length of the paper fuze determined how much time passed before reaching the detonating charge inside the shell, causing it to explode.  I have also included a picture of a complete Parrott shell with the time fuze from the Ridgeway Reference Archive.

As always, thanks so much for reading Detecting Saxapahaw!  I love going out and saving tangible pieces of history, and I love being able to share it with all of you!  As always, if you have comments or questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section below or to email me at


  1. Hey Tony,

    Thanks for sharing your DIV posts! Looks like it was a great time. I particularly liked the Spencer with the brass and the carved Bartholow.

    The Bartholow gives you a bit of a connection with the guy who was carrying it. Most stuff is just anonymous detritus, but that carved bullet is a little piece of that soldier.

    Thanks again for sharing!

    1. Thanks Byron!

      I completely agree, the personal items are great. There were two or three ID tags found at the last hunt, as well. That would be my dream find - something I could positively ID to a specific individual. I have dug a few carved bullets in the past, but this Barthalow was the most intricate.

      Thanks for reading and for the nice comment :)