Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Diggin' in Virginia XXV: Brandy Rock Farm

This is part two of the recap of my 8 day detecting trip to Culpeper, VA.  Part one talked about our pre-hunt and Diggin' in Virginia XXIV at the Excelsior Brigade camps.  We had a one day break between DIV XXIV and XXV, so how else could we spend it?  We went metal detecting of course!  I went out to a site with some of my good friends, and while I ended up getting skunked on finds, I still had a lot of fun looking.  Almost everyone in our group found some Civil War relic, so I got to enjoy their finds as well as excellent company.

Then it was off to DIV XXV at Brandy Rock Farm.  The farm included part of the Battle of Brandy Station, as well as winter quarters from the Union 6th Corps during the winter of 1863 - 1864.  The property we detected didn't include the historic Farley House (also known as Welford House), but we were able to search many of the nearby fields and woods.  Farley was the headquarters for Union General John Sedgwick and Confederate General JEB Stewart, though obviously not at the same time!

Union General John Sedgwick and officers of the 6th Corps at Farley House, winter 1863 - 1864.

Day 1

The start of DIV XXV was a cold one!  With frost covering the frozen ground, we made our way out onto the farm.  I tried to start in a small patch of woods, but I wasn't the only one with that idea.  Between other detectorists and the briars, I didn't have much luck and didn't stay long.  Instead, I joined my friends Phil and Todd in a nearby field.  Todd was having some luck with a rare Confederate New Austrian bullet, and we all pulled out a few deep targets.  Unfortunately, given the depth of the relics in that field, the mineralization of the ground, and the taller grass I was struggling to hear the good targets.  While I did find a pair of three ring bullets in that area, I felt I could do better elsewhere and joined my friends Lanny and Lisa on a nearby hill.  Not fairing much better there, I continued to look for my "spot" where I could hunker down for the hunt.  I finally decided on the soybean field near the headquarters tent, home to a large Union 6th corp encampment.  The shorter crop field helped get my coil closer to the ground, and I did have some better luck.

Detecting in the soybean field at Brandy Rock Farm

Several large holes from 6th corp winter huts were starting to open up in the soybean field.  One of these was my friend Kieth, who got an impressive array of relics from below the plow line, including two complete bottles, bullets, buttons, clay pipes, and a canteen half.  I was thrilled to be able to watch him work.  I did get into one pit of my own, the signal coming from a complete barrel band.  While the hole was filled with considerable ash and even some larger pieces of broken glass, I only recovered one other relic from hole.  At first I thought it looked like modern plastic, but was quickly ID'ed by my friend Todd as a broken piece of a soldier's comb.  Sure enough, as I rubbed the dirt from the object I could see a maker's mark from the India Rubber Comb Company, Goodyears Patent May 6 1851.  The Goodyears patent refers to the rubber vulcanization process, developed by Charles Goodyear, namesake of Goodyear tires.  It would have probably been used for de-lousing, as body lice were a significant problem in Civil War camps.

Broken comb recovered from a hut on day one.

Day 2

I started off day 2 by following a group of friends to a spot where Brian had done well the day before.  But again the mineralized ground and taller grass had me struggling to hear the good signals.  Before long I wandered back up to a hill near the headquarters tent where I had some success at the end of the day before.  With my VLF detector unable to discriminate conductivity at depth in the hot soil, I instead relied on the pinpoint mode to pick out targets based on size and depth ratio.  What that also means, unfortunately, is digging square nails.  Lots and lots of square nails.  They weren't all nails though - some of those targets turned out to be bullets or other relics from the war.

A three ring Minie ball bullet comes into view.

I was pursuing another target right in a huge patch of iron, when I saw something exciting in the bottom of the hole.  A rounded edge standing straight up on end, with a green brass front and white lead back.  I had my finger crossed that it would be an accoutrement plate of some kind, although I resisted using the "p" word on camera so I didn't jinx it! I was elated when I finally pulled it from the ground to reveal a US cartridge box plate!  This makes my fifth Civil War plate find, three of which have come from DIV events.

The edge of the plate in the bottom of the hole.
US Cartridge Box Plate.

Soldiers during the war carried a leather pouch to hold their ammunition, known as a cartridge box.  A leather flap closed the box to keep out water and dirt, and the flap was kept closed by fastening it to a brass finial on the bottom of the box.  To help make sure the flap remained closed when it was unfastened, a large oval plate with a brass front and lead filled back was attached to weight it down.  The design I recovered was used by the Union army bearing the large letters "US" in the same style as the US belt plate.  The US box plate can be seen in use in the picture of this unidentified Union soldier below.

Unidentified Union soldier, wearing a cartridge box with a US box plate.

Day 3

Having success in the soybean field on the previous days, I decided to return for the third.  Once again I dug more than my share of nails, but several excellent relics as well.  I dug a thrilling "first" for me, a New York coat button.  In addition to being my first NY, it is in fact my first Union state button of any sort.  I also recovered an excellent carved bullet, most likely a chess piece.  This carved bullet was the nicest of several carved lead piece I recovered during the hunt. 

New York coat button, my first Union state, and an intricately carved bullet

Another highlight of the third day came when I stopped by a newly opening pit being dug out.  I introduced myself, and learned that the detectorist, Ed, had been digging huts in the area for many years.  He was kind enough to take his own precious detecting time to teach me some lessons in hut digging.  When we got to the bottom, we found the signal coming from an intact ration can, with little else but charcoal and animal bone in the hole.  Being an experience hut digger, Ed told me he had plenty of ration cans in his collection and offered it to me!  The kindness of the folks at DIV never ceases to amaze me.  There's a reason John and Rose refer to Diggin' in Virginia as a "family"!  The barbeque on day three was quite fun as always.  I love getting the chance to eat with my friends and see an impressive museum on display, freshly saved from beneath the earth.  We kept on swinging a coil until the sun was nearly set, hoping for that one last relic to save.  With darkness closing in, I climbed back into the truck to start the long journey back home to Saxapahaw.

Reflections on DIV XXV

This was my first time at Brandy Rock Farm, and it certainly did not disappoint!  Although the ground was some of the hottest I've come across yet, I still managed to find some great artifacts from the American Civil War.  My friends all made some great recoveries as well, especially Beau who racked up on bullets and Brian who recovered an amazing engraved corps badge.  The box plate was a welcome surprise in the hole, and one I will always fondly remember.  All of my finds from the three days at Brandy Rock can be seen below.

All my finds from DIV XXV

I would also like to share part two of my video footage from the week.  I hope you enjoy it as we watch a few relics come to the surface for the first time since they were lost or discarded 150 years ago.

The week in Virginia seemed to go by all too quickly, and although I was stiff and sore, I was sad for it all to end.  I want to take this time to thank John and Rose Kendrick and the DIV committee for giving me the opportunity to return to DIV; I am incredibly grateful.  All their hard work paid off with two highly successful back-to-back events, which seemed to go off without a hitch.  I would also like to thank Phil, Lanny, and Lisa for their hospitality during the week - it was a lot of fun getting to spend time with you between detecting.  Thanks to Todd and Brian in the carpool and all my DIV family for an amazing week of relic hunting.  Thank you to Sham and Randy for the break day hunt, even though I didn't find any relics, I found great memories!  Finally, thank you to my wonderful wife Emily and the VCS volunteers who made it possible for me to attend. 

I hope to have more finds to share with you all soon, but until then, thanks for reading and God Bless!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Diggin' in Virginia XXIV: The Excelsior Brigade

Hey everyone!!  I recently got back from 8 straight days of Civil War metal detecting - Diggin' in Virginia XXIV and XXV to be precise.  What a blast!  It was an honor and a privilege to be invited to attend both fall hunts this year.

The Pre-Hunt

The DIV event started with a pre-hunt meeting in the evening, so my friends Phil and Brian and I decided to take advantage of the daylight hours to detect a couple of sites on our own.  The first site we hit didn't produce much, just a single three ring bullet for me, but it turned out to be a cool one.  It's my first "swage base" bullet, identified by the spoke shaped indentations in the bullet's base.  The grooves were used to turn the bullet on a lathe in a unique manufacturing process.  After lunch we went off to a second site, where I did quite well on fired lead.  I managed 6 fired Confederate Gardner bullets, including another first for me, known as a "blow-through" Gardner.  A casting flaw in the bullet created weak points, causing the nose-end of the bullet to blown clean through from the force of firing.

Fired Confederate Gardner bullets, including a blow-through Gardner, from our pre-DIV dig.

After the pre- pre-hunt-meeting hunt (if you can follow that, haha!), we gathered in a Germana college lecture hall with some 200 relic hunters from all over the country to kick off DIV XXIV.  Here we had the chance to reconnect with one another, shop the various vendor tables, pick up ID badges, and learn about the two sites we were to search over the coming week.  I got to see many of the great friends I've made through DIV, many of whom I hadn't seen in person since the spring hunt.  The location of the site for DIV XXIV was a closely guarded secret, but was now finally revealed - the camp grounds of the New York Excelsior Brigade!

Image from a recruitment poster for the New York Excelsior Brigade

The Excelsior Brigade was raised in 1861 by General Daniel Sickles of New York, and was comprised of the 70th - 74th N.Y. and 120th N.Y. regiments.  The brigade saw significant combat, and General Sickles himself lost a leg to a cannonball (and earned a Congressional Medal of Honor) at the Battle of Gettysburg.  From the winter of 1863 - 1864, the Excelsior Brigade went into camp near Brandy Station, Virginia and it was here that we would spend the next three days searching for the artifacts they discarded or left behind.

Review of the 72nd - 74th New York, Excelsior Brigade
 Officers of the 70th and 72nd New York, Excelsior Brigade
Brandy Station, Virginia, October 1863
Dr. Charles K. Irwin, 72nd New York Infantry, Excelsior Brigade
Brandy Station Virginia, September 1863
Day 1

I started off on the first day of DIV XXIV by exploring the farm and trying to get a feel for the area.  I finally settled in to a little field by a creek with my friends Phil, Lanny, and Lisa, and each of us made some good finds in that spot.  Phil did quite well digging deep bullets with the GPX.  Lanny dug an amazing canteen spout, into which a particularly religious soldier carved a cross (one of my favorite finds of the entire week).  His wife Lisa made a great discovery of two kepi hat buttons in the same hole - probably the spot where a soldier's hat was left and only the brass buttons remained after 150 years.  My best personal finds in this spot included a canteen spout, a flattened eagle coat button, and a broken curb chain.  A curb chain is a short brass chain which attached to a horse bit to help control the horse, and it's something I've wanted to find for quite some time.  All in all, a fabulous day of detecting in weather that couldn't be beat.  We returned home tired and happy.

Curb chain fresh from the ground

Day 2

The vast majority of Day 2 saw me in a large field by the road.  It was obviously a camp area, and there was melted lead all over.  The field gave up quite a few bullets and some brass items, including a knapsack J hook and knapsack triangle hook.  I also found a dropped Confederate Gardner bullet near the edge of the field, which was a nice surprise.

My good friend Lanny detecting

Day 3

Day 3 started off with a bang, with several period targets in rapid succession.  I ended up spending the entire day in a very small area of the field just down the hill from the headquarters area.  The ground in this field was a lot less mineralized than in many areas around Brandy Station.  This was good news for me, as VLF detectors like mine often struggle in highly mineralized ground and eliminate any chance to discriminate good targets from iron trash.  I spent the first part of the morning picking out good-sounding targets, until I happened upon something interesting - a strip of barrel band pointing straight up at about a foot in depth.  Wooden barrels were used to transport many different types of goods, and were also often used as chimney stacks in winter camps.  When the soldiers left and the farmer reclaimed his fields for agriculture, the holes were simply filled in with all their contents.  Recognizing that I might be on to something, I called up my friend Phil to tell him of my discovery.

Opening the hole, and a piece of the barrel band that got me into it.

The Firebox

"It could just be nothing" he said.  "Definitely dig it out some more, and let me know if you start to see charcoal or ash."  I called him back shortly and said "How about a melted bullet further down?  Will that work?"  He quickly responded "I'll be right over!"

With the help of Phil and Todd, very good friends with much more hut experience than myself, we proceeded to carefully excavate.  What we discovered was a firebox, complete with brick and stone from the hearth, sections of barrel band from the chimney stack, and large pieces of animal bone from the soldier's meals.  It also included eight discarded bullets and broken fragments from several different bottles.  Three of these broken bottles had been embossed, including a mineral water and two others which are only complete enough to read "...& Co. / ... N.Y."

Finds from the fire box - barrel bands, animal bones, bricks, broken glass, and bullets.
 Several of the hearth stones from the fire box.

Finally, at the very bottom of the box where the disturbed earth gave way to the hard packed red clay, Phil's digging tool knocked away a section of the side wall to reveal the side of a glass bottle which had not seen the light of day in 150 years.  I carefully excavated the dark glass bottle to find it nearly complete - only the very top had been broken off, and this was most likely done by the soldier himself.

A Civil War bottle in the fire box.

The bottle is embossed with the words "Clarke & White / C / New York".  Clarke and White bottled mineral water from the naturally carbonated springs of Saratoga Springs, NY.  The large letter C in the center of the bottle denotes which specific spring (in this case the Congress Spring) the water was drawn from.  The water was bottled and sold for the minerals and dissolved gasses the springs contained, which were thought to have medicinal and curative properties.  I was thrilled to have recovered a New York bottle from the New York Excelsior camp.  I can't help but think of that soldier, away from home to fight in the war, receiving a bottle emblazoned with the name of his home state during that long winter of 1863-64 in Brandy Station, Virginia.  I am truly blessed to have found it, and I am very thankful to have been given the opportunity to recover it.

Clarke & White, New York mineral water bottle.

Reflections on DIV XXIV

I had an incredible time at the Excelsior Brigade camp, and I know there's still a lot more relics there to find.  The highlight, of course, would have to be digging out that bottle with my friends.  I also got to see many amazing finds at the picnic on the third day, one of my favorite parts of the DIV experience.  Several of these finds were specific to the Excelsior Brigade, including Chasseur de Vincennes buttons and shako hat plates and even a gold soldier ID ring!  Congratulations to those lucky diggers.  I was quite pleased with my own finds over the three days of DIV XXIV, shown here (minus the bottle).

My finds from the hunt excluding the bottle.

I also took quite a bit of video footage from both the pre-hunt and at DIV.  I find that taking a few moments to preserve these memories on camera is incredibly rewarding, and I am pleased to be able to share them with you here.

I do hope you enjoyed reading about this phase of my trip.  To say I was exhausted would be an understatement, but I was only half way there.  Between the break day and DIV XXV, I still had 4 more days of digging to go.  Stay tuned to Detecting Saxapahaw to read about my finds over the next few days at Brandy Rock Farm!  And as always, thanks for reading and God Bless!