Wednesday, April 2, 2014

DIV XXVI: Spillman Farm

The Spring 2014 Diggin in Virginia invitational hunts kicked off with three days at the Spillman Farm in Brandy Station, Virginia.  The Battle of Brandy Station comprised the largest cavalry engagement of the war, and the rolling hills surrounding the town served as home to the Union army during the winter of 1863 to 1864.  To say that March weather in Virginia is unpredictable would be an understatement of the highest order.  Despite being held in the last week of the month, DIV XXVI was greeted with a snowstorm on the second day that made detecting more than a little difficult.  Cold winds continued on the third day, and the melting snow turned everything into a muddy, soupy mess.  Still, we diggers persevered, and I saw some incredible recoveries made despite the inclement weather.

Snow at Spillman Farm

My finds for the hunt were modest compared to some of my previous DIV hunts.  This was partly due to the weather, but I also devoted quite a bit of my detecting time to hunting for shells.  I removed a lot of big farm iron from the heavily shelled field on “Site 2”, and while I did find quite a few shell fragments, the unexploded ordinance eluded me.  My good friend Todd, on the other hand, was more successful, recovering a 12 pounder spherical shell in the big field on “Site 1”.  Congratulations, Todd!

Todd and his cannonball

I did find several bullets, including three ring Minie balls, Sharps carbine, and a round ball which was probably shrapnel from inside an exploding shell.  My best bullet is a fairly rare CS Richmond Merrill bullet.  My button recoveries included a very nice condition general service eagle coat button, as well as a civilian flat button and cufflink or period or pre-war design.  My heart-breaker for the hunt was the back of a two piece button, which doesn’t appear to be a standard Union back, recovered in the front field where many Confederate buttons have been found in the past.  Unfortunately the front of the button was lost or destroyed before I got to it, so we’ll never know what it might have been!

CS Richmond Merrill Carbine bullet on the left.

Most of my iron finds were shell fragments from Parrott and 12 pound spherical shells, but I did find a few other interesting iron relics.  These include half of a soldier’s heel plate, an iron barrel band from a rifle, and the pull chain from a soldier’s canteen stopper.  The large medallion in the center of my finds picture was by far the best sounding signal of the entire hunt on my VLF machine.  I knew it was shallow, but I was really hoping for a big brass relic.  Unfortunately it turned out to be a medal commemorating the 1999 reenactment of the Battle of Brandy Station!  Oh well, better luck next time!!
My Spillman Farm recoveries.

Despite the snow and wind, despite the cold and the wet, DIV XXVI was a blast!  I had a great time seeing many of my digging friends, and finding some relics together.  The harsh weather conditions for the end of March did serve to make us all think about the living conditions of the men who left those artifacts behind.  Those brave soldiers lived, worked, and trained during the cold winter months in those same snow-covered fields.  They endured the wind, rain, snow, and mud day in and day out, many without adequate clothing or even shoes.  Inadequate sanitation and close quarters led to widespread disease.  Mud-soaked roads made transportation of supplies challenging.  Those men endured all of these conditions to fight for what they believed in.  Although it made metal detecting a challenge, I think all the participants of DIV XXVI found a dose of perspective at this year’s event.   

 Original sketch of a Union winter camp in the snow by Edwin Forbes

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