Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Cavalry Finds Part II: The mystery of the melted brass

I'm back for the second half of this two-part wrap-up of the Federal cavalry camp I detected recently with my good friends Keith and Tracy.  I talked about the bullet finds last time.  Now it's time to get to the my favorite stuff - big, green, Civil War brass artifacts!

I'll start with a brief nod to this cool bayonet scabbard tip, recovered in two pieces nearby one another.  I've talked about them in the past, so I won't spend much time on it, but you can check out an image of a non-dug scabbard in one of my previous entries here.  It should be noted that, because the cavalry soldiers would have been carring sabers, this bayonet tip most likely came from a soldier in a known infantry camp nearby.  I did also find one lonely three ring minie ball close by that also probably came from that nearby infantry.

One of my favorite finds from this camp is an item diggers and collectors often refer to as a batwing (for obvious reasons), although this was not a period term.  This large brass piece is a strap end from a carbine sling, a wide leather belt clipped to a cavalryman's firearm.  The belt prevented the soldier from dropping his rifle when not in use.

The complete carbine sling consisted of the brass strap end, a wide brass sling buckle, and an iron swivel to attach to the rifle.  I searched vigorously for the other parts to no avail.  I do, however, have a Gaylord/Shepard carbine sling buckle in my collection - recovered right here in Saxapahaw!  I found that one before I started this blog, but I posted a picture in a previous entry found here.  Above I have also included images of a non-dug sling, and below a cavalry soldier with the sling parts clearly visible.

Last but not least, I present my deepest recovery in that field.  We could see the characteristic green oxidation patina of brass in the bottom of the hole, but I think we were all surprised by what we saw as it came to light.  Instead of an easily identifiable relic, what emerged from the hole was this odd chunk of brass, heavily melted and distorted in a fire.  So what the heck is it?

I had an idea, but it wasn't until I got home and compared it to a non-melted example that I could confirm my hypothesis.  What you see below is the melted brass relic on top of a sword belt plate I dug back at DIV XXI.  A small part of the border of the plate and a protruding section of the belt loop are all that remain to identify this as about the worst looking Civil War buckle imaginable.

But a Relic is a Relic, and this one provided more questions than answers.  How did it get so heavily destroyed?  Would a War era camp fire burn hot enough to do this kind of damage?  Why was it melted in the first place?  I didn't have the answers, so I contacted an expert - Gary Williams of Hanover Brass foundry.  Few people (if any) know more about Civil War buckles and their construction.  Here is what Mr. Williams had to say:

Tony,  I have dug melted brass items from fire pits. Depends on what they use to build the fire and how long it burns. Yes I  think your buckle was destroyed in a fire pit and they just for some reason left buckles and all the other relics in pits , etc. You dig many relics and wonder why they would just leave it. One big reason was dead soldiers had no use for whatever.  regards GW

So it is clear that what I have is the heavily destroyed remains of a cavalry buckle, most likely melted in a fire in the camp.  As for why it ended up in that state, there are perhaps plenty of theories, some a sobering reminder of the reality of war and the remnants that we uncover so many years later.  This metal mystery, it would seem, will remain unsolved.

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