Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Saving History from Destruction

Hey everyone!  In my last post, I had gone out with Jim from Touch the Past to a camp site used by Union troops on their march through North Carolina at the end of the American Civil War.  What was once natural woods and open fields have succumbed to the steady march of "progress" to include strip malls and suburban neighborhoods.  We found a few bullets during a site survey at a large swath of development, bulldozed, graded, and ready for building.  With time limited before concrete and asphalt lock away those relics forever, we knew it was imperative to make a return trip as quickly as possible.

We spent two days this weekend hoping to save some more history, and managed to do quite well on bullets.  Day one yielded six 58 caliber Minie balls, conical bullets named for their French inventor, Claude-Etienne Minie.  Due to the earth movement at the site, one of these was found sitting directly on top of the ground!  I also recovered three Williams cleaner bullets, complete with the zinc base used to remove build up from the rifle barrel when fired.  I found one mangled round ball, several large pieces of melted lead (often referred to as "camp lead"), and two brass rivets.  The small brass wire in the same picture is part of a J hook, used on a knapsack.  It is broken in two places - the left is missing a button-like end, and the right is missing the remainder of the wire that would loop back around giving the "J" hook its name.

Day two at the site again proved to be good for bullets, yielding three more 58 caliber three-ring minies and three Williams cleaners along with some smaller camp lead.  I found a few post-war items of interest as well, pictured below.  The half-dollar sized token is an aluminum coupon for Palmolive soap, possibly from as late as the 1950's.  I noticed the top of the bottle sticking up from the ground, and carefully excavated it intact.  It reads "Syrup of Black Draught", a laxative produced since the late 1800's.  The button is iron backed, with an anchor in wreath design on the front.  Given where it was found I was really hoping for a Civil War era Federal Navy button, but it turned out to be a considerably more modern fashion button.

I had a great weekend getting out with Jim to save some history, and managed to have some of my best days ever with regard to bullets.  I do regret not finding this site before grading took place, as there is no telling how many more relics have been pushed and buried under feet of earth.  But on the other hand, I am proud to have saved a few more pieces of American history from being lost forever beneath the ever expanding concrete jungle.  And that, as they say, is what relic hunting is all about.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Three camps in three days

Hey everyone!  I got out this weekend to three different Civil War camps in as many days.  All three are associated with Sherman's march through North Carolina following their success at Bentonville, the surrender of the remaining Confederate forces, and the return home to the North.

The first camp I hunted on Friday with Jim from Touch the Past, and clearly illustrated the need for amateur historians like ourselves to save these relics before it is too late.  A large section of the camp had been developed into homes and strip malls long ago.  Now, stretching before us, was a large swath of cleared and graded land, slated for imminent development.  Once the concrete foundations and asphalt drives are put in place, those relics will never again see the light of day.  Even now, with the large amount of disturbance to the original topography, a great many relics have been destroyed by bulldozers or buried at unreachable depths under mountains of earth.  It was a sad sight.

We still managed to pull a few bullets from this area before moving on.  My take was one piece of camp lead and two Williams cleaner bullets.  We'll be back, but this was just meant to be a site survey and we had a second site to get to before the day was out.  Special thanks go out to Dan for turning us on to this site!!

Camp number two we discovered on January 6th, when a quick site survey turned up four shallow three-ring bullets, a large cent, and the base to a Williams cleaner bullet.  We returned to this site a second time on February 4th, and worked the site in a much slower and more methodical manner.  This yielded another four 58 caliber three ring bullets and two cleaners for me, and an equal number for Jim.  An interesting note - the cleaner top I found in February may well have come from the cleaner base I found in January!  We went back again on Friday, and really worked hard to find those small, deep signals.  Sure enough, we both pulled a pair of bullets again this time, all of them deeper.

I was also invited to detect another camp site yesterday by Glenn, Doug, and Mike from Woodland Detectors.  For the local detectorists, it's the infamous "Yankee Camp" discovered sometime last year, and pounded hard by a plethora of individuals (both invited by the original finders, as well as a few "claim jumpers", much to our chagrin).  It has yielded at least two plates in the past, along with dozens of buttons and hundreds of bullets.  Now it was hard work just to find a signal, but I did manage two 58 caliber three ring bullets that had been overlooked.  It was great to get together with the guys, and see Mike again for the first time since DIV.

So overall, it was a great weekend of relic hunting with new and old friends and a half dozen bullets thrown in for good measure.  Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoyed the story and pictures!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

American Eagles and Civil War lead

Wow, I'm sorry it's been so long since my last post!  I finally have a working camera, so I'll try to get caught up on a few of my recent finds here.  In my last post I referred to an interesting buckle, which is shown here below.  It was found in an area of known Civil War activity, so I was initially pretty excited when a strong high-tone signal unearthed a large rectangular buckle.  I quickly realized it wasn't Civil War era, but it did turn out to be a unique piece of American history.  The design of this heavily silver plated belt buckle features an American eagle with shield, and scrolling banners which proclaim "Citizens Military Training Camp."

CMTC camps were operated in the period between two world wars, from 1921 to 1940.  The idea was to provide basic military training to male citizens, without the requirement of active duty service.  The month long summer camps were attended by an estimated 400,000 men during their two decade history, including Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan.  How this buckle ended up in a North Carolina farm field is anyone's guess, but it certainly is an interesting piece!

A later trip to that same area produced a different sort of military eagle - this thick convex one piece button.  I noticed when I recovered it that the heavy construction and well attached shank seemed different from the typical civilian buttons recovered at many early home sites.  It wasn't until I was cleaning my finds some days later that the eagle motif emerged.  Although heavily worn, this button is an early US artillery button, or "eagle A."  A contrast enhanced scan of the device makes the design easier to see, along with a much nicer example of what the button would look like without environmental damage.  A similar eagle was used on general service and infantry buttons, but the backmark tells us the branch of service in this case.  It was manufactured for a US artilleryman's uniform, but these early buttons were known to be pressed into service as late as the Civil War.  For you button collectors, it has Tice reference number AY199D19.

The final group of finds show the results of today's hunt with Jim from Silent Remnants.  We have been following the route of Union troops here in central North Carolina, and Jim's research brought us to an excellent patch of ground which has been largely undisturbed since Union soldiers left the area.  My bullet recoveries are shown below, including standard Union three ring bullets and two Williams cleaner bullets, both with and without the zinc base.  It was a surreal experience digging so many bullets in such a small area, and realizing that this was the exact spot in which they were dropped a century and a half ago.  And of course, what woods hunt would be complete without a healthy assortment of modern bullets and casings!

I may have more to say about this particular hunt in a future post - it really deserves a better treatment than space here allows.  Until then, I do hope you enjoyed reading and viewing some of my recent finds.  Thanks for looking, and God bless!