Sunday, March 31, 2013

DIV Recoveries Part 1: Getting the lead out

Hey everyone!  I’m back from Diggin’ in Virginia XXIII, a bi-annual Civil War relic hunt.  As always, it was a blast!  I really enjoy connecting with detectorists from all over the country, seeing old friends, and making new ones.  I’d like to take a moment to give thanks to John and Rose along with the DIV committee for putting on a very professional event, John from American Digger Magazine for rooming with me, and Jeff, Dana, and Joey for the carpool and excellent company in the field.  We were blessed with great weather (excepting a few snow flurries at the end) for three full days of digging.  I saw some amazing recoveries during that time, including both Union and Confederate buckles, bullets, uniform buttons, complete artillery shells, and much more.

I’m quite pleased with my own recoveries over the course of the weekend.  I will begin with this blog post discussing my lead finds, and move on to brass, pewter, and iron in a follow-up post.  Detecting near the road I found a nice variety of different bullet types.  The most iconic and widespread bullet of the war is the three-ring minie ball.  Despite their prevalence, I only found one of these the entire weekend! I didn't photograph it for this post, but you can see numerous examples previously on the blog.


I dug two kinds of cavalry bullet, Sharps carbine and Spencer carbine.  The Sharps carbine breech-loader rifle would have originally used a paper or linen gunpowder cartridge attached to the bullet, but this has long ago deteriorated.  The Spencer repeating rifle loaded seven cartridges at a time through the buttstock of the weapon.  These cartridges were composed of a lead bullet and brass casing, although it is uncommon to recover them intact.  Shown here is a Spencer bullet with a small part of the brass casing remaining, fresh from the dirt.  I liked the look of it so much that I intent to preserve it in the original dirt as shown for future display.

Round lead bullets were in use long before the Civil War in smooth bore muskets and pistols.  Although they were eclipsed in accuracy and range by the conical Minie-ball style bullet, roundballs still saw extensive use during the war.  I found quite a few roundballs on this particular trip, from 44 to 69 caliber.

I recovered four gardner bullets which I’m particularly happy with, as I don’t tend to find many of them here in North Carolina.  These Confederate made bullets held the paper cartridge in a groove in the base of the bullet, which can be seen here.

Most of the bullets I found at DIV would be called "drops" or "dropped bullets", meaning that they have never been fired.  But I also dug these two fired bullets.  The bullet on the left obviously hit something quite hard, and is mushroomed out beyond recognition.  The bullet on the right is an Enfield bullet.  Note the ramrod mark on the nose of the bullet from where it was pushed hard into the barrel of the gun, along with the lines along the length of the bullet from where the bullet caught the rifling grooves inside the barrel as it was fired.

My favorite lead find was this highly carved Bartholow pattern pistol bullet.  The bullet was originally meant to be fired by a Colt Army revolver or similar 44 caliber pistol.  In addition to the obvious alteration around the nose of the bullet, there is also carving on the lower ring including a series of vertical lines shown here.  We may never know why a soldier took the time to create this intricately carved bullet, but many were carved as chess pieces, works of art, or simply to relieve the boredom of camp life.

That’s it for now.  Stay tuned for the next installment – my brass and pewter finds from DIV XXIII.  Thanks for reading!

Monday, March 18, 2013

A few odds and ends...

Hey there!  This post will cover a few odds and ends that I've been meaning to get to for a while now.  Up first, I have a NEW EMAIL address.  I have previously been using my work email for all correspondence, but that's gotten a bit confusing (and the storage space is rather low for large files like maps and research notes shared with my detecting friends).  So, for future correspondence about metal detecting, please use...

Next, I have a few plugs for other detecting-related media that you may be interested in.  The first is American Digger Magazine, who featured some of my recent finds in their latest issue.  The magazine includes excellent articles and pictures of finds from all facets of metal detecting.  This includes Civil War detecting (the primary focus of Detecting Saxapahaw right now) but also colonial era detecting, coin shooting, bottle digging, and more.  It's well worth checking out.  As a side note, for a more focused Civil War magazine which also includes metal detecting, check out North South Trader.  I personally recommend a subscription to both!

There are also two detecting blogs that deserve a shout-out.  Scott from Kentucky runs, an incredibly informative blog which discuses detecting in relation to archeology and modern technology.  Scott recently attended the Minelab Archeological Certification Program, sponsored by archeologists at James Madison's Montpelier and detectorists from Minelab Americas.  The program saw Montpelier opened up to detectorists for the first time in the site's history, working side by side with professional archeologists to search and document the site.  This is exactly the kind of collaboration that I encouraged in my previous discussion following the launch of Spike TV's train-wreck of a "detecting" show last year, and I'm glad to see such positive steps in the right direction by members of both the professional and non-professional communities.  Scott's blogging of the event is a fascinating read, and I highly recommend it!  See it here:
Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5

I also wanted to mention a fairly new detecting blog, Allyson over at Detecting Diva.  While I do know a few female detectorists (or "detectoristas" as Allyson would say!), the hobby is admittedly very male-dominated.  It's great to see another female detectorist showcasing her talents, and I'm sure she will be an inspiration to the growing number of women in this hobby.  The blog includes detecting reports as well as links to upcoming historical presentations in the New England area.  Welcome to the world of detector-blogging!

Last but not least, I finally got out digging myself for the first time since January, and did it ever feel good to put my coil to the soil!  The day started out somewhat frustrating, as I had a list of properties to ask permission to dig, and not a single soul was at home.  Bummer!  So instead I returned to a site where I have standing permission to dig, an area of Civil War activity that had been hunted hard long before I stepped foot there.  The results were meager, but I did have a lot of fun.  I ended up with one wheat penny, a broken tack buckle, a brass rivet, and a large flat iron from a nearby homesite.  I also dug an interesting brass piece I have yet to identify, and will post on a few detecting forums to help with an ID.  Remember - never throw it away until you're sure!  I've recovered a few really nice relics from my scrap bucket in the past.

The best part of the trip came while I was detecting across the field, eyes fixated on the ground, ears tuned in to the hum in my headphones.  All of the sudden, BOOM, a loud explosion echoes through the air.  I take off my headphones, and look around and then - BOOM, BOOM, BOOM - a series of explosions.  In the distance, I see white smoke rising, and then I realized what I was hearing.  It was the sound of cannon fire from the nearby Bentonville Battlefield.  Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the 1865 battle, and this past weekend included artillery demonstrations at the Harper House visitors center.  The artillery fired several times while I was out in the field, and it was a moving experience hearing the sounds of cannon firing just as they would have been heard nearly 150 years ago.  Even though I didn't find anything that could be definitively tied to the Civil War, this was one of my most memorable trips yet.  Thanks for reading, and wish me luck next weekend when I go Diggin' in Virginia!!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

NOT my find, but…

WOW what a piece of history.  A friend of mine recently sent me a picture of this gorgeous Tennessee-style rounded corner Confederate States belt buckle, and I just had to feature it.  It was recently recovered by Brian F. at a site right here in the Old North State.  It just goes to show – it’s still out there if you’re patient and persistent.  With all the hooks intact, the lettering clearly visible, and even some of the original belt material remaining, this is a fine example of a very rare and historical plate.  Congratulations Brian!

As for myself, work and familial obligations (combined with some crazy weather patterns) have kept me out of the fields for much too long now.  Hopefully that will change soon – this buckle find really charged me up to get back out there!

At the very least, I should have more to show in just over a week.  That’s right, it’s time once again for Diggin’ in Virginia!!  I’ve been fortunate enough to receive an invitation to attend DIV XXIII in Brandy Station, VA for three days of metal detecting battle and camp sites.  I will be running my daily blog updates again this time.  For my previous articles on Diggin' in Virginia DIV XIX, the back-to-back DIV XX and XXI, and the most recent DIV XXII).  Wish us luck!!