Sunday, March 27, 2016

War and Roses

Happy Easter everyone! 

My brother was down visiting from New Hampshire over the weekend, and while he does some detecting up there, he's never had the chance to do any Civil War detecting. I took him out with my friend Dustin to a little spot nearby for a few hours. I let my brother use the GPX, which he rather enjoyed, I think. I was using the Deus for a while to sneak around in the one trashier area. I found plenty of nonferrous targets mixed in, but not much in the way of civil war relics - a rivet, and the base to a period brass casing. Dustin smoked us both with his GPX, a half dozen bullets, and some miscellaneous small brass.

The highlight of the day, though, was watching my brother recover his very first Civil War bullet! He was the first person to touch that since it was dropped 150 years ago. The smile on his face was priceless. When it was fresh from the dirt, I thought it was a Sharps and Hankins, which are known in that camp. The lead on those degrades for some reason, and I thought that was the case with this one.

As it turns out, we cleaned it up later to see that his first bullet is even more special - it's soldier carved. I think it was a Sharps to begin with. You can be the judge, but to me it looks like it was being carved into a rose bud. An interesting image for a soldier at war in the cold of winter. 

I'm so thankful to have the opportunity to share this hobby we both love with my brother, especially on such a beautiful day. And he even found a really great relic, too.  It couldn't get any better than that!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

DIV XXXIV - Days Three and Four - Kepis and Camp Music

On day three at Brandy Rock, we split our time between a recently cleared section of woods and the adjacent field (the old headquarters field) looking for some 6th Corps Union relics.  The woods were tough to hunt, with massive felled trees and branches strewen about, and pieces of broken ration can confusing the detectors all along the surface.  Check out Brian and Keith behind this massive hollow trunk!

Going slow with smaller coils, we were able to get between the iron and pick up some more relics.  Keith got into a nice firepit which yielded a few buttons and a complete ration can.  My best find of the day would be this great staff officer's kepi button with a good deal of gold gilt remaining.  Overall I was quite happy with the days finds.

The final day at Brandy Rock was cold and wet, but we stuck with it, detecting in what those in the know call the "bean field".  This spot is known for confederate relics, so our hopes weren't too high - but we still found a few keepers.  The best find for me came out of a shallow hut right before lunch.  Besides the usual hut finds (broken glass, bone, and barrel band), I found two general service eagle buttons, a coat size and a cuff.  I rolled a big, odd shaped piece of iron from the side wall, and Keith instantly got excited.  I had no clue what I was looking at, but Keith explained that it was a great relic.  The soldier from this hut had left behind a jews harp, a kind of musical instrument.  The frame was complete, only missing the tang.

The small end of the frame would have been held in the soldiers mouth, and the large end of the frame held in one hand.  The other hand would pluck the tang, which ran longways bisecting the instrument, to create a sound.  By changing the shape of the mouth, the sound also changes.  Here's Keith giving is a demonstration around the campfire!

The jews harp (no relation to the religion, by the way) was a very popular instrument of the era.  Music was a powerful way to relieve the stresses of being away at war, so this is a very personal artifact to have recovered.  This oil painting is by artist John Donaghy, entitled "Civil War Soldier Playing a Mouth Harp", and is believed to have been painted from life during the war.  Keith in a past life perhaps?

The remainder of my finds are fairly self explanatory - a pair of round musket balls, another eagle button, and a button back.  The bright green copper nail was a first for me, and I rather like it (as far as nails go!).  I also got into a small patch of rivets, and in a Confederate area like that, any one of them could have been a great button.

And with that, my week at DIV drew to a close.  I couldnt be happier with my finds, or with the company.  Thanks so much to John, Rose, and the committee for making these events happen, and to all the friends I've made along the way. Until next time, happy hunting and God bless.

DIV XXXIV - Brandy Rock Day Two - North Carolina Represented

We started detecting Brandy Rock on day two at another one of my favorite places, affectionately known as Wisconsin Hill.  We were hoping to get into a firepit, and indeed I did dig out two different shallow pits that morning, without much success.  I did manage a handful of dropped three ring bullets and some assorted camp brass.

Once we had all gotten a few finds on the Hill, the decision was made to trade off quantity for quality after lunch, and go back to an area where some rare Confederate bullets had been found in the past.  We knew how well that spot had been searched in the past, so we weren't going in with high hopes of finding very many signals.  And yet, within about five minutes, I had a bullet tone!  I carefully moved the dirt to reveal.... A 69 caliber round ball.  It wasn't what I was looking for, but we were in the right area.

Then a few feet away, bang! Another good signal.  And this time, I found what we came for - a rare 69 caliber Confederate Nessler slug.

This odd looking bullet was one of several unique designs created in Raleigh, North Carolina for NC troops.  During the war, everyone on the southern home front was expected to pitch in - which included the North Carolina Institute for the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind.  Students at the school were trained to produce a variety of goods for the state and its military, including textiles, bullets and cartridges, and even paper money like the two dollar note shown below.

The CS made Nessler was designed as a varient on a slightly earlier Belgian pattern of the same name.  They are often referred to by collectors as "Confederate shotgun slugs", although this is a misnomer.  The name most likely refers to their slight resemblance to more modern deer slugs intended for shotguns, but the CS Nessler was meant to be fired in a 69 caliber smoothbore musket.

As excited as I was to find that bullet so quickly, we soon discovered how fortunate I was to turn on the machine at that exact spot.  Careful gridding by several detectorists and multiple machines took the entire rest of the day without yielding another one.  I managed a total of four bullets for the half a day spent there - the roundball and Nessler mentioned above, one ringtail Sharps, and a fired pistol bullet (not shown).

DIV XXXIV - Brandy Rock Day One

The end if DIV XXXIII at Beauregard marked the start of DIV XXXIV, and I was one of those crazy fortuante enough to attend both back to back.  As with the last day of Beauregard, we hopped around to a couple of different spots, hoping to settle into something.  I found a little bit in a number of different places, but never did really find my groove at any of them.

The find of the day for me came from beside the large rock outcropping down the hill from the old headquarters (for those who have been there before).  This little rectangular brass buckle was the adjustment for the leather chin strap on a soldier's kepi hat.  Remarkably, this one still has some of the leather remaining!  The chin strap was held in place by two small buttons - remember those, as I'll talk about them in a later post.

The large rectangular brass ring in the picture below went to a sword belt rig.  I also found a knapsack j hook, several leather rivets, two general service eagle buttons, and various fired and dropped bullets.

The lone button back came from an area that has been previously searched heavily, but had produced several Maine buttons in the past.  A Maine relic is high up on my wish list to find, but once again it wasn't meant to be.  In any event, I was very happy with the interesting variety of finds from the first day at Brand Rock.  Perhaps my best find of the hunt wouldn't come until tomorrow...

DIV XXXIII - Day three - Here, there, and everywhere

On day three, our small group of detectorists seemed to be just about everywhere.  We started out the day towards the North end of the property, where I found my best recoveries for the day, a small patch of Confederate bullets.

The four bullets on the left are a variety for the Sharps carbine known as a ringtail or tie-base Sharps.  The gunpowder-filled paper cartridge was cemented and tied to the final protruding ring on the bullet, in contrast to the later period paper Sharps like those I recovered at Cole's Hill last year which were glued around the body of the bullet.  These ringtail Sharps came from a known area of Confederate activity, along with other southern bullets.  But it should be noted that the ringtail Sharps was also used by the Federal cavalry early in the war.

Above is an illustration comparing these tie base Sharps cartridges with the later War traditional Sharps cartridge.  I have also included an example below of a non-dug tie base Sharps from The Horse Soldier, where the string can be clearly seen.

The bullet on the right is a Gardner, produced exclusively by the confederacy.  Gardner's can be easily identified by the unique ring around the base of the bullet, which actually crimped the paper cartridge at the base and held it in place. A non-dug Gardner cartridge from The Horse Soldier is also shown below for comparison.

From here, we traveled out into the adjoining fields, part of the actual Battle of Brandy Station.  Our primary targets recovered were lead, both fired and dropped bullets.  My friend Jimmy recovered a very rare 69 caliber Sea Service bullet, dropped by a Louisiana soldier on the battlefield, surrounded by fired Union rounds.  We covered a lot of ground before lunch.  Below are my fired bullets from this portion of the day, projectiles shot with the intent to kill.

After the world famous DIV barbeque, we explored yet another new area, although we never could settle in on a concentration of relics.  So I finished up the hunt at Beauregard back where I began - in my favorite 69 field.  My recoveries for all of day three are shown below.

But there was to be no rest for some of us weary searchers - DIV XXXIV at Brandy Rock Farm started the very next day!  Stay tuned for part four!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

DIV XXXIII - Day two - The firepit

I left off the end of day one with a promising sign - two bullets and a button from the same hole.  The earth was loose, and darker than the surrounding red clay with flecks of black charcoal within.  I had found some sort of hut or firebox from the winter of 1863.  Needless to say, I was anxious to get back in there on day two.

I would like to give a huge shout out and thank you to my good friend Tracy, who sacrificed much of his own hunting time to help dig out what turned into a pretty good sized hole.  We had a blast, laughing and carrying on the whole time.  Thanks again, buddy.  Jimmy, Keith, Jewel, and Debbie were never far away, and if was wonderful getting to share this experience with my friends.  Here's Tracy digging while Jimmy supervises, and I stand in the way!

We started off simply chasing the metal targets, excavating carefully as we went to look out for possible non-metal targets.  By the end of the dig, we had recovered nine bullets from the time capsule, including two 54 caliber bullets and one tiny percussion cap.  We also saved four buttons - one iron underwear button in really remarkable shape, two eagle coat buttons, and one cuff button from the state of New York.

The remainder of the brass targets in the hole were these small brass grommets.  They may not seem like much, but they are actually a fascinating little piece of Civil War history.  These small brass circles most likely came from a soldier's gum rubber blanket.  These rubberized blankets, or rubberized ponchos for the cavalry, provided just a little of the much needed protection from the wet ground.  Staying dry was so important in these cold and often unsanitary winter camps.

Col. Holoman Melcher makes note of these pieces in a letter home from the 20th Maine.  He writes. - "We are encamped here near the Potomac with the rest of Porter's Corps.  Encamped, I say, though we have not been in a tent since we left Portland.  But we substituted our rubber blankets.  Two of us tie them together, they being provided with eyelet holes, then draw them over a frame, they make a tent high enough to sit up in but not to stand, and with straw on the ground and our woolen blankets we get along very well."

Shown above is a quartermaster photo showing the rubberized poncho.  Below is an original gum rubber blanket identified to the 16th New Hampshire Volunteers, shown by its current owner Tristan G. on a Civil War collectors page.

While following metal targets, we were constantly on the lookout for fragments of glass, bone, or other non metallic objects in the side wall and spoil piles.  The most unique non metal artifact found is just a fragment - and quite frankly I'm amazed any of it survived!  This is a small piece of leather, with the original stitching holes still visible.  I believe it to be the bottom of a soldier's shoe, although with so little of it remaining it's hard to say for certain.

In one corner of the hole, we discovered a collection of very large rocks - most likely from the fireplace of the hut.  These rocks very nearly destroyed some of the best finds from the hut, but in all likelihood also spared them from being struck by a deep plow.  It is quite miraculous that they were able to survive.  After rolling one of these large fireplace stones out of the way, the side wall of the hut fell away to reveal the neck and shoulder of a glass bottle.  Slowly and carefully, the bottle was excavated from the rocks, and in the process a second bottle started to show behind it.

When all was said and done, I had excavated two nearly perfect Civil War whiskey bottles.  To say I was happy would be an understatement!!  This was the find of the week for me, without a doubt.  Liquor played an important role in the war, both for morale and medicinal uses.  A tax on whiskey, like the two bottles I'm holding below, was instituted in 1861 to help fund the war effort.

The final artifact to come from the hut was in the opposite corner from the firebox stones before the color and soft dirt gave way to hard packed red clay on all sides.  Tracy was removing a shovel full of dirt, only to see the side of a clear glass barrel mustard jar come to light for the first time in more than 150 years.  These jars are notoriously fragile, so I was not surprised at all when we began slowly removing it that mother nature had left it broken, but more or less intact.  It was an easy repair, however, and displays beautifully.

The barrel style of this crudely made jar is generally associated with the packaging of powdered or prepared mustard.  Mustard was an important commodity during the war, both for its ability to flavor bland or rancid food, as well as reported medicinal properties.

This particualr glass jar is embossed with the manufacturer, H J Neuhauser.  My friend Russ' research showed Neuhauser as a producer of mustard in New York City during the war, which is fitting with the New York cuff button recovered in the same hole.  One can imagine this could have been in a package sent from home to a soldier from the city far away at war in Virginia.

These time capsules are the best part of Civil War relic hunting for me, and I am so thankful to DIV for the opportunity to hunt these dug in winter camps with all their possibilities.

DIV XXXIII - Beauregard Farm Day 1

Beauregard Farm, several thousand acres of rolling hills just north of the railroad in Brandy Station, Virginia, has got to be one of my favorite places on the planet.  The beautiful landscape which is so serene was home, in the winter of 1863-1864, to much of the Union army.  To this day, the items they left behind are still being saved from the ground by detectorists at the twice-annual Diggin' in Virginia invitational Relic hunt.  DIV XXXIII brought us back to Beauregard last week - and as always, I was amazed at what lay just beneath the surface.

I started out day one in my favorite part of the farm, the so-called 69 field.  DIV'ers use that rather obvious name thanks to the large number of 69 caliber buck and ball bullets and 69 caliber minie balls recovered there over the years.  To this day, the 69 field is the only spot I've ever been fortunate enough to find these 69 caliber three ringers, and added a few more over the course of the week.  Other finds here in the 69 field included some camp brass (a knapsack j-hook, waist belt keeper, scabbard finial), an eagle I infantry coat button, a war-era Indian head penny, and an interesting carved 69 caliber bullet.

My favorite find for the day was this odd piece of lead, a first for me.  This is a cone protector or nipple protector.  It was positioned over the nipple on the rifle, in the same place where a percussion cap would be located when firing.  It served a number of uses, including protecting the weapon from damage in case of dry fire, keeping dirt out of the nipple hole, and allowing a weapon to be safely carried while loaded.  The image below shows a manufactured brass nipple protector on a chain, but the placement would be the same for this field-produced lead version.

In the last 10 minutes of the day, I got a nice signal on the way back to the truck.  A nice deep three ringer came out of the hole, yet the solid low tone remained.  The second target was an general service eagle coat button.  Then another three ring bullet in the hole.  At this point I could see a bit of color change in the dirt, and I was sure I had located a soldier's hut if firebox.  These time capsules are my favorite part about the DIV winter camps, but with the sun rapidy setting I had to mark the hole and wait until the morning.  And you will have to wait too - I'm going to devote a separate post to the firebox.