As seen in the May 2001 edition of W&ET Magazine
Relic Hunting Carolina Style
By: Ed Fedory
Photos By: Mike Mclellan
"Assume command of the Army of Tennessee and all troops in the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Assign General Beauregard to duty under you, as you may select. Concentrate all available forces and drive back Sherman."- Letter from Robert E. Lee to General Joseph E. Johnston, February 22, 1865.
This order would result in the last tactical offensive the South would be able to mount against Union forces during the Civil War, and would become known in history as The Battle of Bentonville.
Numerous relics dating from both Colonial and Civil War eras were found in fields adjacent to a rural North Carolina crossroads.
In the closing year of the Civil War, following Sherman's infamous "March to the Sea," it seemed to Ulysses S. Grant, commander of Federal forces, that a fatal and final blow could be dealt to Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, if Sherman's forces could unite with Grant's Army of the Potomac. The original plan was for Sherman's forces to be ferried by sea to the front, but Sherman proposed another and more daring plan. He would drive north, through the heart of the Carolinas, with over 60,000 Union troops. His plan was accepted.
Phil Goodson was able to secure permission to search hundreds of acres of open fields that once witnessed the tread of Union and Confederate troops during the "Campaign of the Carolinas".
Following Lee's orders, Johnston gathered the remains of his Army of Tennessee and other scattered Confederate troops to meet Sherman's northern drive. On March 19, 1865, at Cole's Plantation on the Goldsboro Road, Johnston's forces launched a massive series of attacks on elements of Sherman's left wing. Despite spirited attacks, the continually reinforced Union lines were able to hold back the Confederate advance.
Not one to keep his good sites all to himself, Phil Goodson was the catalyst behind many of the hunts enjoyed by this happy and successful group of North Carolina relic hunters.
The Battle of Bentonville would pass into history, but not fade from memory, especially for a group of North Carolina historians and relic hunters... and that part of the Bentonville epilogue would be filled with great adventures and the recovery of numerous battlefield relics!
Kilpatrick's cavalry bivouacked around the 1788 Bethesda Church during a cold, rainy night in March 1865. Adjoining fields yielded many interesting relics.
There's something to be said for hitting the fields at dawn with a group of guys who share a common purpose, and I guess that is what was in the back of Phil Goodson's mind as he watched the group of relic hunters emerging from their trucks on the dirt farm road.
As with many relic hunts, the first signs of history and activity came in the form of fired and dropped projectiles- in this case, Minies of various calibers- but it wouldn't take long for some more important recoveries to be made.
This 1853 silver medal was awarded to Robert Walcutt of Ohio. Interestingly, General Charles Walcutt, one of Sherman's subordinate commanders during the Campaign of the Carolinas, later became the mayor of Columbus, Ohio... the county seat of Franklin County, where the medal was awarded!
Continuing his search in the area of heavy thicket off the edge of the field where he had found the North Carolina button, Ron was surprised by a strong and long signal. Digging through the soil and roots, and noticing the rusty discoloration of the removed earth, is usually enough to get any relic hunter's heart thumping, but Ron Adkin's pulse really raced when he saw the long tube of a Civil War musket barrel in the bottom of the hole!
Ron Adkins displays his recently recovered musket barrel. Tiring of the open field, Ron extended his hunting into a heavy thicket where the barrel was recovered.
One of the things I found most interesting when viewing the finds made by Mike and the other members of the team was the variety of the objects they had been able to recover. While a substantial portion of the recoveries dated from the Battle of Bentonville, there were quite a number of finds dating from the Colonial period as well.