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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (08/2001) Relic Hunter (07/2001) Relic Hunter (09/2001)   Vol. 35 August 2001 
The Relic Hunter
As seen in the August 2001 edition of W&ET Magazine

Then and Now: A Civil War Trilogy

By: Ed Fedory

I was 10 years old when the last Civil War veteran was laid to rest. His burial was just prior to the centennial of that bloody and dramatic benchmark in our nation's history. Every kid I knew was working on the completion of his Topps Civil War News card set, and my childhood buddy, Frank, was viewed with awe, due to the fact that he had an authentic Civil War cannonball, and a battlefield-recovered Colt Army revolver sitting on his bedroom shelf. Cheap kepis, in traditional blue or gray were commonplace, and, well... cool.

The coonskin caps had been hung up on the peg only a couple of years before, and having been primed by the Davy Crockett marketing onslaught, it was easy to begin sporting belts with US and CS buckles- and you knew you just had to have that complete Civil War soldier set. How many unbelievable promises did we make to our parents just to see that big-boxed set under the Christmas tree? I think my list began with mowing the lawn twice a week... an easy promise to make when snow was still on the ground!

For some of us, that early fascination with history took a firm hold, leading us down the path toward relic hunting, and the unique ability to hold history in our own hands. And what began as a youthful interest, was soon to mature into a passion.

It was such a passion which caused George Lesche to load his truck and head out in the wee morning hours on a five-hour trip to Richmond, Virginia, from his home in New Jersey. The mission was big iron... Civil War artillery rounds.

Arriving with the dawn, he met with Wayne Aldridge, and Wayne's friends, Ray, George, and Randy. George's hosts knew the area well, and with the combination of relic hunting experience and research, they figured they had a line on some sites that might contain fired Civil War ordnance.

"Randy and I were on the site after a short drive, and when I looked down the steep ravine to the area we would be searching," related George, "all I could think of was water moccasins and copperheads! With all the fallen timber and high grass, it looked far from the ideal spot to be searching for relics."

As George stated, he decided to work the slope of the ravine, but finding it very difficult, he headed back to the summit to begin running what turned out to be a series of fruitless search patterns. "I hadn't been searching for more than 20 minutes when I heard Randy calling my name. When I finally reached him, he handed over his recently recovered Confederate 12-pound round. Holding that rusted and muddy projectile in my hands was all it took to put my fear of snakes on the back burner and climb down into the depths of the ravine."

"Once again, I wasn't more than 15 minutes into my search when Randy called out that he had found another one." Running in the direction of Randy's voice, George arrived in time to see Randy pulling a 3" Reed from an 18" deep, muddy hole. "I knew those local boys would be good... I just didn't realize how good!"

Carrying the two recovered projectiles back to the truck, they headed out to meet Wayne and Ray, to relic hunt some heavily wooded sites along the James River. "At first, some of the guys were pulling Minie balls and some shell fragments, and I was having some minor successes myself. It was around that time that I found Wayne digging on a deep target, and offered to assist him with the digging. About 12" down we found the nose of a 100-pound Parrott shell. With the shell having been pulled from the hole, I was getting ready to begin filling it in when Wayne stopped me. There was still a faint signal in the bottom of the hole. Thinking that it was probably the missing fuse, Wayne told me I could have whatever remained in the hole."

After digging to a depth of about 3', George decided to take a break, and Randy offered to continue the digging. After six more inches of soil were removed, they could see the top of yet another shell. When the projectile was finally hefted from the soil, it proved to be a 23-pound Dryer, and it was the first time it had seen daylight in 136 years!

Two weeks later, the disarmed Dryer shell arrived at George's home, and according to George, "It was the perfect memento of a great relic hunt with a great group of guys!"

* * *

"I'll probably never have another chance to hunt a Civil War site, and I'm going to give it the best shot I've got!" With those words, Chuck Stark headed south for his meeting with Civil War history on the broad fields of Culpeper County, Virginia.

The relics Chuck would recover were the result of the largest cavalry engagement to ever take place on American soil. The date was June 9th, 1863... the place was Brandy Station.

"I was a little disappointed with my meager finds during the first morning," related Chuck, "but with the finding of my very first Minie ball, during the afternoon, my enthusiasm and determination began to surge. I was holding my first piece of Civil War history in the palm of my hand, and all I could think of were the men who once rode across the fields I was relic hunting. You could almost see the phantom riders, and hear the pounding hoofbeats and clashing steel!"

By the time Chuck made it to the river the following weekend, he was in possession of a case full of Union and Confederate Minie balls recovered at the battle site. Around the fire Chuck told us the story of his hunt, and the often difficult ground and digging conditions. He felt a little regretful that he hadn't been able to pull a belt plate or a piece of artillery shell from the history-rich soil, but as he stood there pointing out the differences between the types of projectiles he had recovered, there was a happy and contented look on his face.

...and somewhere behind that glint in his eye, I knew that the thought of heading south for another relic hunt was starting to blossom!

* * *

"I have always been blessed with having Civil War history right in my own backyard, and growing up with relic hunting," related Mark Swann. "I started out finding my first Minie ball when I was still in elementary school, and always accompanied my dad when he would go on relic hunts. He was a good teacher, and I didn't miss too many of the lessons."

Living in the Nashville, Tennessee area provides Mark with more than his share of relic hunting possibilities. With 50,000 Union and 40,000 Confederate troops engaged in the Battle of Nashville alone, the potential to find some interesting and significant finds is all but staggering!

"I know that on some of the sites we've hunted, we have barely scratched the surface, and with each bit of research we undertake, new sites of Civil War camps and crossings are mentioned. There's a lot of legwork involved with identifying the exact locations of some sites, but it always proves to be well worth the effort."

Just a quick glance at some of the interesting finds Mark has been able to make over recent years is enough to make me want to pack my detector in the truck and head south, away from all the snow, ice, and frozen ground!

Mark may have forgotten that open-ended invitation to go relic hunting with him, but I certainly haven't... and I guess he shouldn't be too surprised when he hears a knock on his front door and sees a stranger standing there with a bedroll and a case of Dinty Moore beef stew, ready for some extended relic hunting in the South!

* * *

I don't think there is even the smallest chance of our fascination with the Civil War ever fading away. It is not only a major factor in our nation's history, but an important part of many family histories as well. The Civil War is probably one of the most well documented wars ever fought, and the fact that more Americans, both Union and Confederate, lost their lives for what they believed in, than in any war before or since, ensures that its lasting legacy will remain for countless generations to come!

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