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.
Chuck was able to round out his collection of Civil War Minie balls with rounds fired by both Union and Confederate troops.
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!
"I'll never forget that first Minie ball I took from the ground," remarks Chuck. "I may not have made the most significant finds of the hunt, but what I recovered was important to me. Before that first ball, the Civil War was something I'd experienced through movies and books. It's a heck of a lot different when you hold history in your hands!"
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.
Cutting the supply lines to Richmond would sever the lifeline of the Confederate capital, and with this thought in mind, Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant, launched a protracted siege of Petersburg, Virginia. Massed troops, numerous field pieces, and railroad guns were employed during the nine-month campaign. (Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress/Prints and Photographs Department.)
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.
Ray, George, Wayne, and Randy take a quick break from their search for Civil War ordnance in the deep Virginia woods. Several projectiles recovered during the hunt can be seen among the fallen leaves before them.
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."
Officers and men of Co. K, 1st US Cavalry (1st Division Cavalry Corps) are captured in an early photograph taken at Brandy Station. Never in his wildest dreams did Chuck Stark think he would be pulling Minie balls from the ground near where these soldiers once stood! (Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress/Prints and Photographs Department.)
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!
"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.
Union troops encamped outside Nashville, Tennessee in the days following the decisive battle that completed the disorganization of General John B. Hood's Army of Tennessee. For any relic hunter, living in such an area, as Mark Swann does, would be a dream come true. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress/Prints and Photographs Department.)
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.
Among the interesting recoveries made by the team were a 23 lb. Dryer shell and the nose of a 100 lb. Parrott shell... finds sure to increase the heart rate of any relic hunter!
...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."
Mark Swann displays several of his larger finds from the Battle of Nashville. Beginning his relic hunting at a young age with his dad, Mark has made Civil War relic hunting a lifetime passion.
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!
Mark's days in the field have certainly paid dividends. "The search for relics and the understanding of their significance in light of our nation's history," he says, "have always driven me out into the muddy fields... the deep forests... and the research books!"
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!
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!