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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (11/2001) Relic Hunter (10/2001) Relic Hunter (12/2001)   Vol. 35 November 2001 
The Relic Hunter
As seen in the November 2001 edition of W&ET Magazine

From The Banks Of The Big Muddy

By: Ed Fedory
Photos By: Richard Angelico

Before Abraham Lincoln could begin to think of uttering the words, 'The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea," there were a few major obstacles that would have to be overcome. Gaining control of the lower Mississippi, and cutting Confederate supply lines across it, would prove to be a difficult but necessary task.

The initial stages of the Mississippi Campaign would begin with the capture of New Orleans. To that end, in the early spring of 1862, Admiral David Glasgow Farragut assembled a fleet at Ship Island, off Biloxi. On approaching the delta, the larger ships of Farragut's command proceeded up the deeper channel of Southwest Pass, while his smaller ships, including a flotilla of 19 mortar-bearing schooners were able to negotiate the shallower waters of Pass a L'Outre. By the 18th of April, the naval bombardment had begun on the defensive works guarding the entranceway to the Mississippi.

After five days of suffering through extensive naval barrages by Farragut's gunships, the Confederate flags still flew over the two major defensive works. Farragut decided to run up the river under the forts' heavy guns. After two Federal gunboats had earlier opened the way by cutting through the massive chains which would have prevented access to the upper reaches of the river, Farragut and his fleet withstood the withering fire of the forts' heavy batteries and made it through the gap.

In a combined effort, with General Benjamin F. Butler's 18,000-man Union Army threatening the forts' from the rear, Farragut soon had his victory. By April 25 the city of New Orleans was under Union control... the following month, Baton Rouge would fall. It would still be another year before Vicksburg was taken and Lincoln could speak those famous words about the Father of Waters flowing free under Union control, but the first acts of securing the Mississippi were completed.

The guns would fall silent, and their fired projectiles would rest in the soft ground... at least for another 140 years!

"Extensive reading and research really paid off," stated relic hunter, Richard Angelico. "We would have never found the sites without it." As with many great hunts, the bookwork came before the legwork, and according to Rich there was quite a bit of the latter. "Using old maps of Union firing patterns, we were finally able to locate what appeared to be an untouched site, but only after half a day of searching."

When their search and research finally paid dividends, Rich and his team were amazed to find some of the fired Minie balls lying on the surface of the ground. "I can't really explain it, but there they were... .52 caliber Sharps... .58 caliber Minies... even a few Enfields, which were probably fired by bored Confederate troops at some point in time. Right then we knew that we were the first ones ever to find this remote site, and what we found on the surface was only the tip of the iceberg, compared to what lay in the depths of the soil!"

Rich developed an interesting theory about why the fired rounds were found at some distance from any of the Confederate defensive works. "We know that Farragut had his sharpshooters in the masts of his ships, firing at the cannon crews on the shoreline batteries. When the broadsides of those heavy cannons were fired, and the ships rocked from the recoil, the sharpshooters would overshoot their targets, and we were fortunate enough to find the areas where those projectiles finally came to rest. To date, we've found over 600 fired rounds dispersed over several acres in the thick brush."

Besides digging pouchfuls of fired lead, the team was able to locate artillery fragments, grapeshot, and a 9" Naval Watercap Fused ball, dated 1861, from one of Farragut's Dahlgren cannons. "That 9" shell, with its dated fuse, was a real bonus during that hunt," stated Rich.

"Some of the other sites we were able to locate in the area had their own individual and unique characteristics," Rich added. "The history of the area goes far back into the Colonial era, and the grounds we searched had been marched over by the Spanish, British, French, and Americans throughout its history." Attesting to the old and rich historical nature of some of the sites Rich has searched are the War of 1812 era belt plates, Spanish reales, and numerous musketballs he has been able to unearth.

As is the experience of most relic hunters, the quest is often long and confusing. "We had this Union map of a Confederate fort, and we had tried to locate it for the longest time. It wasn't until we were able to locate a Confederate survey that we were able to find the exact location of the fort. A relative, who is a surveyor, was able to take the old Confederate map, plot out the site on a modern topographic map, and put us directly on top of the fort. It's no wonder we couldn't find the fort by using the Union map... the fort was seven miles away from where the Union mapmakers indicated it should be!"

With the Mississippi River almost in his backyard, Rich is able to search in an area that was and is one of the major lines of commerce in our nation. Old towns, steamboat landings, and plantations all offer the relic hunter an interesting day in the field.

"Among the types of sites that I really enjoy relic hunting are those old plantation grounds. Our research indicated that Confederate troops had once encamped on the site of a plantation just upriver from us, and we weren't long into the hunt on the site, when I was able to locate a beautiful Louisiana pelican button. It came out of the ground looking as if it had been dropped only the week before, rather than almost a century and a half ago!"

"There's an awful lot of history in the ground, just waiting to be recovered, but the real key to successful relic hunting is the amount of research you put behind it," states Rich. "The old books, journals, and maps, are essential for narrowing down the search. It's not exactly like you have an old treasure map with a big, black X drawn on it," he continued, "but there are times when it comes pretty close to that, if you've done your homework!"

In a long ago and half-remembered past, I remember my teachers telling me about that homework thing. Half a century later, I am beginning to understand its importance. Never was considered a quick-study...

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