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.
Found on the site of an old plantation where Confederate troops once camped, this superb Louisiana pelican button looks as beautiful as the day it dropped from the uniform.
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.
A little research and a lot of legwork resulted in this mass of Minies recovered by Rich and his hunting team.
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.
Projectile fragments and a 9" naval watercap fused ball (dated 1861) attest to Farragut's barrage on the riverside defensive works.
The guns would fall silent, and their fired projectiles would rest in the soft ground... at least for another 140 years!
On such history-laden grounds, it's not unusual to find relics that predate the Civil War. A perfect example is this War of 1812 oval breastplate.
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!"
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.
Finding a 3 lb. round of solid shot in a French & Indian War or Revolutionary War context would probably denote a single fired round, but considering the size of some of Farragut's cannons, this is most likely a very large round of naval canister shot.
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!"
Searching the site of an early New Orleans defensive works, Rich was able to recover a large quantity of musketballs...
"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!"
Relic hunter Troy Galloway displays some of his Minie recoveries following an early morning hunt in the New Orleans area.
"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!"
"I like hunting the open areas, stated Hy", "but I've been known to crawl under bushes and wade through swamps when I'm on a hot relic trail!"
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...