On the old, Revolutionary War era map, it appeared as no more than a black chevron pointing in the direction of the river... a minor gun emplacement covering a section of the river and a small creek crossing. It was probably so insignificant, compared to the much larger and more heavily fortified defensive works located nearby, that the mapmaker may have wondered whether he should even take the time to add this minor detail to his map. We were glad that he did.
Comparing the old map to a new topographical map, we could see that the search area was limited in size and didn't seem to have changed very much over the years. Our greatest hope was that the point of land we desired to search had not seen any development in the years since the topographical map had been printed, while the thought of not being able to obtain permission to hunt the site, after having located it, filled each of us with no small amount of anxiety.
Coordinating our days off presented a small problem for the team, but we were finally able to grab a weekend in early September to check out the location more carefully, and make an attempt at getting permission to detect there.
Arriving near the site, with a cloud of dust following us down the rural road, we quickly noted that the majority of the area had been planted with corn that had yet to be harvested. So, our best chance of being able to confirm the existence of the cannon position lay in a small section of recently hayed field between the two larger fields of standing corn. We decided to give it a shot.
Asking nearby residents for the location of the field's owner, we were directed to a barn and a set of tall silos about half a mile away.
This, to me, is always the most crucial part of the entire relic hunting experience. The whole hunt keys off how you present yourself... how you choose your words... the strength of your smile... the firmness of your handshake. Timing is another factor over which we have very little control. I remember driving past the open doors of a barn one day in pursuit of relic hunting permission, and witnessed the farmer under his tractor, lying on a piece of cardboard on the cold barn floor. He was covered to the elbows with oil, and surrounded by a vast assortment of sockets and wrenches. I wisely decided that it would be the absolute worst time to ask for a favor, and chose to catch some breakfast instead. Permission to hunt the farm was obtained later in the morning.
As we pulled up to the barn, we could see that the lights were on in the milking shed, and we were greeted by the sounds of early morning activity. The farmer readily agreed to let us search his hayfield and further mentioned that he would be cutting the corn within the next three weeks, and we could come back and search that, too, if we wanted. Rarely is getting permission that easily accomplished.
Driving onto the edge of the hayfield, we quickly unloaded our detectors, backpacks, and digging tools and established our camp around a large roll of hay in the middle of the field. Each member of the team knew, as we headed across the field, that we would be searching under "standard operating procedures"- a buck a man for the first ball. I knew there wasn't one of us who wouldn't be willing to dig into his wallet and cough up a dollar just to know that the site had once been occupied, and that relics were in the ground!
Within 15 minutes the money was flying toward Gene as he displayed a perfect dropped musketball to the rest of us. After digging my first one, I could easily understand why Gene had coached us to "listen deep". We had received very little rain in the weeks preceding the hunt, and the clay-ridden coil was hard to dig through and very dry. We couldn't dig plugs, as the soil would simply crumble away from the roots. Rarely have I ever dug in soil so deprived of water. You could forget about the existence of any type of "halo effect"... there wasn't any. We slowed down our sweep speed, and I began listening so hard that it felt as if my ears must have been protruding from the bottom of my searchcoil!
Once we had pegged the type of signal to listen for, the hunting was easy. That last line must sound like a real novice speaking. I can almost hear some people out there saying, "Gee, Ed, all you have to do is listen for the repeatable signals, duh!" Well, that would certainly be the case if we were searching under "normal" conditions, but when working in soil so atypically arid, good target signals in the lower depths would give a chipping sound.
Additionally, in super-dry situations the relic hunter is sometimes faced with "phantom" signals- signals that literally disappear once the sod is broken and the hole is opened up. You couldn't allow yourself to be fooled by this type of false indication. You just had to keep digging, remove all the loose soil from the bottom of the hole, and sweep your coil over the removed earth to find your target once again. I have experienced this interesting phenomenon with many detectors over the years, but it's definitely a mind-boggler when you encounter it for the first time!
Eddie Pebler and Gene were searching the area near the woodline, and it was easy to tell that they were hitting a hotspot from the amount of time they were spending on their knees, digging.
One of the really interesting aspects of this site was the percentage of dropped musketballs compared to those that had been fired. The overwhelming majority of those we were able to recover were "drops." This fact, along with several recovered tent peg ferrules, was a sure indicator of a small camp that had probably been set up to house a support unit for the gun emplacement.
Another interesting thing was the amount of melted lead we found on all sections of the site. Initially, with the first few recovered pieces, I thought I was in an area where musketballs had been cast over an open campfire; however, when Gene, Eddie, and Gordon all showed up with dozens of pieces of melted lead in their collecting bags, I was bewildered for a while. It was only later, upon digging another piece of melted lead along with a section of charred wood, that I realized that at some time in the past there had probably been a fire on the point, and any exposed musketballs had simply melted from the intense heat of the forest fire!
I was working one small section on a rise before the standing corn when I saw Eddie's father, Gordon, approaching me. Gordon had his detector and digging tool slung over his shoulder, his right hand behind his back, and one of the broadest smiles I've ever witnessed on his face. I knew he had found something good. He approached me and said, "Yes, I guess this is where the cannon once stood." Before those words were too far from his lips, he dropped a 12 lb. cannonball at my feet!
Following that initial cannonball recovery, we knew that every one of those loud signals we were destined to dig upon would yield yet another piece of Revolutionary War ordnance, but such was not the case. We did, however, recover quite a number of horseshoes; and while their total weight came very close to that of the cannonball, there was no comparing this historical significance... nor would Gordon consider any sort of trade despite our unrelenting efforts!
Not all of our large iron targets were disappointments. Gordon went on to find a Colonial pickaxe in the early afternoon hours, while Eddie recovered a hand-wrought hoe. Both were probably employed in the construction of the gun emplacement. Gene was able to recover a spike-like object from the period, but its function is still a mystery.
We left the site of the Revolutionary War gun emplacement with the sun setting over the yet to be harvested cornfields, and with the knowledge that there were still acres upon acres of relic-laced grounds to search in the coming weeks. Such knowledge of future hunts and interesting recoveries tends to warm the spirit and thrill the mind... especially if you happen to be a relic hunter.