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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (09/2005) Relic Hunter (08/2005) Relic Hunter (10/2005)   Vol. 39 September 2005 
The Relic Hunter
As seen in the September 2005 edition of W&ET Magazine

Civil War Field Of Dreams

By: Ed Fedory

I guess there are times when you just have to sit back and let the experience wash over you. I was thinking that very thought as I leaned back in a soft chair, cold beverage in hand, and stared at my discarded leaden boots on the floor. I knew that if I didn't get on my feet soon, my back would start to seize up, and minor muscle and joint pains would terminate in some deep and guttural groans... a sign of aging? Perhaps, but more likely the results of a full day of hard digging. I knew that the big Georgia Boots lying at the entrance to the open door created a potential hazard to anyone entering, but at that point in the day my mind found it very easy to rationalize that the boots presented no great hazard... and so they continued to sit there, mud-caked and abandoned, for the better part of half an hour.

As I reflected on the events of the day, it was easy to understand the growing stiffness in my back, and the reason why "my dogs were barkin'". There had been an awful lot of soil moved, not only by myself, but by everyone who had been on the field during the first day of the hunt.

Experienced hut diggers generally feel that only one out of six huts will produce an abundant amount of relics, while others believe that the ratio may be a little higher. In either case, I wouldn't contest their opinions, as the "neat freaks" of yore must have occupied our three huts of the day.

Our first hut site was perfect. We dug directly down into the first of two fireboxes, found the walls, floor, and rear corners of the hut, and then carefully proceeded, using small shovels and our detectors in our quest for relics. To one side of us, Mike was pulling a "US" belt plate from the ground... to the other side, Roger had just recovered a beautiful umbrella inkwell... from two huts over, Rick crossed the piles of growing soil to show us the bayonet he had just dug. In comparison, it seemed as if our hut had gone through some thorough and intricate sterilization process!

Knowing that each removed shovelful of removed soil might reveal a fantastic Civil War era relic, we continued digging, but we also realized that each shovelful of removed soil brought us closer to the complete excavation of the hut. On we pressed, with the hut just offering us scant rewards that came in pairs: two rivets... two small buttons... two dropped bullets. Reaching the second firebox brought our hopes to the summit, but we were only inches away from the final corner. I looked over at Charlie and remarked that if we were going to find anything more in this hut, it would have to be in the last unexposed corner of the hut- and it was. Careful excavation brought up a very small (and I cannot over emphasize the word small) medicine bottle. Later, with the hut fully exposed to its 14' x 7' size, and viewing the piles of soil we had taken from its 30" depth, we were amazed that it could possibly have contained so little!

Well, we thought philosophically, that was only our first hut, and we might dig four more just like it before we hit a bonanza. It was a thought that should never have crossed our minds, as some thoughts can come back to haunt you. This particular one did just that! Our second hut produced one piece of glass. Our final hut of the day turned into a pit used for burning, and while it offered some very interesting and colorful soil conditions, the only relics it yielded were barrel hoops... a lot of barrel hoops!

Yet, wonderful finds were being made at every point of the compass. Early in the morning I had met Roger Duron, and was amazed at how quickly he could open up a hut and dig it to completion. For a novice hut digger, like myself, Roger was clearly a fellow to watch and one from which to learn. By the end of the weekend fellow relic hunters would bestow a new nickname on Roger- the Human Mole!

From that first umbrella inkwell, Roger would find Lady Luck sitting on his shoulder for the entire course of that three-day dig. Taking a break from one of our huts, I walked over to Roger's digging area and found him with two beautiful emerald food bottles, and the broken remains of a civilian serving platter that had been "liberated" from Fredericksburg. It came as no surprise when we heard later that an "OVM" (Ohio Volunteer Militia) belt plate had been recovered by Roger in another of his excavated huts!

Most of the relic hunters walked on two legs, but there was one that walked on four. Yes, you read that line correctly, and the questioning look on your face at this point is only caused by one fact... you have never met Rudy the Relic Hound!

I've witnessed some strange things in my life, but meeting Rudy has to be among the strangest. We had just finished digging our second hut and were walking down what must have been a camp road lined with huts at one time, when I saw a dog frantically digging away with its paws at the side wall of a hut. Jokingly, I asked the lady who owned Rudy if he had recovered any relics. Quite seriously, and certainly to my amazement, she replied, "Oh, yes, Rudy just dug up a coat button, and a little earlier he found a dropped bullet."

Only half joking, I asked if she rented Rudy out by the hour. Smiling graciously, she replied that Rudy was not hired out. Meanwhile, Rudy continued his industrious digging, with soil flying behind him, and Charlie and I took our leave of the strange sight. I just shook my head when the thought came to me that Rudy had recovered a lot more than we had found in that second hut!

I doubt that any story of relic hunting would be complete without a tale dealing with that often suspect and always envied trait called "beginner's luck." In that category Terry Behn easily won the award! Terry had never searched for Civil War relics and had never dug a hut, yet on the first day of the hunt he was able to pull a beautiful "US" belt plate and a number of other interesting artifacts from his first hut. At about that point, I figured that he had used up all the luck a beginner deserved, but such was not to be the case.

Of all the hunters who recovered bayonets during those days of digging, it was Terry who pulled the only brass-handled bayonet from the ground, and it was a beauty! I walked over to where a crowd was forming (a sure sign that something rare was being unearthed), and there knelt Terry with the bayonet cradled in his hands. I looked at the hole he had dug and was surprised to see that he had barely begun to open up the hut when the bayonet was discovered. I'd be willing to bet that on his long drive from Virginia back home to Wisconsin, the smile never once left Terry's face!

When you talk about a "lightning rod" for relics, you usually don't have to look any farther than Ernest Bower. On the first day of the hunt, and only yards away from where Terry had discovered his bayonet, Ernest recovered three Civil War plates from a single hut, along with an assortment of uniform buttons. There were a lot of plates dug that weekend, but Ernest was fortunate enough to find the nicest "SNY" (State of New York) plate I saw come from the ground.

One of the most interesting features of the expansive encampment was discovered by Art on the second day of the hunt- a line of trash pits that fully extended the better part of 100'! Before long dozens of relic hunters were digging deep into the trash-pit line as it angled down the hill. The soil was piled high on both sides of the line, and as I walked along I could see smaller piles of broken glass and ceramics. I stopped to talk with Mark Gerrick and view the bottle he had just recovered. Interestingly enough, the bottle came from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, only 15 miles from where Mark lives. It had traveled across time and space to meet up with Mark on a Virginia hayfield!

As I was photographing Mark's bottle, Ron Callaghan asked if I would like to take a photograph of "a pretty lady." I had to agree with Ron's appreciation for beauty as he held out the perfect Virginia coat button he had recovered only minutes earlier.

It didn't seem as though there would be any end to the number and quality of the relics recovered during the three-day dig, and as usual, I've barely scratched the surface of the finds that were made. I look forward to returning to that wonderful encampment site in the near future, and digging a little harder and a little deeper... a little smarter... and a whole lot luckier!

Author's Note: For more photos and examples of the interesting relics recovered during this Virginia dig, please visit: www.mytreasurespot.com and view the "Diggin'" forum and galleries.

FROM ED'S NOTEBOOK

Ohio In The Civil War

In 1860, with a population of 2.3 million, Ohio had 679,000 men of military age. With the outbreak of the Civil War and Lincoln's subsequent April 15, 1861 call for 75,000 volunteers to preserve the Union, Ohioans responded immediately. While the quota of volunteers from Ohio was set at 13,000, within 16 days there were enough volunteers to fill the national call to arms. In 1861 over 100,000 men volunteered for the service, and by the war's end more than 346,000 had served.

This massive response by the men of Ohio to preserve the Union resulted in Ohio's ability to supply 198 infantry regiments, 13 cavalry regiments, three cavalry battalions, one light artillery regiment, and 25 artillery batteries.

Ohioans fought in all theaters of the Civil War, with a loss of over 35,000 men- 11,588 as a result of direct combat. Following the war, five Ohio Civil War veterans would be elected to the office of President of the United States.

While doing a little basic "fact finding" on Ohio's part in the Civil War, I came across an anecdote relating to Roger's "OVM" plate. These plates were made during peacetime and were largely replaced; however, the 27th Ohio had retained their plates for a number of years. While transporting Confederate prisoners, the corporal leading a squad of Union soldiers was asked a question by one of his Mississippi captives:

"Corporal, what the devil does O.V.M. stand for?

"Oh, my plate, you mean?" said the corporal. "That stands for Ohio Visiting Mississippi. We had a few made on purpose for this campaign."

It would seem that even in times of terrible conflict, the sense of humor could never be suppressed!














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