As seen in the October 2005 edition of W&ET Magazine
Deep Digging: Adventures Beneath The Plow Zone
By: Ed Fedory
There are those times and situations when a metal detector just will not answer to a relic hunter's needs. It doesn't make any difference which type or brand of detector you choose to use... some types of hunting are well beyond the capabilities of even the most high-end detectors. Generally, these types of situations revolve around targets that are either very deep or a non-metallic nature. Certain sites and relics dictate that the shovel, in all its various sizes and shapes, become the primary tool, while the metal detector plays a secondary and minor role as a pinpointing device once the relic-bearing layer of soil has been reached. Under other conditions, the detector might put you on the initial area to search, but the shovel will once again become your primary recovery tool.
Kevin Ambrose checks out the dark, relic-bearing layer in the depths of the hut. Notice the soil bridge containing telephone lines on the right.
To remedy the situation, I knew that I would have to find one of the fort's structures and then search in and around it. To that end, my dad made me several probes to enable me to find the remains of the blockhouse foundations. This was a pretty easy task, as you could see where some of the foundation stones had been dragged to the surface during the previous plowing. Additionally, knowing from research that the foundations would be 24' square, I simply found the four corners and commenced digging and sifting every shovelful of soil from the interior of the blockhouse foundations. In this fashion, I was able to add several complete pipe bowls, and two almost complete pipes to my collection. Numerous pieces of pottery and glass, musket flints, and metallic relics found too deep for mt detector, added to my knowledge and understanding of the site. I thought that would be the last time I would ever be forced to resort to a probe and a lot of heavy digging. Once again, I was wrong!
"After reviewing serial aerial photographs of areas that had already been dug, and some existing photos of the site at the time of the Civil War," stated Andy, "I saw some discrepancies. There were gaps in certain areas where I believed that more deep Union army huts should exist. I knew that most of my fellow relic hunters were using their detectors to help them locate the sites of huts, but I also knew that it would be impossible to find the really deep huts in that manner."
Besides the cap box, other hut relics included bullets, buttons, pipe fragments, several umbrella inks, and a champagne bottle. (Photo by Kevin Ambrose)
"We probed in one area, but the initial results were not very good. We decided to check back in the area where I had found my first huts. Plunging my probe to nearly its complete five-foot extent, I noticed a small amount of charcoal sticking to the tip. I called to Kevin and Rick and told them that I thought we definitely had a structure beneath where I was standing. I really don't think they believed me because their detectors failed to pick up any deep iron signals in the area. I continued probing, bringing up more charcoal and ash each time I pulled the probe from the ground.
Fully conserved, the percussion cap box appears little changed from when it was first discarded over 140 years ago! (Photo by Kevin Ambrose)
The following morning, Andy probed to find the extent of the area to be dug, and found it to be about 10' long and 7' wide. As their digging progressed, they found a telephone line running through a portion of the excavation and were forced to leave a bridge of soil supporting the line. This effectively cut their deep hut in half. While Andy and Rick worked on one side of the bridge, Kevin searched and dug on the other side.
"We opened the hole some more and ran a detector over the clay. We were surprised to find that we were getting readings all along the entire bottom of the pit. As we scraped away the floor, all sorts of relics from the past began to emerge... bullets, buttons, mess cups, cooking tins, two umbrella inkwells, a champagne bottle, and a wide variety of small relics."
These discarded Civil War brogans, or "e;Jefferson bootees,"e; were in a remarkable state of preservation. Not many collections of the period can boast a pair of soldier's shoes that marched through Fredericksburg! (Photo by Kevin Ambrose)
Asked about the freeze-drying process, Kevin explained that he simply put the shoes in his freezer for a week. "e;I think I probably would have kept them in the freezer longer, but I started hearing some complaints from my wife."e; With those words, all I could do was smile, as I think most relic hunters have found themselves in similar situations. I think my own spousal complaint episodes usually focused on rusty rosehead nails on the kitchen table, a section of charred blockhouse flooring in the dining room, and using some soup bowls to clean recovered musketballs.