As seen in the February 2006 edition of W&ET Magazine
On The Trail And Trials Of The 24th Foot
By: Ed Fedory
There exist two simple facts about relic hunting. First, you can never tell just what that next shovel full of soil will reveal. Second, we often unearth more questions than answers. Certainly, both these facts surrounded Roger Duron when he pulled that British 24th Regiment artifact from the depths of the rich Virginia soil.
The trail of the British 24th Regiment of Foot began in the lakeside fields of upstate New York with the discovery of two of the regiment's pewter uniform buttons.
The 24th Regiment was the advance corps for Burgoyne's army as it swept south from Canada toward its final destination of Albany, New York. In Albany they would rendezvous with Clinton's forces making a drive up the Hudson, and St. Leger, whose forces would strike from the west along the Mohawk River. It was a bold plan.
British buttons of Burgoyne's army were found over the entire field, but the most striking of all was the silver officer's button of the 24th Regiment.
In a large and elevated hayfield we found numerous dropped musketballs and the first of many buttons. It was in this field, which must have served as a staging area, that I saw the first two silver officer's buttons recovered... a small button of the 62nd Regiment, and a much larger officer's button from the 24th.
Crossbelts, as seen in this drawing of a British soldier during the American Revolution, were rapidly replacing waist belts. The buckles, or plates, were easily converted from one use to the other. (Illustration courtesy of www.rrw.org.uk)
Burgoyne's troops, which would become known as the Convention Army, were marched to Cambridge, Massachusetts. In the meantime, Congress was seeking any way possible to repudiate the terms of surrender which would allow the captured British forces to return to England following a pledge not to fight in the colonies again. One of the small, yet effective, reasons for the eventual repudiation of the Convention of Saratoga was a major discrepancy between the number of troops and the number of cartridge boxes that should have been surrendered at Saratoga.
At first Roger Duron wasn't sure just what he had found, as it was embedded in a chunk of frozen soil. Once the piece had thawed, Roger knew he had found something unique! (Photo courtesy of Roger Duron)
As Roger continued his tale, it wasn't until he had gotten home from the hunt that he decided to clean another large recovery that was coated with half-frozen mud. "As I cleaned the piece, the big brass number 24 emerged from beneath the mud. I knew I had found something special at that point, but I just wasn't sure what it was."
On the reverse of the plate the points of rivet attachment can plainly be seen on the left edge. (Photo courtesy of Roger Duron)
Long before I had any thoughts of doing a column based on Roger's recovery, I had given this mystery quite a bit of thought. I knew of a 47th Regiment belt plate that had been found in Greene County, New York. It, too, should have been surrendered at Saratoga. Couple these events with the fact that Congress acknowledged a great discrepancy in the number of cartridge boxes that were finally accounted for and the number that should have been turned in. Add to this mixture the fact that at that period of time the American army was in terrible need of all sorts of equipment. Indeed, it was noted that a third of all the soldiers that had retreated from Ticonderoga, scant months earlier, were barefoot.
I can see that 24th Regiment belt and cartridge box hanging from a wooden peg on the back of a door in a Virginia homestead. The Civil War breaks out, and many a Virginian answers the call to arms. Long has this one particular young man heard the story of his great-grandfather, one of Morgan's riflemen, and how he had fought against the aggression of a tyrant from across the seas. With his own singular reasoning, he views this war as another act of aggression... Northern aggression. The cartridge box and belt are taken from the wooden peg... and once again it is destined for war.