As seen in the August 2006 edition of W&ET Magazine
The Legacy Of Brandy Station
By: Ed Fedory
The antique melody of a lonesome fiddle on the still night air was a siren's song across the centuries. Closing your eyes, it would be easy to imagine the faces of grizzled and hardened veterans in the shadowy half-light of a flickering campfire... the wood smoke and the distant notes of an ill-played harmonica were just beyond my ken.
The open fields of Brandy Station have changed very little since Company K of the 1st U.S. Cavalry posed for this picture. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.)
In my mind, I could easily picture those fields and rolling hills bathed in the eerie glow of a thousand still and moonlit evenings, and I wondered if some of them still rode- ghostly riders followed by the cadenced tread of spectral infantry. Of a rainy evening, was it the distant thunder heard, or that lone artillery piece of Fleetwood Hill firing off its remaining rounds throughout the ages? It is part-and-parcel for writers to conjure such images... it is our stock in trade; but if those silent sentinels of ancient oak and sycamore could speak, the tales they would tell of earthbound combatants eternally reenacting the bloody events of June 9, 1863. Incurable romantic? Perhaps.
The vast amount of supplies needed by troops in the field can easily be imagined by viewing this immense wagon park in the vicinity of Brandy Station. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.)
Like those who had gone before us, we came to those fields from different trades and different states. Their mission had been to preserve the Union... or States' Rights. Our common purpose was to dig and preserve the relics of Brandy Station. We came to those fields armed with an assortment of metal detectors and digging tools... they had entered the pages of history bearing Springfields and Enfields. Any injury or wounds we received during the three-day hunt could easily be remedied with the simple application of a Band-Aid- there would be no broken and torn bodies remaining on the field when our activities were completed. We came to those fields as friends, from the North and the South, with a common goal, and would leave as such.
A wide assortment of Civil War relics was recovered on the fields of Brandy Station during the three-day hunt. (Photo courtesy of Tony Banas.)
The Battle of Brandy Station has the distinction of being the largest cavalry engagement ever fought on the North American continent, with almost 19,000 mounted troops engaged in combat.
Considered to be among the top three finds made during the hunt, this Georgia box plate was recovered by Dave Vander-Haeghe.
On the opposite shore of the Rappahannock River, and unknown to the Confederate forces, were 10,000 cavalry troopers under the command of General Alfred Pleasonton. Union intelligence reported Confederate cavalry movements on the other side of the river. Not knowing the full strength of his adversary, Pleasonton decided to split his force in half. Crossing at Beverly's Ford and Kelly's Ford, he would be able to launch a pincer attack- catching General J.E.B. Stuart's 9,000 mounted troops in the middle.
Robert Compton, Jr. spent the better part of two days working a small section of cornfield with amazing results. According to Robert, many of the targets were deep... the plates in excess of 18".
Each relic hunter on the field that first day of the hunt had his own images of that battle running through his head, in an attempt to rethink troop movements and find areas where there would be relics aplenty. For those of us who came from out of state, our first lessons would be in Virginia geology rather than history. To say that the ground was highly mineralized and "hot," would be an understatement of monumental proportions. In all my years of relic hunting I had never experienced mineralization that would throw off your ground-balance after running a search pattern for only 20'! In addition to the iron-rich soil, we should also factor in numerous "hot rocks," countless nails, and small bits of iron trash. For many of us, the first lesson we had to learn was the re-learning of our detectors. It was a challenge, but all would rise to meet it!
Hunting the iron-rich soil of Virginia was a challenge. Mineralization, "hot rocks," and nails had a tendency to mask and corrupt good signals. (Photo courtesy of Ron Stump.)
On my way back to the main tent to get some bottled water, I met up with my buddy, Robert "Bebo" Compton, Jr. Bebo had been working a small section of cornfield, and from the surface of the ground you could tell that he was on a mission that might wear out his digging tool before the weekend was over. I asked how he was doing and if he was finding anything.
Over two dozen canteens were found at one site, along with bugles, curry combs, caisson grease buckets, and quantities of decomposing hard tack. (Photo courtesy of Ron Stump.)
During the first day of the hunt over 70 belt plates and breastplates were recovered, and Scott seemed to have found more than his share. Can you find the three non-Civil War recoveries? (Photo courtesy of mytreasurespot.com)
Within the first few hours of the hunt, Confederate buttons began making their way into the light of day... Block I's and A's... state buttons from the South... and buttons from every state in the Union. It was an amazing site to behold!
In what he termed "an 11th hour miracle," Ron Callaghan recovered this Confederate frame buckle during the last hours of the hunt.
One of the nicest finds was made in the last hours of the hunt, when Tony Banas recovered a silver ID tag belonging to a member of the 77th New York State Volunteers. It was certainly a bit of "turn around" luck for Tony, as his car had broken down an hour outside of Ohio, and he had to rent a car to make it down to Virginia. From the smile on Tony's face, you could tell that thoughts of his previous car problems had vanished with the recovery of that interesting relic!