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Civil War Relic Collection Expanding

Recently, I wrote a story about our grandson, Benjamin, being chosen to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C. But, he also has a great interest in another military conflict, the Civil War. This is the bloody fight which pitted brother against brother, and father against son, in the early 1860’s. He and his family have visited many battlefields and monuments associated with this war. He is extremely knowledgeable in this area and can hold his own in conversations with adults who specialize in the history of this period.

Benjamin started metal detecting with us when he was five years old. He just turned 14 last July. Over these past nine years, he has attended many “paid” detector hunts where the participant pays an entry fee to search for old coins, metal targets with numbers on them good for prizes, and even Civil War relics which have been buried by the hunt organizers. This is how he first began collecting these century and a half remains from that terrible war.

After several years of collecting these artifacts, he started a collection which he then entered into a 4-H project. He started garnering blue ribbons and expanded his collection. Each year, he could utilize his previous items, but had to add at least 10 new relics to enlarge his project. More metal detector hunts aided in this endeavor.

About this time, Benjamin also started doing some trading of some of his metal detector prizes for Civil War relics from other hunters. After learning of his interest in this area, several of our friends from southern states began giving him items from their collections. Buttons, bullets, buckles, and more came his way, thanks to these folks who detected in private areas nears their homes, and wanted to encourage a youngster in this hobby.

These friends also gave an assortment of relics to my wife, Susie, to show to her elementary school students. When she tried to return them at the end of the year, they told her to show them the next year, and added more items to the collection. Many of her students developed an interest in the Civil War after viewing these relics. We also showed these items to other classes, scout groups, and even did shows at nursing homes. We learned more about this war and passed this knowledge on to others.

As his collection grew, the accumulation of blue ribbons, yellow honor ribbons, and purple champion ribbons grew. A gift of two artillery shells were donated by a friend from Virginia. I purchased paper money printed for the Confederacy and added U.S. coins from the 1860’s which could have been carried by soldiers at that time. More items were added when Benjamin purchased Civil War relics at auctions held at our treasure hunts.

Eighteen months ago, his Civil War collection won Grand Champion of all collections at the Fort Wayne 4-H fair. Besides the blue, yellow, and purple ribbon, he received a purple ribbon with rosette for his efforts. Besides the display boxes full of relics, he takes pictures of each item, and adds them with a written description in a large notebook to show to the judges. Last year, he won his second Grand Champion award for this collection. He has already acquired more items to expand his project for next year. A Union cavalry spur, a 44 caliber bullet mold, a special Block I button, and other items were acquired at the Treasure Fest week long metal detector hunt at Starve Hollow State Recreation Area near Vallonia, IN.

Benjamin has not been able to go on an actual metal detector hunt to find these Civil War relics yet, but he was invited to Virginia this fall to hunt the hallowed ground where some of the fighting took place. I was able to search a farm in Kentucky when a friend invited me. This friend had already searched this farm several times, but I was able to find several pieces of shrapnel from some kind of artillery shell and one pistol bullet. Susie and I have been invited to hunt if we bring Benjamin to Virginia this fall.

Bullets of many calibers and condition are the most common finds of Civil War relics. Not many of these items are found in Indiana, because there was not a large percentage of fighting in this state. But, many soldiers came home from war wearing their uniforms. They continued wearing them around the farm and many old metal buttons are round in corn and bean fields where an old home site used to stand by folks searching with metal detectors. Small buckles, knapsack hooks, and other metal fasteners are also common. 

I have a few unusual items in our collection which will probably go to Benjamin if he keeps expanding his collection. I have a couple sword scabbard ends about two to three inches long, a wide variety of buttons including large coat buttons, smaller shirt buttons, and tiny cuff buttons. We have several round musketballs with teeth marks in them. I have been told these are from soldiers biting on these during an operation without anesthesia. Hence the term, “Bite the bullet.” We have one piece which looks like a chess pawn. The soldiers often had many days of inactivity and they would carve the lead bullets into chess pieces. I have seen other pieces which are intricately carved which are undoubtedly other chess pieces.

Susie has a cannonball which she won as a prize in a metal detector hunt. It is slightly bigger than a baseball and has been held by many of her third grade students. As yet, we don’t have a Civil War belt buckle from either side. This is a highly prized item among collectors.

While many people have differing opinions about this war, it is still a major part of our U.S. history. It’s good to see young people interested in any aspect of our country’s past. I took a small box of our relics to show to some friends we were meeting for dinner one night. The box was laying on the edge of the table and a young waitress came by and asked what the items were. I told her they were relics from the Civil War. She asked, “Did you fight in that war?”

Perhaps our schools should stress history in their classes a little more.


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