For whatever reason, people collect a lot of different items. Some collect coins or stamps, others accumulate old bottles or glass insulators. A few search for rare books, while occasionally you can find people who even feel collecting old matchbooks or pieces of string is fun. So, when saving various memorabilia from different wars is someone’s hobby, it’s not that unusual.
We have a bunch of friends whose interest is finding and identifying relics from the Civil War. They got us interested in this hobby. While we don’t have a lot of pieces, we have enough to show at school or scout groups or even at nursing homes. Some of those elderly people will even tell us stories about their relatives who fought in that war.
Part of the enjoyment of our collection is researching what the relics are, what they were used for, and by whom. Certain items can be shown to be from either the Union or Confederate side. The easiest of these would be belt buckles with “US” or “CS” stamped in the metal. Often, buttons can be found which have a mark designating whether it was worn on an infantry or cavalry soldier’s uniform Other fasteners are marked to indicate which state the soldier came from. Even some of the lead bullets from that war can be shown to come from one side or the other.
But to us, the most fun part of our collection is actually finding these relics with our metal detectors. Granted, the sites for finding these items in the ground is becoming much harder. Three or four decades ago, many of our friends did a lot of research on Civil War battles, campgrounds, and movements along various trails. Of course, most of these locations were in southern states, but they found these areas, approached the landowner for permission, and began searching with their metal detectors.
Back in those days, it wasn’t unusual to find many bullets, buttons, harness buckles, and an occasional breast plate, belt buckle, canteen, and other fairly rare items. Now, most of those sites are hunted out with only a few small items still available for the detector to locate. Unfortunately, Susie and I were late getting started, but, we did find a few relics including several items dating back to the Revolutionary War while hunting in Virginia.
We still are able to add to our collection by attending “paid” or “seeded” hunts. We pay an entry fee to compete in metal detector hunts where various Civil War items are buried in large fields or woods. Paid entrants line up around the designated area and wait for the starting gun. We begin swinging our machines until they “Beep”. A quick flick with our knife or digging tool and out pops a bullet or button. Sometimes, a nicer prize will emerge from the ground, but usually the bigger and better items will be on display on one of the tables. If the lucky participant finds a metal token with a number on it, he takes it to the display, matches his number with a prize and claims that item.
At our last relic hunt in Texas, some of the prizes were display boxes with 6 or 8 nice bullets, or several bullets with a great uniform button or coin from the 1860”s. One of the tokens was redeemed for a sword in excellent condition, another for a 12” cannon ball which took two people to carry. Lots of other great prizes filled several tables. Susie won two of the display boxes with assorted items in them.
We have attended similar hunts several times just north of Richmond, Virginia. Each time, we both found about 100 items in the ground and occasionally a token for something bigger. Susie won her cannonball at a relic hunt. We were invited to a hunt in Mississippi last fall but had a conflict with their date. We hope to attend it next year.
Besides bullets and buttons, we have found several types of knapsack hooks, small harness buckles, and other types of fasteners. Buttons are a fairly common find, even in fields in Indiana. We don’t find many bullets here because there wasn’t a lot of fighting in this state, but the soldiers wore their uniforms home form the war and continued to wear them daily losing buttons for us to find. Most have an eagle with wings spread and often other markings. Some are large coat or uniform buttons, some smaller shirt buttons, and we even find tiny cuff buttons. Some are domed and some flat. There is a wide variety of buttons and books to help identify them.
We also find more unusual items with our metal detectors. When a soldier had a lot of time in camp between skirmishes or battles, they carved the soft lead bullets into chess pieces. We have a couple which were probably pawns in the set. We also have several round balls that have teeth marks on them. When a soldier was injured, in place of anesthesia, the doctor would give him a bullet to bite on to help with the pain. Hence the phrase, “Bite the bullet”.
Another unusual find is a piece of harmonica reed. These are metal, about an inch wide, and maybe four inches long when complete. Most of ours have been broken in pieces half that long, although sometimes they come out of the ground in one piece. We have also found two old wedding rings which were dated back to Civil War times.
Unfortunately, we don’t have any of the more sought-after pieces in our collection. No confederate belt buckles, or swords, although we do have a couple pieces broken off the end of sword scabbards. No bayonets or whole artillery shells can be found in our collection. We probably won’t find any of those items where we search in Indiana, but we still take an occasional trip south with some other hunters. Maybe we will luck upon a site which hasn’t be heavily searched and add something great to our finds. We have an artifact hunt scheduled later this fall in Mississippi. Maybe that trip will add some great finds to our collection.