Sunday, February 5, 2012

Research and Persistence Finally Pay Off!

In March and April of 1865, some 90,000 Federal troops moved west on Raleigh following the defeat of General Joseph A. Johnston's army at Bentonville.  Their objectives were to capture the North Carolina capital and destroy Johnston's Confederate forces for good.  After Governor Vance's surrender of Raleigh, the Federal Army, with Kilpatrick's cavalry in the vanguard, pursued the fleeing remnants of the once mighty Army of Tennessee.  Ultimately, in the wake of Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Johnston negotiated surrender terms for the approximately 80,000 troops under his command at the Bennett farm near Durham's Station.

After several efforts to pin down one of several specific campsite used by this invading Federal force my friend, Tony Stevenson from Detecting Saxapahaw, and I finally located one.

The area we've focused our efforts on is very inhospitable terrain, overgrown by extremely dense scrub pine and briars.  In some spots, it can take up to 10 minutes just  to travel 30 yards.  This was our third trip to this particular location which, over the course of our recent expeditions, has claimed a boot, an ear cuff from Tony's headphones, his digging tool, and the upper arm cuff on my E-TRAC.  Thankfully, our persistence paid off and, after repeatedly coming home empty handed, scarred, and with slightly depleted blood levels, we finally discovered an area untouched since the days in 1865 when North Carolina was invaded by the largest, most well-equipped army on earth.

On this occasion, as we made our way back into the woods where we had permission to detect, a slow drizzle began to fall.  We spread apart and started hunting along the banks of a river that served as a water source for the troops while encamped in the region.  The density of the trees, briars, and saplings made for difficult detecting but we finally reached a site where Tony had dug some bullets and a large cent on a previous visit.

Armed with the knowledge that there had been troops in this exact location and determined not to go home empty-handed again, we started to search in earnest.  Against the backdrop of rain pattering on leaves, the only other sound was threshold tone from our metal detectors and the soft bubbling of the nearby stream.  And within a few minutes, at the base of a large American Beech, I got a good signal and proceeded to dig.  There were so many roots, branches, and saplings in my way that it took probably 3 minutes to recover the target which, sure enough, turned out to be a .58 caliber three ringer.
At last!  After researching this site for so long, I finally held in my hand proof positive that we were in the right spot.  I snapped the above photo and looked around to savor the moment and study the terrain.  Looking out over the damp forest with a river wending its way a short distance below, I imagined the scene as it would have been when the bullet I'd just recovered was dropped.  The experience was overpowering and unlike any other relic hunt I'd enjoyed to date.   Here was a spot that I had found based on my own research and here, the terrain was untouched by humanity for 150 years.  It was easy to imagine the troops arrayed on this wooded slope on a warm, Carolina afternoon.  Stacking rifles and laying their haversacks, ammo cases, and uniforms on the river bank, they probably bathed in its waters—a respite from the heat and welcome relief from weeks of dusty marches—bullets fell among the leaves and were lost to the world of man until this precise moment.

I called out to Tony and let him know of my find.  He came over to scrutinize it and got the "I'm going to find something now" look in his eye.  He went back to where he'd been detecting and I covered up the hole I just dug, picked up my gear, and resumed the search.  And BANG.  Another signal, 3 feet away.  This one turned out to be a Williams cleaner bullet with intact base.
And now Tony calls out that he's found a Williams cleaner himself, about 20 yards away.  And five minutes later, I dig another cleaner bullet.  Then, in rapid succession and all within an area of 50 square feet, I dig three more three ringers for a total of 6 bullets.  Tony dug the same number.  So within about 45 minutes, we recovered a dozen bullets in this one, concentrated spot.

Until this hunt, I'd never recovered so many bullets in such a small area.  And I'd never recovered them in situ as these were.  No plow had scattered them, they lay as they fell.  Another interesting aspect of this hunt was that Tony and I had been in this exact spot before!  He had found a few bullets and a large cent, but we'd written it off as an isolated drop.  We were mistaken and it's worth noting how important it is to not get sloppy in your detecting methods, there's no telling what you'll miss.

By the time we'd recovered a dozen bullets, it was time for us to go home.  We still had to traverse the difficult terrain on the way back to the car.  So we reluctantly turned off our machines and commenced the hike back toward civilization and the 21st century.  But rest assured we will have more to report on this site in the near future.

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