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Friday, December 14, 2012

Diggin' In Virginia XXII

Diggin' In Virginia, as readers of this blog know, is a twice annual invitational relic-hunting event in Northern Virginia, organized by John and Rose Kendrick.  I was fortunate to once again be invited to attend Diggin' In Virginia this Fall --here's a summary of the event and my finds.

Back to Beauregard
This year, DIV returned once more to the Beauregard Farm in Brandy Station, Virginia.  For anyone interested in the Civil War, just being able to walk on this incredible property is a treat.  The Battle of Brandy Station, the largest Cavalry engagement in the Western Hemisphere, was fought on a large portion of the farm.  Fleetwood Hill, described by Clark "Bud" Hall as "the most marched upon, camped upon, fought upon, fought over piece of real estate in American History," is partially within its boundaries.  And in the Winter of 1863, large portions of the Union Army, including the 6th Corps under General Meade, were encamped here.  The land is all largely unchanged since that time so it's pretty much heaven for any Civil War buff.
Approximate area of DIV XXII shown in red circle
The weather during the drive to Virginia was overcast and Ihad concerns about the unpredictable and decidedly un-Southern temperatures I'd encountered on previous trips to Culpeper in late October/early November.  As it turned out, the fears were unfounded and participants enjoyed three days of absolutely perfect weather.

DIV has always started with a pre-hunt meeting.  It's a time to sit down and enjoy a meal with old friends,   visit the displays by companies such as North South Trader, American Digger Magazine, Predator Tools, and Don Dodson's North Georgia Detectors, and then learn details of the site, rules, directions, etc.  This year, I almost immediately ran into Frank and Ted, two Culpeper locals who I met during my first DIV.  Shortly afterwards, I saw Dan Frezza and Beau Ouimette and I also had the pleasure of meeting another Carolina-based Civil War historian and relic-hunter, Glenn.  All in all, it's fantastic to get to talk in person with a bunch of Civil War aficionados at the pre-hunt meeting.

I always have a difficult time sleeping the night before the first day of DIV.  I like to spend the weeks before the hunt reading about the area where we'll be hunting in order to have a full appreciation of where I am and what I'm looking at.  This year was no exception and I'd worked myself into such a feverish pitch of anticipation reading Eric Wittenberg's "Battle of Brandy Station" that I couldn't sleep.  I finally gave up and got out of bed at 3:45AM and went downstairs to the lobby of the hotel.  Mercifully, the hotel staff were in the act of setting up for breakfast and I was able to pour myself a nice, hot cup of coffee.  This was soon afterward followed up by multiple pancakes and I was ready to go.
This machine saved my life
Day 1
Imagine 400 guys in camouflage standing in the pre-dawn light with shovels and metal detectors over their shoulders.  That's the scene on the morning of the first day of DIV.  John Kendrick stood up in front of everyone, gave a few last minute directions, wished us luck, and with that DIV XXII officially commenced.  Some people immediately started detecting the nearest field while others jumped in their cars to hunt other locations throughout the massive (~ 3000 acres) farm.

Tony, Dwight, Glenn, and I went to a field north of the Barbour house that sloped gradually downward to what today is a lake but which, during the Civil War, was a small stream known as Flat Run.  Soon, we began to find button backs, bullets, and in my case, lots and lots of camp lead.  This field also contained an incredible concentration of buck and ball loads.  These were in vogue during the American Revolutionary War but still saw use in the early days of the Civil War in smoothbore muskets.  The buck and ball load consisted of a .69 caliber ball and two (or more) .32 cal. rounds of buckshot.  Those tiny .32 cal buckshot sound incredibly good to a GPX 4800 even when they're 10" down in the hot Virginia soil and consequently I spent a great deal of my time on day one digging dozens of pieces of buckshot.  Amazingly, at the bottom of this same field another person located over 180 minie balls in a single hole.

A .69 cal. roundball held for the first time since 1863
Day 2
On Day 2, we moved to a different field, one that elements of the 6th Corps had used as a camp during the winter of 1863.  Here, I found a nice general service Eagle button on top of a prominent hill with a beautiful view of the surrounding terrain.  I also recovered several .58 cal minie balls, a sword belt grommet, and knapsack hooks in this strategic location.
The view from Day 2
Later that afternoon, I moved down the hill onto a flat plain where about 50 people had been hunting most of the day.  There were dig holes everywhere but I knew that the density of relics in the area was high and that people seldom go slowly enough to hear the deep targets.  Sure enough, I got a fantastic signal right in the middle of the dig holes that turned out to be another nice Eagle button.

General service Eagle buttons from DIV XXII
Eagle button came out of this hole, surrounded by dig holes.  Go slow!
This was the first of three relics that I found literally in other folk's footsteps.  The two other instances were rather amusing.  First, I found a spot in a cornfield where someone had kicked away corn husks in order to scrutinize a questionable signal.  I passed the coil of my 4800 over the bare spot and got a very distinct bullet sound.  Sure enough, I pulled a 3 ringer from about 8" down.

The last of these incidents was the best.  I was again detecting in an area that had been hunted pretty thoroughly when I got an unmistakably good signal right in the middle of someone else's filled-in dig hole!  I swung over the hole again and there was no question that it was a good target.  So I stuck my shovel into the already-dug hole, lifted out the already loosened soil, and there in the middle of it was a pristine 3-ringer. How someone missed that one after digging the hole I have no idea but I sure appreciate the pre-dig.

In the waning hours of Day 2, I also found two pieces of a rare and unusual Shaler bullet.  This was a single .58 caliber projectile comprised of 3 separate pieces.  The theory was that the sections would separate in flight and cause more damage than a single round but with greater accuracy than the buck and ball load.

Shaler pieces

A complete Shaler bullet
Day 3
Day 3 dawned and Tony and I returned to the field we'd hunted on the first day.  Scouring its perimeter, we picked up a few good targets including a few dropped Sharps carbine bullets.

Sharps bullets
Moving in the direction of the Barbour House, the number of signals increased and I found a J-Hook with a beautiful green patina less than 8" deep.  Then, I found a massive .69 caliber minie ball.  And another.  Then a button back, and a .69 caliber round ball.  I motioned for Tony who I've nicknamed "Turbo," and who was already 50 yards past the site, to come back and hunker down.  He did and for the next couple of hours we recovered 8 or 9 of these huge bullets apiece.
Massive .69 cal minie ball next to a standard .58 cal
During the last three hours of the hunt, we moved to yet another field.  This one was absolutely littered with iron signals and was obviously the site of a large encampment.  Detecting here was extremely tedious however due to the sheer quantity of small iron signals.  I was rather pleased when I finally dug a signal and it turned out to be bullet as opposed to yet another nail.
Can you spot the 3 ringer?
We had 40 minutes left before DIV XXII officially ended when my radio squawked and Tony excitedly told me to "get over here."  Tony had dug some camp lead and noticed that it was colored by ash.  He widened the hole and saw more ashes, a clear indication that he had discovered a fire pit or even a hut.  He invited me to help and we both started digging as carefully as we could.

We started finding fragments of glass from a brandy bottle.  Then pieces of china plate.  And finally, oyster shells by the dozen, some musket parts, beef bones, and more glass.  The clock was ticking and we were digging like rabid hedgehogs to see if any intact bottles remained.  Finally, with the sun setting and a large hole to fill, we had to stop digging, shovel the earth back into the crater we'd created, and hike back to where Dwight, our fellow relic-hunter and driver, was waiting for us.

What Tony had just found was a spot where Union infantry, probably from Massachusetts, had feasted on beef, brandy, beer, and oysters from Chesapeake Bay during the winter of 1863.  They'd even eaten off fine china.  It was mind boggling luxury for such a remote area and at a time when Lee's army was fortunate to have shoes and rarely if ever enjoyed coffee.  It spoke powerfully of the advantages of production and supply enjoyed by the Union Army.

As Tony and I hiked up the hill towards Barbour house, from which General Lee watched the Battle of Brandy Station unfold, I realized that the guys who ate the oysters 150 years ago whose shells we now carried in our backpacks gazed upon that exact same structure.  And for a moment, I was transported back in time.

DIV XXII finds including oyster dinner from 1863.  Those yanks sure knew how to wage war.
To read more about Diggin' In Virginia and see the incredible finds made by others at DIV XXII, go to MyTreasureSpot.  Thanks to John and Rose and all the DIV volunteer staff for yet another amazing DIV.  Thanks also to +Kellyco Detectors for providing water to all DIV attendees again this year.

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