Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Breathing New Life into Civil War Imagery with Color

General Joseph E Johnston, CSA

The American Civil War, thanks to Matthew Brady and the advent of the wet plate process of capturing images, was the first war to be documented by the camera lens.  Every student of history should be grateful for Brady's efforts, often at great peril to himself, to capture individuals and moments from that time forever.

The process of capturing an image in the 19th century was painstaking and painful.  Subjects had to remain still while the exposure was captured.  Plates were fragile and susceptible to damage from any number of sources of which light was probably the least concern.  Imagine driving a horse drawn carriage filled full of plates of glass and jars of chemicals through rural 19th century America during a war.  It's a miracle that we have many of these images at all.

Brady was a master photographer.  His composition, lighting, and subject evince profound technical, and artistic talents.  And yet, he was limited by the technical restrictions of the day.

Our efforts to connect with his subjects are often frustrated by one simple and yet glaring omission:  Color.

For some time now on Reddit, a group of artists has sought to revivify old photos by imbuing them with color.  They research every aspect of the subject and strive for utmost historical accuracy.  The results are spectacular.

Click to see full size image
For example, consider the side by side comparison of the black and white image of Major General Darius N. Douch with the color image above.  The addition of color brings the subject into our modern visual parlance.  Suddenly, this is no longer an image in a history book, but a living person.

The above image is perhaps an even more shocking demonstration of the extent to which color brings the subject to life.  The individual above, minus the shackles, could appear in any contemporary media ad campaign—think Calvin Klein, Banana Republic, etc.  But in fact this is Lewis Powell, one of the conspirators in the Lincoln assassination.  Powell's assigned part in the plot was to kill Secretary of State William Seward.  He stabbed Seward numerous times in his home and left him permanently disfigured but was subsequently captured and hanged along with Mary Surratt, David Herold, and George Atzerodt.

Here are a few more of what I consider to be the most compelling works of Mads Madsen ("zuzahin" on Reddit) and Jordan Lloyd.  Click on the images to view the detailed, full size versions.  And see the bottom of the article for where you can follow these artists and enjoy their work.  All colorized images below are copyright of Mads Madsen, Jordan Lloyd, or their respective owners.

James A. Garfield, future President of the United States, as a Brigadier General
Colonel Alex Hayes, KIA 1864 during the Wilderness Campaign
John A. Dahlgren
Major General George Armstrong Custer
Major General Joseph Anthony Mower (of "Mower's Charge" at Bentonville fame)
Major General Ambrose Burnside
View from the Capitol at Nashville, Tennessee, 1864 (color version by Sanna Dullaway)
To see more of these artists' incredible work, visit:

Colorized History Reddit Forum — Includes images from WW1, WW2, miscellaneous historical events, popular culture, etc.

American Civil War Colorized Reddit Forum —Mads Madsen's subreddit dedicated to colorized versions of Civil War imagery

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Williams "Cleaner" Bullets -- The Confusion Persists

It's amazing how much confusion persists to this day about Williams "Cleaner" Bullets.  Here's a recent example from eBay.

This seller claims to have a "Confederate" Cleaner Bullet from Appomattox.  Of course, there's no such thing.  Williams "patent" bullets, Types 1, 2, and 3, were manufactured by Elijah D. Williams exclusively for Federal troops under contract with the US Arsenal.  The Confederacy never had Williams bullets, although today many areas of the South are still covered with Type 3 bullets that were discarded by Union troops.

Here's my article on the blog about the history of these projectiles which continue to be a source of confusion and misinformation.  Caveat emptor!

Monday, September 30, 2013

More History Succumbs to the March of the Bulldozer

You're looking at a unique piece of history which, after surviving for 148 years after the Civil War, is now gone forever.

The photo above shows the original 19th century road bed approaching the city of Morrisville, North Carolina.  A few weeks ago, it was exposed by construction, the surrounding slopes denuded of trees for the first time in over a century, providing an all-too-brief opportunity to see in broad, 21st century daylight, a road almost untouched since the time of the War.

In fact, this was the very road used by General Judson Kilpatrick's cavalry during their attack on Morrisville Station from April 13 -15, 1865.  They followed the road pictured above, traveling from the top of the hill down the slope to the foreground of the image.  From there, they would have had their first sight of Morrisville Station itself just across Crabtree Creek, its rail yards filled with cars loaded full of troop supplies and Confederate wounded.

Kilpatrick's reaction on seeing the cars was to quickly unlimber his guns and proceed to shell the station, with questionable accuracy as it turned out.  Today, the chimney of the Page House in Morrisville, about 60 meters west of the tracks, still bears the scars from some of those shells.

Map showing path of original road, artillery position, and the Page House.

It didn't take long for Johnston to get his troops and supplies moving once the shells started falling and the trains pulled out of Morrisville and steamed away for Greensboro.  Afterwards, the Federals made Morrisville their camp and it was while encamped there that an envoy from Johnston approached with the proposal to discuss terms of surrender which subsequently occurred at the Bennet House near Durham Station.

The Battle of Morrisville Station was the the last large scale engagement of the Civil War —literally the last in which cannon were fired.  Never again were they heard after that day in Morrisville in 1865. 

Look at these pictures —these roads felt the hooves and footsteps of soldiers marching into battle.  They heard the crackle of musketry and trembled with the concussion of cannon fire.  They saw the sun and the stars for over 150 years and, for a few days in 2013, were open once more to the bright Carolina skies.  Now they are gone forever like the men who marched on and slept by them in those long ago days of summer.

Note how deep the 19th century road was.  Direction of march in this image was foreground to background.
Kilpatrick's troops rode from top left to bottom right as they approached the station.
With each passing day more of the 19th century succumbs to modern development.  We can attempt to preserve it with an image here or a relic there or a blog such as this.  But history is ephemeral and of interest to fewer and fewer it seems in today's materialistic society.  

A bullet dropped by Kilpatrick's troops as they moved on Morrisville.

Whether cognizant of history or not, it remains with us today sometimes right under our noses.  That's one aspect of what makes relic hunting so interesting for me. —discovering things, sometimes standing out in plain sight, that others don't see. Most folks living in Morrisville probably never saw the old road over which Kilpatrick's forces rode en route to attacking their town.

General Judson Kilpatrick
In April 1865, Kilpatrick invaded Morrisville.  Today, chances are that Judson Kilpatrick's great, great grandson invades your living room every day!  He is none other than CNN's Anderson Cooper who bears more than a passing resemblance to the notorious General although to my knowledge he's never visited Morrisville.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

August hunt insanity

It's late August.   Temperatures here in central North Carolina are in the low-to-mid 90's (Fahrenheit) with humidity levels routinely between 65-70%.   Those are pretty much perfect conditions if you're an insect or dinosaur but for mammals such as myself it is pretty dang miserable.

After converging on Raleigh back in April 1865 and securing Johnston's surrender, the 90k or so invading Union troops promptly skedaddled back North to cooler climes.  Those guys were smart to get out of the South before Summer kicked in.  I live here so don't really have that option.

Let's face it, sometimes the detecting bug just bites you and not even Jurassic weather conditions can deter you from doing something questionable.  After some pretty intensive research over the past month, combined with the arrival of a new toy, I couldn't resist getting out for a few hunts in spite of the miserable conditions.

New toy: A Minelab CTX 3030

Two of the sites I visited had been exposed by recent construction and were on the verge of disappearing forever underneath asphalt and cheap condos.  I was able to hunt only a limited area on each site and managed only a few bullets from each location but was still happy to save at least a relic or two.

My third hunt was a bit more complex as it was deep in the woods.  And by "deep" I mean the decision to get out there at this time of year was clearly not rational.

In addition to the aforementioned heat which makes dehydration a very real concern, there are two other seriously good reasons to stay the heck out of the woods:   Ticks and poison ivy.  Now those may sound like minor issues but take it from me, you do not want to get a tick-born disease (like I did last year) and you also really do not want to get poison ivy.  I could post a photo of my leg 5 weeks after serious exposure to poison ivy but that would probably not be good for my page view count.  Suffice to say:  It's nasty stuff.

So, resolved to get out there in spite of the weather, ticks, and toxic plants, I dressed appropriately (long sleeves and pants, boots, hat, and gloves),  applied a liberal coating of insect repellent, and entered the dense Carolina forest in search of a Civil War campsite.

For the next couple of hours, as terrain conditions permitted and with the assistance of my Garmin GPS, I performed a rough grid over several acres of heavily wooded land.  Occasionally, I ran across some patches of iron, but the only non-ferrous targets I found were shotgun shells and modern bullets.

Now I'm no spring chicken by any means, but I'm in pretty good shape overall and usually have no problem detecting from morning to nightfall.  But after a few hours of wandering the woods with the mercury showing 92 degrees, I was absolutely wrecked.  My clothes were drenched with perspiration -- it literally looked like someone had turned a garden hose on me.  I couldn't see very well since the lenses of my glasses were coated by spider webs that I'd walk through every 3 or so yards.  Trying to wipe off the spider secretions just made things worse.  So, feeling drained and somewhat defeated, I decided it was high time to make my way back to the car and call it a day.

And suddenly, "DING."  A nice, crisp tone in the headphones.  I looked at the CTX meter and saw a 37 CO value.  That's right in the sweet spot for lead but, given the rest of the day, I was pretty sure I'd found just another modern bullet.  However the depth indicator caused my heart to beat a bit faster -- 8 inches down according to the CTX.  Nice, deep, and old.

Trying not to get my hopes up too much, I dug a deep plug.  And right in the middle of it was this guy.

Yeah baby.  Not only had I found a .58 caliber bullet from the Civil War way back in the middle of the woods, but it had been pulled.  When soldiers on patrol returned to camp, they unloaded their weapon.  And the only way to unload a muzzle-loading rifle (other than by firing) is to use a bullet-puller aka "worm."  Just like a corkscrew, the bullet worm is screwed into the tip of a bullet which allows it to be pulled out of the barrel.

A modern day version of a muzzle-loader worm.

So this was pretty encouraging.  I slowed down and hunted the area around where I found the pulled bullet and, about three feet away, I found a ubiquitous dropped Type III Williams Bullet, another sign that I'd located the camp I was looking for.

In spite of the finds and my restored morale, I was too exhausted to continue detecting.  So I logged the bullets in my GPS and made my way back to the modern miracle of air conditioning in my car.

These are pretty humble finds but nevertheless I'm super excited by the discovery of a new site.  Hopefully there are some more relics left in the camp.  I'll definitely be visiting it again soon but think I'll let it cool down a bit more first.

Finds from the other sites
Happy hunting.


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Confederate Rifleman Button

Date: April 6, 2013
Machine: Teknetics T2
Site: Private property near Raleigh, NC

I was having great day metal detecting my favorite site.  The weather was fantastic and I was hunting at the same time of year when the soldiers were there in 1865, imagining what the scene must have been like.  

Within the first 45 minutes I'd found a few bullets and a gun tool when I decided to move on to a new area of the field that I hadn't previously detected.  Immediately, I started finding bullets -- a fired Enfield, dropped Spencers, a couple of standard .58 caliber 3 ringers.  The slower I went, the more I found.

Gun Tool

Soon, I started finding brass.  Lots of Spencer cartridge bases, some large buckle fragments, and even more exciting, button backs.  Clearly, troops were here and there was the potential for finding intact buttons.

Sure enough, before long, I got a great, deep signal on my T2.  On the bottom of the plug sat a button.

It turned out to be a general service Eagle button.  While cleaning it, I discovered that it retained the thread that had attached it to the uniform.  This was the first time I'd recovered a relic with thread.

Soon after, and only a few feet away, I found a rivet with a piece of the original leather attached.  Still black in color, it probably was part of a belt or equipment strap. 

I was completely unprepared for what I found next.  

I got a very strong signal on the T2 reading in the low seventies.  From the meter alone, it could have been a bullet or a button, but the audio signal sounded more like brass.  And sure enough, it was brass.

After digging the plug, this is what I saw.

You can faintly discern the edge of something brass in the plug.  I thought it might be a button, so I decided to record it coming out of the ground with my phone.  I'm glad I did, because it turned out to be something incredibly rare, a Confederate Rifleman Button.

These buttons were manufactured in Britain and had to pass through the Union blockade of Southern ports in order to make it to Confederate troops.  The backmark reads "H T & B Manchester."  Here's what a non-dug button looks like.

And here's how one I recovered appears after being in the ground since 1865.

This is by far the most rare button I've found and, given the history of this site, one of my favorite relics ever.

By the end of the day, I ended up with three dropped .58 calibre three ringers, two unfired Type 3 Williams bullets, two fired Enfields, five Spencer cartridge bases, three dropped Spencer bullets, a gun tool, five button backs, an Eagle button, a J-hook, a small broach with a clear stone mounted in the center, buckle fragments, and the Rifleman button.  Quite a day!

The day's finds

Broach with unidentified gemstone

Friday, April 26, 2013

Diggin' In Virginia XXIII

The 2013 Spring Diggin' In Virginia invitational relic hunt was held at the Spillman farm in Brandy Station, Virginia.  Weather for the first two days was chilly but sunny.  The second half of the third and final day of the hunt saw bitter cold and snow which sent most folks, including myself, heading for home rather than braving the harsh conditions.

This says a lot about our constitution these days compared to that of the soldiers who camped, slept, fought, and died on these same lands in the early 1860's.  We take for granted such seemingly simple things as synthetic materials that block the wind and shed water whereas in those days cotton, wool, leather, and a campfire were the only protection from the mercurial Northern Virginia elements.

All DIV events are highly anticipated by attendees but this one was particularly so given the results of the last hunt on the property.  Sixty plates were found at that DIV —a mind boggling number especially in this day and age when untouched campsites are all but extinct.

This farm was apparently the location of a large cavalry camp and a large oak tree standing in the field today marks the Northern extent of the camp.  Around that tree at the last hunt, an individual located seven Eagle sword belt plates lined up in a row.  Were they forgotten, intentionally discarded, was the number significant?  We'll never know but perhaps the old oak does.   And while he's not divulging any secrets of what he saw in those days several buttons were found around the ancient trunk at this DIV as well.

I always forget what it's like to hunt with 400-ish other metal detectors in close proximity so the first 45 minutes of a DIV are a bit jarring for me as I try to escape the EMI from all the other pulse-induction machines.  I struck out on a path that would take me diagonally through the top quadrant of the old cavalry camp. 

My first find was this Indian Head penny from 1862, dropped by a soldier not long after it was minted.  

I'm not a coin enthusiast by any measure but given that this penny was carried by a Civil War soldier, I was quite happy to start out with a good coin in good condition and let's face it, it's always good to get that first find under your belt!  Interestingly, this Indian Head has the distinction of being the most shallow Civil War relic I've ever dug -- it was probably no more than half an inch below the surface of the field.  I kept working my way through the plug with my pinpointer and couldn't believe how close to the surface this thing was.  I almost stopped looking for the target thinking it was most likely surface trash.

A few feet away from the Indian Head on the same gentle slope, I found something I'd never seen before.

At first, I was confused — a bullet with a brass ring around it—what the heck?  Finally I realized what I'd found was a partial Burnside cartridge.

Intact Burnside Cartridge
This unique cartridge and the breeh-loading carbine that fired it were the pre-war invention of none other than famously hirsute Ambrose Burnside.  Ironically, it was the invention of the Burnside carbine that led to his promotion and President Lincoln's giving him command of so many troops. But alas, proficiency in one skill doesn't necessarily indicate talent for others as Burnside's disastrous performance during the Battle of Fredericksburg at Marye's Heights so tragically demonstrates.  Over 8,000 Union troops fell as they repeatedly attacked in vain an impregnable Confederate position.  This was the first Burnside I'd ever found and, although I found one other at DIV XXIII, it had none of the brass casing left.

One of the most incredible aspects of relic hunting in Virginia as opposed to North Carolina is that you encounter a much broader variety of relics that reflect a timespan of years versus weeks.  Troops occupied the Raleigh area, where I live, for only a few weeks (not counting Reconstruction), and the relative homogeneity of Union relics found here, reflects that.  Not so in Virginia where troops lived and fought for four years and there's a seemingly endless variety of bullets to be found.

One of the more distinctive bullet types I found on this particular hunt was a Ringtail Sharps.

Ringtail Sharps (right) compared to standard .58 cal. musket bullet ("3-ringer")
Both Northern and Southern troops used this ammunition early in the war but eventually the Union replaced it with a different variety.  I found several Ringtail Sharps bullets in an area where, as I later learned, others had found South Carolina troop buttons and a Confederate Reed artillery shell.  So it's probable that these Ringtails were dropped by Southern troops.

Reinforcing that notion, a few yards from where I found the Ringtail Sharps bullets, I also found several Gardner bullets which are certainly Confederate.  All of my ancestors on both sides of the family fought for the South and some were even at Brandy Station so it's always interesting for me to see one of these bullets come out of the ground.  It also makes me grateful to have been born in the 1960's instead of the 1860's!

Confederate Gardner Bullet
And now I'll relate one of the more comical aspects of my DIV XXIII experience.  On my very first DIV at Cole's Hill, I learned the hard way that hot Virginia soil conditions don't favor VLF metal detectors in general and the Minelab E-Trac in particular.  Now, don't get me wrong, the E-Trac is an amazing metal detector and I loved mine dearly — I think it has the best audio and the best meter identification system of any machine on the market.  But the E-Trac cannot be manually ground-balanced and this fact alone makes it all but useless in the Culpeper area.  I learned that lesson the hard way at my first DIV when another attendee who was using a PI machine noted my lack of success and offered to let me hear a button signal that he'd just found.  He'd actually already dug down to the button and, even though I could see it lying on the bottom of a 5" hole, as I passed the coil of my E-Trac directly over the button, I heard ... NOTHING.  It was that utterly deflating experience that led me to invest in a pulse induction machine for my next DIV.

Fast forward to DIV XXIII and who should I encounter but this same helpful individual.  We had a laugh about the E-Trac experience and talked about how we each had been doing so far that day.  Even though we both were using Minelab GPX detectors, I had been fortunate enough to find a few more relics so he asked to compare the settings I was using.  And lo and behold, I had configured my machine "incorrectly." Rather than using the settings that everyone else advocated and which I fully intended to use myself, I had accidentally chosen a different mode.  I thanked my friend for helping me "once again" at DIV, returned the settings to the accepted mode, and we both got back to hunting.  And here's the thing:  I found almost nothing else the rest of the day!

Did I accidentally discover a new GPX mode?  I was unmistakably more successful (we're talking orders of magnitude) with my unconventional settings.  Only time and more testing will tell but I'm working on an article and hope to post it "soon" to share my results.

I'll recount one more personal anecdote from DIV XXIII and then let the relics speak for themselves.  On day 2 of the hunt, I had been detecting for about 30 minutes when I started to experience the telltale signs of an incipient migraine headache.  Classic migraine is something I've dealt with since I was 12 and for anyone who has experienced one, you know how completely debilitating they can be.  And about the only thing worse than being nauseous and having your head feel like it's going to explode is to have a pulse induction metal detector screaming in your headphones at the same time.  I hadn't had a migraine in years and tried to ignore it but I realized with a pang that if I didn't deal with the migraine I wouldn't be able to continue.

At that demoralizing moment, I saw a DIV staffer approaching on a gator utility vehicle.  I waved him down and he drove over to me and I saw it was none other than the DIV organizer, John Kendrick.  John looks like a Civil War officer come to life and when he speaks, you hear the Old South in his Virginia accented speech.  Frankly, his demeanor is a bit intimidating but in fact he's one of the nicest gentlemen you're likely to meet.  I explained to him that I needed to find CSA DOC who year after year volunteers his medical services at DIV.  John asked me what was wrong and I explained in a nutshell and off he road.  A few minutes later, he brought three white pills, checked with DOC to make sure there weren't any allergy issues, and proffered them to me.  Thirty-five minutes later, I was back in the saddle with no migraine thanks to John Kendrick and CSA DOC who I was able to thank later in person at Buffalo Wild Wings.  Incidentally, I recommend you NOT go to BWW in Culpeper on a Saturday night unless you like your Karaoke really, really loud.

Thanks again to John and Rose Kendrick for organizing and inviting me to the most exceptional, well-organized relic hunt in the world.  There really is nothing else like DIV and I'm  honored to be part of the DIV "family."  Thanks to Dwight and Glenn for the camaraderie, transportation, and for not wanting to actually get up and sing at BWW karaoke night.  Thanks to Dan Frezza for his encyclopedic knowledge of relics and for always having time to answer a question or eight.  And thanks to those long departed soldiers who fought and sacrificed for their beliefs and who unknowingly left behind vestiges of their lives and the bygone days of war.

Canteen spout, McClellan saddle hardware, sword belt rivet, eagle buttons, J-Hook, gun screw bolt, etc.

Ringtail Sharps bullets

Carved bullet, likely a chess piece

A variety of different bullet types from DIV XXIII 

My DIV XXIII recoveries

Friday, February 1, 2013

Third hunt of 2013 - Federal lead and brass

The weather here in the Triangle area has been crazy with freezing rain followed by 73 degrees and sunshine one day later.  I took advantage of the recent Spring-like conditions to revisit my newest site.  

This campground has never been hunted and finds were steady throughout the day.  Although the site is practically untouched since the Civil War, conditions are not the best for detecting as tall grass makes it easy to miss good targets, all of which are 8" or more deep.  

In a recent blog post I wrote about the history of the Williams Bullet and how Sherman's army scorned the Type III variant.  In keeping with that history, most of the bullets I recovered were discarded (un-fired) Type III Williams bullets.  They're by far the most numerous find at this site.  Here's how one looks in the hole.

I log all relic locations with a GPS and it's been fascinating to observe how concentrations of Type III bullets delineate the Federal camp boundaries.  

Additional recoveries for the day included an Eagle "I" cuff button, knapsack rivet, dropped Spencer bullet, .44 roundball, two standard .58 caliber "three ringers," a small brass or copper ring, and a piece of brass with threading on its edges that may be part of an artillery shell fuse.  I'll have to do some more research before I can say for sure. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

First hunt of 2013

I finally got out for the first time in 2013 to do some relic hunting.  The weather here in NC was incredible -- heavy morning fog gave way to brilliant sunshine and a high of 73 degrees.  Ned Stark may have been wrong about winter coming after all ...

Recoveries were from a much-hunted location but conditions and technique bore fruit.  Rain the night before softened the ground which not only made for easy digging, but also probably made faint signals easier to hear.  Some folks believe that moisture in the ground increases conductivity and makes for better detecting.  I've never looked into the effect of water on induction but there may be something to that theory.

I got into a hot spot of Type III Williams Bullets where I'd found several on previous occasions.  Two had lost their zinc washers but hadn't been fired.  Two others were intact.  All were found within 20 yards of the others.  I think the troops that were encamped here had designated the area an official Williams bullet recycle bin.

Depth was typically about 8".  Here's a photo showing a recovery with the Type III bullet in the very bottom of the plug.  I love seeing them in situ like this.

Also in this area I located an unusual carved bullet.  The soldier was no Michelangelo, but it's always exciting to find lead art.

There's a bit of a mystery about this bullet.  At first I thought it was a carved Williams Type III, but the base is lead, not zinc.  The length is also much shorter than a standard .58 three-ringer, approximately the same as for a Type III.  So for now, exactly what type of bullet this was is a mystery.

Solid base of the Mystery Bullet
The other nice find of the day was a dropped Confederate Enfield bullet.  Unlike the last one I found, this one has no stamp in its base.  All in all, a very fun day to be out and about on a camp ground from 1865.

Coming up ...
I have a number of articles in the works ranging from book and equipment reviews, to how-to features and historical debates.  Wishing you all a happy and productive 2013.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Williams Patent Bullet

It's pretty much inevitable -- if you're metal detecting a Civil War site, you're going to come across a bullet quite different from the standard .58 calibre "three-ringer." These unusual, stubby bullets with a zinc disc at the base, are commonly referred to as "Williams Cleaner bullets."  That name, as it turns out, is something of a misnomer.  In this article we'll take a closer look at the fascinating history of these projectiles.
Williams Type III (left) and Type II Bullets
In the early 1850's after extensive testing, the United States government adopted a new, standard small arms bullet in .58 caliber.  The weapon that fired these bullets was the rifle musket —the Springfield Rifle Musket for the North and the Richmond Rifle for the South.  The rifle musket was revolutionary for the time because it wasn't a smoothbore weapon as most other armies had used to date.   Its rifled barrel imparted spin to the bullet which created a more stable, accurate flight.

But the fact that it was still a muzzle loading weapon created a problem.  In order to load the rifle musket, a bullet needed to be of a smaller diameter than the barrel otherwise it wouldn't fit.  For a .58 caliber rifle, the corresponding bullet diameter needed to be around .57".

Captain Claude MiniĆ© came up with a novel solution to this problem.   His bullet design relied on an iron cup at the base of a lead bullet to expand the bullet skirt and bring it into contact with the barrel's lands and grooves.  The US Ordnance considered the MiniĆ© ball but ultimately utilized a much simpler design suggested by James H. Burton, Master Armorer at Harpers Ferry.  Burton's solution did away with the iron cup and instead his all-lead bullet had a simple, conical hollow at its base.  Expanding gases within the rifle barrel compressed the thin lead skirt of Burton's bullet and eliminated windage.
Lt. Col. James H. Burton
Machines were constructed to mass produce what became the US Standard bullet and inventory levels were achieved that were deemed appropriate for the relatively peaceful period.  But soon, the onset of the US Civil War would pose significant new challenges for US armories in their attempt to arm and equip troops.

Foremost among these challenges was accommodating the huge spectrum of firearms with which troops were being outfitted. The Armory labored under the demand for bullets in a variety of calibers and was eventually forced to not only produce ammunition for non-regulation muzzle loaders, but also often had to purchase bullets from private contractors.

In the midst of this rush to equip troops, an American named Elijah Williams invented and patented a new projectile "wad" that was cheap, eliminated windage, and was suitable for a wide variety of not only small arms but even even artillery pieces.
Williams Type I: "Wad for Ordnance" patent drawing

"What I claim as my invention, " Williams stated in the patent application, "is a wad composed of two or more concavo-convex discs of metal, provided with slits ... and combined substantially as herein specified."

The full patent # 35,273 is online and can be viewed  here.

In the January, 1862 issue of Scientific American magazine, William's concept is further described:
 Wad for Ordnance. — Elijah D. Williams, of Philadelphia, Pa., is the inventor of a wad composed of two or more concavo-convex disks of metal, each having a series of radial or nearly radial openings so arranged with respect to similar openings in the other or others that the metal of one covers the openings in the other, such wad being constructed of such diameter relatively to that of the bore of the gun in which it is to be used that it will pass easily through the bore in loading, but that the explosive force employed in ramming the charge home, or both of these forces will act upon it to change its concavo-convex form to a plane or a form approximating nearer to a plane, by which it will be spread laterally, and caused to fill and close the bore between the powder and the projectile, in such a manner as to prevent all escape of gases and obtain the application of the entire explosive force of the powder to the projection of the projectile, and in such a manner that in rifled arms it will be caused to receive and impart to the projectile a rotary motion.
What's especially interesting about this patent is that William's "wad" wasn't designed to clean the bore at all, but rather, to eliminate windage and increase accuracy:
In ramming the projectile home its pressure against the wad tends to flatten it, and so cause its expansion laterally toward the walls of the gun, which tends to close the bore for the prevention of windage before firing; but when the gun is fired the pressure produced on the back of the was flattens and expands it laterally still more, making it fit the bore tightly and preventing windage; and also, if the wad be large enough, and the gun rifled, forcing its edges into the grooves, and so causing it to derive a rotary motion as it moves forward, which motion it imparts by friction to the projectile.
In other words, Williams wasn't trying to develop a bullet that cleaned the rifle bore, he was trying to invent a better bullet.

Field trials conducted by the US Ordnance Department in 1861 demonstrated that the Williams bullet was in fact significantly more accurate than the standard government ball in a variety of muskets. These tests were overseen by none other than Colonel Hiram Berdan, renowned for forming the US Sharpshooter regiments but also an accomplished inventor in his own right and of course, one of the best marksmen in the 19th century world.  Speaking of the tests, Berdan wrote, "The experiments were undoubtedly very carefully made and I have no hesitation in saying that the swaged grooved ball with the Williams Cap on the base is the most perfect projectile for Army use I have ever seen."

Subsequently, the US Government placed an order for three million "Williams patent bullets."

On February 12, 1862 Williams filed a second patent for "An Improvement in Elongated Bullets."  This bullet was referred to then as the "Williams improved patent bullet"  and today is known as the Type II Williams bullet.  Its patent #37,145 can be viewed here.
Williams Type II Bullet Patent Diagram
The Type II bullet differed from the original design in that it featured a pin cast of hardened lead (an alloy of lead and antimony) with a single, smooth zinc disc instead of two notched discs, attached to the pin.  Otherwise, the principle was the same as for the Type I bullet.
Type II Williams bullet without zinc disc showing hardened lead "pin"
Both the Washington and Springfield arsenals evaluated the "improved Williams bullet" and issued positive reports regarding its accuracy and, for the first time, noted its ability to keep the bore of the rifle clean.  On August 26, 1862 the US Ordnance placed an order for 1 million Type II bullets from Williams.

Always working to improve his product and of course, secure more business, Williams proposed a third and final bullet design to the government.  He claimed that this third design substantially decreased the weight of the Type II bullet, something Williams calculated would save the government millions of dollars in material costs/year.  This "light .58 calibre bullet" came to be known as the Williams Type III projectile and was first produced in 1863.  Hundreds of millions were ultimately manufactured.

Williams described the advantages of the Type III bullet as:
1st Its capability of being reduced in weight at least twenty per cent [sic] below the regulation standard ...;
2d Its very great superiority in accuracy over any other bullet used or known;
3 The adaptability of a single size to guns of a varying calibre ...;
4th Its certainty to prevent the fouling of the gun.  
[Round Ball to Rimfire Part 1, page 226 citing letter from Williams to P.H. Watson, US Secretary of War]

Again, it's worth noting that the bore-cleaning properties of the bullet are the last-mentioned of the claimed advantages of the projectile's design with the key benefit being its accuracy.  And this was the bullet's own inventor and salesman describing its properties.

The US Government found these claims interesting, especially that of reduced cost, and decided to conduct its own extensive tests of the Type III bullet to see if it justified increasing the number given to troops or even replacing the standard ammunition entirely.

Surprisingly, those tests failed to substantiate any of William's claims, including the bore-cleaning property of the projectile.  In fact, they found that the bullet cost more to produce than the standard one and frequently broke apart in flight, destroying its accuracy.  And in a final, damning letter, "the Military Division of the Mississippi ... reported the impression in that army that the Williams bullet is injurious to the grooves of rifled arms, for which reason a request has been made that no more of this ammunition be sent to the Army of the Cumberland."  [(Emphasis added) Round Ball to Rimfire Part 1, page 234 citing letter from Gen. G.D. Ramsay to Secretary Stanton].

So here was a strong indictment of the Williams bullet from both the Ordnance board and Sherman's army.  The communication of these findings had an almost instant effect -- the US Chief of Ordnance ordered that no more Type III cartridges be produced and that those already on hand should be used only in case of emergency.
Williams Cleaner Type III and a Type III plunger
Here in the Triangle area of North Carolina, scene to the final acts of the Civil War, the Type III Williams bullet is ubiquitous.  On many occasions, I have found a single Type III bullet in an area where, after persistent searching, no other relic could be discovered.  At other times, I've found dense concentrations of Williams Type III bullets and almost nothing else.

Although there apparently is no record of an official color for the Williams Type III bullet cartridge,  existing specimens today employ blue or buff colored wrappers.  Different colored cartridge wrappers would have made it easy for those 90,000 Union Soldiers under Sherman to quickly identify and dispose of the Williams bullets they'd been issued.

It's easy to imagine an infantry soldier, on a long march and with the end of the war imminent or already announced, peering into his laden cartridge box and ridding himself of the "cleaner" bullets which added to his already considerable load.  The isolated Williams bullets I've found have most often been by the side of an old road and were probably just tossed out as the soldiers marched past.  The concentrations of Williams bullets were located near streams or in camp sites and one can imagine the soldiers talking about "those damn Williams bullets" and tossing them dismissively en masse from their cartridge boxes.

An amusing aftermath to the war was a refutation by Horace Hayden, of charges that Confederate soldiers at Gettysburg used explosive or poisoned bullets.

He was responding to a passage in The Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America, by Benson J. Lossing:

Many, mostly young men, were maimed in every conceivable way, by every kind of weapon and missile, the most fiendish of which was an explosive and a poisoned bullet, represented in the engraving a little more than half the size of the originals, procured from the battlefield there by the writer. These were sent by the Confederates. Whether any were ever used by the Nationals, the writer is not informed. One was made to explode in the body of the man, and the other to leave a deadly poison in him, whether the bullet lodged in or passed through him.
Figure A represents the explosive bullet. The perpendicular stem, with a piece of thin copper hollowed, and a head over it of bullet metal, fitted a cavity in the bullet proper below it, as seen in the engraving. In the bottom of the cavity was fulminating powder. When the bullet struck, the momentum would cause the copper in the outer disc to flatten, and allow the point of the stem to strike and explode the fulminating powder, when the bullet would be rent into fragments which would lacerate the victim.
Hayden pointed out, with reference to Elijah Williams patent #37,145, that the claimed explosive bullet was in fact, a Williams Type II projectile -- not explosive, not poison, and not even Southern. 

For more reading on the fascinating history of the Williams bullets, Dean S. Thomas' Round Ball to Rimfire Part 1, A History of Civil War Small Arms Ammunition, is the the undisputed authority from which I've quoted above.  It's a remarkably well-researched and written book and strongly recommended.

Less-recommended due to some out of date information and errors but also great reading is Civil War Projectiles II Small Arms and Field Artillery by W. Reid McKee and M.E. Mason, Jr.