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.