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Metal detecting for American Civil War relics requires skill, the proper equipment, a good imagination, and permission to relic hunt on a property that has seen some kind of related activity. My level of skill is increasing every time I get out with Minelab’s incredible metal detectors, and my learning curve is definitely straightening out much faster when working with Bob Painter, aka “Relic Bob”.
We spent the morning on private property along the Rapidan River in Virginia. This river was a primary natural boundary that both Armies took turns defending during the course of the war. This particular location was the site of a Confederate Artillery battery that was strategically placed to overlook the river. Bob informed us of the history of the property and told us about some of his finds from previous hunts there. He called it the “Silver North Carolina Camp” because he was fortunate to find a couple extremely rare and very fragile silver North Carolina buttons. Confederate soldiers didn’t have fancy uniforms, so finding a decorative button from a Confederate uniform is very exciting.
Bob and I were joined by Kevin Owen, a resident from North Carolina. This was Kevin’s first Civil War relic hunt, and he was especially excited to be on ground once defended by fellow “Tarheels”. We set off early on Saturday morning to beat the rising late summer temperatures and worked our way from the access road down towards the river. This is where the imagination sets in.
When standing in the middle of the forest on an artillery site, you must picture the area completely barren of trees. Any tree within a mile around was used for the construction of the huts, trenches, and artillery emplacements. The cannon required a clear line of fire towards the river, so trees at the front of the position were dropped as well. Picture hundreds of small huts, some are in a neat line, but others would be strewn about on any flat terrace that could be found. There would be trenches and a trail network connecting the camping areas to the gun emplacements so that soldiers could quickly “man the guns” when the cry was sounded. This kind of camp site would be a mixed flurry of activity for hundreds of men during defensive posturing, men walking around, training, drilling, and just lounging about enjoying what little comforts were available to the common Civil War soldier.
We did not have permission to hunt the artillery emplacements but were allowed to hunt the nearby camp sites. Our relic hunting party of three set out with two GPX 5000’s and one GPX 4800. We worked our way down the hillside to where the soldiers who supported the emplacements would have been encamped. Bob started off detecting in an old creek bed. It is interesting to note that soldiers would have used this old creek bed as a primary path in-between the camps and the artillery emplacements. It wasn’t long before Relic Bob was locating targets with his GPX 4800. His first neat find was a pulled Gardner bullet, and he followed up that recovery with a couple dropped (unfired) pistol bullets. Bob is so familiar with that GPX 4800 that he knew exactly what he was going to recover out of the ground based on the tones his detector was making. “Pistol bullet” he’d announce, and sure enough, it was a pistol bullet.
Kevin was a couple hundred feet away and working near a spot where Bob had recovered a couple silver North Carolina buttons. As a North Carolina resident, he was bound and determined to locate and recover a piece of history from his home state. In just a few minutes, his GPX 5000 belted out a beautiful non-ferrous tone that would indicate the presence a metal object made of copper, brass, lead, silver, or other metals other than iron. The detector continued to howl. Bob’s ears perked up and a smile came across his face. “That’s a button!” he exclaimed, but not loud enough for Kevin to hear. Bob turned off his detector and made his way over to where Kevin was working. Now I’m generally a betting kind of guy, was it time for a bet with Relic Bob? Was it a silver NC button or just an aluminum pull tab buried deep in the soil?
Find out by watching The Civil War Uncovered, Episode 2: The Silver North Carolina Camp.