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  • Writer's pictureTim Murphy

Every Second Counts

Patience is a virtue when it comes to relic hunting. Don't expect to find "gold" (neither literally nor figuratively) every time you get a signal. A good majority of the time you'll find rusty pieces of iron, nails, modern trash, and other junk. Sometimes, an entire day can be spent finding scrap metal and nothing else. It just takes persistence, and persistence pays off eventually, even in the waning hours of the day.

Some of my best recoveries have been last-second finds. In March 2014, I attended DIV XXVII at Brandy Rock Farm, a large 4000+ acre property. Brandy Rock was the site of numerous winter encampments for both the Confederacy and Union, where countless numbers of soldiers built huts (temporary cabins) to live in during the harsh winter months. It was harsh then, and it was just as harsh when I was there. A few days prior during DIV XXVI (this being part one of a two-part hunt), Mother Nature sent us the wonderful gift of snow, a good five inches of it too! Fortunately, it did rise above freezing during over those few days, reducing the snowfall to about an inch by the start of DIV XXVII; but it was very muddy, cold, and icy. The lengths I'll go through and the conditions I'll suffer to pull history from the ground.

General Service Eagle Button

Anyway, I digress. Let's just say the start of DIV XXVII was less than pleasant weather-wise. But we dug anyway. The day progressed, getting muddier by the minute. I was graced with only a few bullets and a couple of brass tent rivets by time Day 1 was about to end. On my way back to the car, I had a few minutes to spare. So, I decided to hunt is a field across the dirt road from Button Hill, a very popular spot for relic hunters, yielding lots of buttons (hence the name), camp items, and one guy even found a silver ID tag!

In my field, there were only a few other diggers dispersed around me. Pockets of snow laid in the depressions in the ground. The sun was setting behind a hill, the sky turning a beautiful pink and orange. Like the sun, the temperatures were beginning to drop too. And with my boots and gloves soaked, my pants muddied, and my body physically exhausted after ten hours out in the fields, I wanted to make this quick. I went about my business, not finding much in those ten minutes. As I turned back and made my way back to the parking area, I received a solid hit on the side of hill. With only about five minutes of daylight left, I decided, "why not?" I dug down into the soft dirt and lifted the plug out of the hole. On top of the plug was a green, circular object. My mind began to race with thoughts of what it could be. I turned it over and saw the words "NORTH CAROLINA" embossed across the top. I had found a North Carolina Local Seal button, my first ever state button and first Confederate button! I was ecstatic! I ran back to the car to show my dad and digging partners what I had found, with a big grin across my face. My hunt was already made by this find, but more was still to come.

North Carolina Local Seal Button

Day 2 was spent just about the same. I found a lot of fired bullets at the soldiers' firing range in the woods and a Eagle "I" (infantry) cuff button. Still a good day, but nothing as spectacular as the North Carolina button. With a few hours left in the day, my digging partners decided to try a new area out in the back of the property. We trekked nearly a mile through woods and bull fields to get to the spot: the Wisconsin camp. Hard to believe regiments from Wisconsin were in Virginia, but evidently they were. The field was on a steep-sloped hill, lined by pines and an old barbed-wire fence. There were at least twenty diggers in this ten-acre plot, each of them finding plenty of relics.

Within the first couple hours, I had myself a good haul. I found a General Service Eagle button, a few pistol bullets, and a carved Washington Arsenal button. The Washington Arsenal bullet is distinguished by the star on its base and is about ten times rarer than regular three-ring Minie balls. This was also my first carved bullet, too! I didn't think the day could get much better to be perfectly honest.

Confederate Wreath, part of a two-piece tongue and wreath buckle

With about an hour left in the day, I decided to walk back towards the parking area again. It was about a good twenty minute walk back and I just wanted to get a head start. Still in the Wisconsin camp, I was sweeping my detector near a cluster of pine trees and a large boulder. I hear a faint murmur as I go by. I dug down about a half-foot and the sound got louder. Definitely not ground noise. I started digging with haste, as the day was nearly at an end. I dug for a good 35 minutes trying to figure out where this item was. My pinpointer made it clear that it was still down there, getting successively louder per inch I dug. Finally, I stuck my digging tool into the dirt and out it popped. I just stared in disbelief. Down at the bottom of the hole, nearly two feet down, lay the Wreath to a two-piece Confederate tongue-and-wreath buckle. Despite being in the ground for nearly 150 years, this thing was in great shape! Usually, if one is fortunate to find one, they are bent out of shape or are broken at the buckle part. But this beauty was whole, flat, and solid.

Once again, for the second day in a row, a spectacular find was made from the last signal of the day. I finished the hunt with a dozen unfired bullets, ten or so fired ones, a few eagle buttons, some camp brass, the North Carolina button and the Confederate Wreath. Those last two items are what made this hunt go from decent to spectacular! If I hadn't decided to dig either signal, or just given up due to time, who knows? They could still be in the ground today. So it just goes to show, sometimes the best really are saved for last.


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