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  • Writer's pictureTim Murphy

Diggin' In Virginia: The Brandy Rock Farm Farewell Hunt

Since 2006, Brandy Rock Farm has played host to fourteen Diggin’ In Virginia relic hunts. With each event, hundreds of participants have scoured Brandy Rock’s fields, searching for Civil War artifacts that would otherwise remain lost and forgotten to time. Countless relics have been recovered over the past fifteen years, and I’ve been fortunate enough to make some great discoveries, myself, since my first visit to Brandy Rock in 2013. But sadly, all good things must come to an end, as last weekend marked the fifteenth and final DIV at Brandy Rock Farm. Over one hundred die-hard diggers gathered for one last opportunity to save some history from this hallowed ground.

March 26 (Day 1): DIV organizers John and Rose Kendrick officially began the hunt shortly after 7 o’clock on a blustery Friday morning. While many diggers headed for the Wisconsin Camp, I decided to trek from hunt headquarters into the adjacent fields where I found a gilded civilian button during the waning hours of DIV XLV. The decision was worthwhile as I got off to a really hot start, finding six .58 Minie balls and a small brass chain within the first hour.

Around 10 a.m., I received a screaming high tone on the side of a hill. I dug down about eight inches and recovered what appeared to be a crumpled-up piece of brass. Initially, I didn’t know what it was, but I could see a patterned design on it. After talking with a few guys throughout the day, I concluded that it was the middle section of a shoulder scale, the first one I have ever found! Shoulder scales, or epaulettes, were worn by enlisted men and designed to protect them from sabre strikes; however, they were more ornamental than anything else. They typically were fashioned in three styles: non-commissioned officer staff, sergeants, and corporals/privates. Due to its slenderness, I would guess my scales came from the uniform of a private or corporal. Not nearly three hours into Day 1 and my hunt was already made!

Around midday, I decided to try my luck in the Wisconsin Camp. My first two targets were a General Service Eagle coat button and a dropped three-ringer, so I knew I was in a good spot. A few minutes after finding the bullet, I got a good signal that sounded like deep iron. I dug down nearly a foot, and sure enough, the beautiful colors of ash and charcoal spilled out into the hole. After brushing away some of the dirt, I could see the walls were well-layered, which indicated to me that this pit had not been previously dug. Within those layers were pieces of glass, animal bones, and lots of rust.

After digging down nearly two feet, I finally reached the floor and excavated what got me into the pit: a large iron hinge of sorts. I then started to expand the hole, following the ash layers in every direction they went until the natural dirt walls were exposed. Every so often I would pull out large shards of glass, but no whole bottles turned up. The hole ended up being two feet deep, two feet wide, and three feet long with very little relic production.

Before filling the hole back in, I checked my tail pile for any relics that might have slipped through my initial search. It was a good thing I did, as I recovered a J hook and brass regimental number ‘1.’ Incredibly, I found the ‘1’ just a few hundred feet up the hill from where I found the ‘4’ at DIV XLV. The first day couldn’t have ended on a better note!

March 27 (Day 2): I started Day 2 in the Wisconsin Camp and worked my way down to an area called “The Fingers”—three slender fields in the back corner of the property. After a few hours of searching, I only managed to find three bullets, four button backs, and an iron underwear button. Without many good targets, I decided to return to the field where I found the shoulder scales. Immediately, I started finding bullets again. I had about six bullets in my finds pouch when I stumbled upon another great high tone signal just a couple hundred yards away from where I found the shoulder scales. I saw the green patina of oxidized brass nearly a foot down in the hole and eagerly speculated what it could be. To my enthusiasm, I pulled out a nice sword scabbard tip, my second such relic I have ever found.

March 28 (Day 3): A severe thunderstorm slammed the Culpeper area overnight, so we had a bit of a rain delay to start Day 3. Fortunately, the delay was short-lived and I was out detecting the Wisconsin Camp by 9 a.m.; however, I didn’t have much luck. After two hours of digging, my only good find was a carved bullet that resembled a poker chip or checker piece. Otherwise, the Wisconsin Camp was a bust. I decided to return to the fields around headquarters and found a couple bullets before taking a break for lunch.

Even after fifteen years of hardcore relic hunting, Brandy Rock still has a way of producing some fantastic artifacts, as evidenced by this hunt’s relic display. Some of the most notable finds were a CS tongue, a wreath buckle, a gilded eagle hat insignia, a few spurs, some U.S. box and breast plates, and several rare buttons. Pictures of the relic display can be found in the slideshow at the bottom of the page. Following lunch, I decided to hunt for another couple hours before making the trip back home. I hunted in the front fields where I managed to find a musket ball and a General Service Eagle cuff button.

Overall, I had a fantastic hunt. I finished with 33 bullets, the shoulder scales, scabbard tip, brass ‘1’, two Eagle coats and one Eagle cuff, a J hook, carved bullet, and several other odds and ends. I also managed to save a few pieces of embossed glass from the pit I dug. The first two pieces read “H. Heye / Bremen” which refers to the Hermann Heye Glasfabrik of Bremen, Germany—a major importer of wine and liquor bottles during the Civil War. The other embossed shard is a panel fragment that reads “TURNER / NEW YORK / SAN” This refers to the Turner Brothers Company, who produced spirits, cordials, and syrups. This particular fragment was most likely a “three-line variant” of the company’s Forest Wine Bitters bottle, which would have read “TURNER BROTHERS / NEW YORK, BUFFALO, N.Y. / & SAN FRANCISCO, CAL.

It’s bittersweet knowing that DIV won’t return to Brandy Rock again, but I am very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to hunt this historic property and witness all the relics that have been recovered from the ground. There’s no doubt that there are still plenty of artifacts left to be unearthed across this massive farm. Maybe one day we’ll get a chance to revisit. But until then Brandy Rock, thank you for all the history saved and memories made. And thank you to John, Rose, and all the DIV committee members for organizing these incredible digs.


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