Civil War Relic Hunting chapter 1
Research and permission
For all you experienced relic hunters I ask you to offer your opinions and suggestions and correct me as necessary as I begin this series on Civil War relics. My interests have diverted somewhat from beach and water hunting to relic hunting and I have been on a crash course in gathering Civil War information to identify locations to hunt. For a long time I have seen many other hunters who seem frustrated and cannot seem to find good hunting grounds. It seemed to me that this kind of information passes from hunter to hunter and is not generally shared. I can appreciate the effort that it takes to learn about this subject as I have gone through many, many books and long hours of study lately. As it turns out the Civil war was well documented and there are a wealth of military records, old photographs, maps of sites, and diary’s of soldiers.
I have learned how to locate camp sites and battle sites in my state and will share (as always) the methods that I used to derive this information. Since it will be different for every state I will tell you how to go about gathering this information.
First verify that your local library has the program where they can get books for you that are old or out of print from other libraries in your state. That is necessary because many of the key books have been stolen from libraries by hunters who do not want anyone else to be able to follow their trail to the old camps. The book may be on the shelf in some small town gathering dust but the power of your library can bring it to you. As you read each of the early books showing military information and books about the battles in your state keep yourself a reference book where you can write down short accounts from these books and the titles so you can get them again if need be.
I go to a local copy shop to copy a page of key information or take a picture of it with my digital camera. Never check the book back into the library without making a copy of the reference material or primary sources from the back pages listing similar books and authors. Go to your library and ask them to obtain these books for you but just one or two at a time so you don’t upset them by the amount of your requests. County libraries are the best sources and may have military maps and accounts of the battles. Read the personal accounts of battles and diaries that occurred in your area until you get a feel for the land and can picture where the troops were stationed.
Obtain topographical maps of your area. This is very important and you may be lucky as some of the topographical maps are free on the internet and some of them are on CD for a nominal price. Check the internet for DRG maps which are Digital Raster Graphic pictures of the standard old topographical maps. These maps will help you if you do not know where the camps were to deduce where the likely spots might be. They show elevation which might well show the remains of old embankments. Access Microsoft’s Terraserver for aerial or satellite high-resolution photographs of the areas that you are interested in. This will tell you right off if your area of interest is a parking lot or open land. You can look right down from the satellite and see actual Civil War sites by the trenches and embankments that were dug and heaped up. These will be somewhat subdued over time and as the erosion moderated the outline of the early camp. I have looked right into the heart of a Civil war camp to see the cannon defenses and where they were placed and also the lines of trenches where the soldiers might stay somewhat out of the line of fire in case of action. This is exciting and I will share with you the exciting possibilities as I enter this new realm of treasure hunting utilizing the new tools that have come available.
The USGS distributes DRG’s on Compact Disc-Recordable (CD-R). DRG orders are filled on demand. Each CD-R includes the USGS topographic maps for a 1-degree cell. For the contiguous States plus Hawaii, the cells will usually contain sixty-four 1:24,000-scale files, two 1:100,000-scale files, and one 1:250,000-scale file. For Alaska, the cells will usually contain thirty-two 1:63,360-scale files and one 1:250,000-scale file. Variability in the number of files and area covered occurs over irregularly shaped land masses; for example, 1-degree cells that encompass coastal areas may include fewer files. The price for a USGS CD-R is $32 for one disc or $42 for two disc sets (plus a $3.50 handling charge per order). For information on ordering DRG’s on CD-R, contact any Earth Science Information Center or call 1-800-USA-MAPS, toll free. You may also order DRG’s online from the USGS Global Land Information System (WebGLIS).
With the information from the books and your maps you should have the military paths marked well around your area and in many states the camps will be marked as well. If not then deduction will lead you to them. Here is a tip, locate the post offices that were in existence during the Civil War in your state. Many of these military paths will cross these post offices and generally there were primitive settlements at least near these settlements and “clean” water was available. Often there would be a camp near this post office and near enough so that mail, water, and local stores might be obtained. The military mail might be on time in some places but not everywhere. Your state may have been well developed at the time of the Civil war and not as primitive as others but military camps especially those camps which were inhabited over a long period were often in need of the services of a post office.
The camps are generally near water but not always by the water especially in the south where the waterways are infested by alligators. It seems that the gators have a bad nocturnal habit of walking around looking for supper and some soldier sleeping by the river just might do. In the south the gators were often feared more than the Confederate army. In an earlier article I pointed out the premium sites might be on elevated ground but often protected from the cold north winds and perhaps high enough to avoid gators.
There are places on the internet where you can look at the many relics and the prices that they bring. These prices are moving up rather remarkably as interest in the Civil War for one reason or another seems to peak. The values that are placed on these relics are secondary as my appreciation of these relics and the reward of the hunt which will provide enough to satisfy me.
Once you have located prime areas of interest where you can see the old trails join near a river, town, or post office then note the nearest small town and begin your search on the internet. To my delight I have found a likely spot for a Civil War camp and then after my research on the old maps and in the old books I found a nearby town which had a homepage on the internet which confirmed that there are still remains of earthen forts in the area of the town. My next step will be to look down through the eyes of the satellite or the aerial photos camera and see for myself the remains of the camp. I can print pictures which will aid me and get the exact longitude and latitude for a GPS locator to find the very exact spot as I am walking in the area. My prints will include the topographical map which should show clearly the high ground and perhaps the raised earth for the old defense line! Remember that the intention of these detachments were to guard choke points in rivers or passages that might impede the advance of the enemy. This is the intelligent way to select your sites in case you don’t have someone taking you along.
After you have located prime spots for camps then drive to the areas and talk to the people around there and ask them what they knew about the Civil War in their area. You might be surprised! Find the landowner and seek permission. I would only ask for written permission in case that he might not be there and someone else may be on the land who would challenge your right to be there. Give him a release of liability in case you hurt yourself so he will feel safe from lawsuit. Be sure to give him some samples of your digs and spend some time with him. After all he is taking a big chance with you and he doesn’t have to give you permission even if he has the largest deposits of relics in the state!