16 November 2010

Metal Detecting Post #11

There is a story behind every Civil War relic. The items pictured here are some I recently recovered on private property (with permission) near the Battle of Piedmont here in the Shenandoah Valley. The large, twisted piece of lead is a sabot from an artillery shell. The smaller fragment is most likely from an exploded Hotchkiss shell. They are both related to what the third item likely represents.

That item is a bullet fragment with what appears to be a human tooth imprint. (Click images twice to enlarge for greater detail.) While there is some disagreement as to how often (and for what reasons) Civil War soldiers actually chewed on bullets, I could not help but make the connection - at least in my mind - that the exploded artillery pieces I recovered very likely caused pain, suffering, and death some 150 years ago. In reading some of Scott Patchan's excellent book on the Battle of Piedmont last night, a couple of passages brought all this home. One Union officer observed that:

" . . . many of them having the flesh torn off their body by splinters from rails . . . ' which had been shredded by the Federal shells. The exploding shells set aflame the flesh of many of the Confederate dead.
And . . .
"One poor fellow had been completely skinned the whole length of his back. It must have been done by a piece of rail, as he lay on the ground on his stomach. He was conscious, and would talk to us, but one of the doctors said he would not live a minute if we turned him over."

This kind of knowledge adds an almost surreal element when I pull one of these relics from the ground, having been hidden there almost 150 years. Adding to the experience is the knowledge that one of my ancestors was wounded here and taken prisoner. This is so much a part of that "sense of place" which has been discussed on this blog before. 

Stay tuned. Another post about an exciting find coming soon.


Douglas Hill said...

Yes, indeed. The proverbial Sense of Place, the proverbial defense (at horrific, bloody cost) of Hearth and Home.

"All we ask is to be left alone."-- Jeff Davis

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Quite an experience, isn't it?

Douglas Hill said...

I say again- YES INDEED!

Mark Snell said...


Keep in mind there were several regiments of (West) Virginians in Hunter's army at the Battle of Piedmont, which, like many of the battles in the Shenandoah Valley from 1862-64, truly make these encounters unique. One group of Virginians may have believed that they were defending their homes, while the other side might have felt that they were doing the same (remember, West Virginia doesn't become a state until June 20, 1863--most of the soldiers in West Virginia regiments enlisted much earlier). The same could be said for battles in the TransMontaigne region as well, such as Lewisburg, White Sulphur Springs, and Droop Mountain, among others.


The bullet with the tooth indentation most likely was chewed by a pig or a cow. I've found several bullets, both fired and dropped, that likewise have dental indentations, and they've always turned out to be non-human.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hello Mark. Yes, you make a valid point about our wayward sister to the west.

Regarding the bullet, yes I've read that animals chewing these pieces is/was rather common. That may be the case w/mine. I've also read commentary that soldiers did indeed "bite the bullet" for pain, boredom and that they were also used to help cotton-mouthed soldiers salivate. Does Drew Faust mention anything in her book about this practice?

My dentist is quite a CW buff - I may drop my piece by him for his opinion. BTW, do you use a metal detector?

Douglas Hill said...


Thank you for that input and insight. I reckon I mainly had Rick's ancestor in mind, fighting on his "home turf", wounded, captured and yet much more fortunate than many that day. I don't know if he was impressed into service or not, but even if so I imagine he felt some compulsion of patriotic duty and desire to protect kin, property and way of life. No doubt those West Virginians too fought with great conviction, but getting "into their heads" is beyond my admittedly partisan abilities.

TransMontaigne? I'm afraid I'm buffaloed by that one. The old saying about "the more I learn the more I realize how much I don't know" applies once again!

BTW, my resources on Piedmont are scant. Do you have any recommendations besides Pachan's work?


Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Mark, Doug:

Ironically enough, that ancestor, John Crutchfield, travelled from his home in Amherst County to Gauley Bridge West VA to volunteer, at least that's what I recall from my great-aunt telling me and the unit's history that I've read.

As I've noted before, he was wounded at Piedmont, taken prisoner to Camp Morton, transferred to Chimborazo Hospital in a prisoner exchange and died there in March of '65. He's buried in a common grave in Oakwood.

Mark Snell said...


I have two metal detectors hanging on hooks in my garage. It was my passion, but I haven't used them in more than a decade. Too much to do and so little time. Some day . . . .

What regiment did your ancestor serve?

Douglas: "TransMontaigne" is a fancy term for "Across the Mountains," in this case the Blue Ridge Mountains. I wouldn't fret too much about your "partisan abilities." Even professional historians have biases. The hard part about history is admitting them and moving beyond the biases. That's much easier said than done.

As far as sources on the Piedmont battle, Patchan's is the best and the most recent (perhaps even the only one). The _Official Records of the War of the Rebellion_ is another source, as well as selected volumes from the Virginia Regimental History Series.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Mark - I've come late to the "passion." I've had one for over 3 years and just never really took any interest until lately. Now I'm hooked. Perhaps some time in the future, if you're in the area and our schedules coordinate, we could do some detecting together. I understand not having enough time. Grandpa Crutchfield was in the 60th VA Infantry, Company F.

Douglas Hill said...

Ah, Mark, getting fancy on me with them two-dollar words are you? ;^) I was figuring that's what is was (brought to mind the Montagnards of Vietnam) but didn't know if the term had some "period" reference.

Yes, biases are tough nuts to crack; I'm up to admitting them but moving beyond them, like you say, is not so easy.

I'm surprised how little there is in the O.R. on Piedmont, at least using the searchable version on CD by Guild Press of Indiana. I found only two worthwhile entries- one by Vaughan, the other by a Federal officer who's name escapes me. Too bad Patchan's work is out of print; that means Rick, myself and the entire county library system have to share one copy.

Again, thanks for the input.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I've exchanged a couple of emails w/Scott. He told me he's just completed re-writing the whole book on the Battle of Piedmont. I guess it will be out soon.

Mark Snell said...


Thanks for the invitation to go relic hunting. I can't believe I have to temporarily pass on a "shovel-ready project," but I have too many publishing deadlines that must be met. Perhaps sometime next year. Thanks again.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Mark - no problem. Just give me some notice if you think you might be interested in the future.