I begin this article presuming that you have read Successful Civil War Relic Hunting a Primer for Beginners – Part 1, that is posted in the archives on this website. If you have not… you missed a lot and I highly recommend that you go back and read Part 1 first before reading this part.
I made the most important point in Part 1 that to be continually successful in Civil War relic hunting in this time in which we live, you will have to search and find previously unknown and un-detected Civil War camp and skirmish sites.
With the constantly increasing record-breaking numbers of people getting into metal detecting at this time, you will need to target areas not already being hunted to death and full of “permission seekers” knocking on every door that sits on property that their research indicates had Civil War activity on it.
I live in Kentucky and in an area that has few people even metal detecting for coins on old house sites, much less looking for Civil War activity sites. There was such activity all over the state and the fact that much of it was NOT recorded in historical records in certain parts of the state makes it a good area to use as an example of how to generate leads on where to hunt relics.
The absolute single best source for beginner relic hunters to find leads on places to hunt Civil War relics is found in what we call the “O.R’s” (Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.) This is a voluminous collection of all the reports and letters of officers on both sides that they filed about the battles and other activities they took part in during the war. Originally, they were published in 1895, and it took 128 thick books to hold all the info found in the Civil War records.
While the O.R.’s can be purchased on DVD online, they can also be accessed free on Ohio State University’s website. Below is the link to their website and the O.R.’s… which are searchable. You can type in the name of any place, landmark, river, creek, town, battle etc. and you will get a list of hits where your search topic is mentioned in the O.R.’s. The hits will be in the form of links you can click on and go to where you can see the Volume of the O.R.’s and the page that contains the report or letter your search topic is mentioned in. Here is the link: The War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Civil War | eHISTORY (osu.edu)
Now let’s do a sample search so I can show you how this works. First, I type in “Eastern Kentucky” in the search window at the top of the main page and hit go. This then tells me that my search target, Eastern Kentucky, is mentioned on 529 different pages in the O.R.’s
The very first hit link listed brings up this page I copy here in the O.R’s and I search it for potential leads, which I highlight in yellow.
War of the Rebellion: Serial 057 Page 0645 Chapter XLIV. OPERATIONS IN EASTERN KENTUCKY
Kentucky Cavalry fought Colonel Hughs on Obey’s River in Tennessee; captured 2, killing 3. Hughs’ men threw away their guns; left their horses. It is thought by Colonel Weatherford that Hughs cannot possibly get out, for the reason that our troops are so disposed and stationed, and will prevent his escape.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
E. H. HOBSON,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General, Louisville.
MARCH 28-APRIL 16, 1864.-Operations in Eastern Kentucky.
SUMMARY OF THE PRINCIPAL EVENTS.
March 31, 1864.- Skirmish at Forks of Beaver.
April 5, 1864.- Skirmish on Quicksand Creek.
7, 1864.- Skirmish on Brushy Creek.
13, 1864.-Skirmish at Paintsville.
14, 1864.-Action at Half Mountain, on Licking River.
Affair near Booneville.
16, 1864.-Skirmish at Salyersville.
Numbers 1.- Brigadier General Edward H. Hobson, U. S. Army, commanding Fifth Division, Twenty-third Army Corps.
Numbers 2.- Colonel George W. Gallup, Fourteenth Kentucky Infantry, commanding District of Eastern Kentucky.
Numbers 3.- Itinerary of the U. S. forces in the District of Eastern Kentucky, March 28-April 14.
Numbers 4.- Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Johnson, Kentucky Cavalry, commanding Confederate Forces.
Numbers 1. Reports of Brigadier General Edward H. Hobson, U. S. Army, commanding Fifth Division, Twenty-third Army Corps.
April 16, 1864.
SIR: Colonel Gallup pursued rebels to Salyersville; killed and wounded 25; captured 100 horses, 200 saddles, 50 prisoners, among them Colonel Clay. Colonel True, with Fortieth Kentucky and Eleventh Michigan, is beyond West Liberty. Have captured 6 prisoners. Colonel Brown is at Irwin; reports no enemy in that vicinity. Has sent scouting party some distance beyond to develop enemy, if any.
E. H. HOBSON,
Lieutenant Colonel T. B. FARLEIGH,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General, Louisville.
Okay… that was one entire page in the O.R.’s and while the highlighted parts are legitimate leads on Civil War activity that are not commonly known, I know there are better leads to be found so I will move on. The activities that I did NOT highlight on this page are commonly known and will already surely have been hunted if they can be so I would not waste my time on those.
This next page begins with the continuation of a report from the previous page. At the bottom of this page on the website will be a link on the left that will take you to the previous page and one on the right that will take you to the next page, should you want to continue reading this section of the O.R.’s.
The amount of information and the amount of reading required can be somewhat intimidating to beginners using the O.R.’s but that very fact means that there are HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of leads in them and MANY are about sites not yet even found.
Okay… so… I keep searching the Hit Links… you can do them one after another or you can skip around in them… which I prefer to do as the farther I get from the first link, the less likely those pages have been searched as much as those at the beginning. Here is the next page I choose to search for leads:
War of the Rebellion: Serial 034 Page 0834 KY., MID. AND E. TENN., N. ALA., AND SW. VA. Chapter XXXV.
LEXINGTON, KY., July 28, 1863-10.10 a. m.
GENERAL: Sanders sends the following:
We are attacked here by a considerable force- I think at least 1,500 or 2,000 with three or four pieces of artillery. I think I will be forced to fall back toward the river. Please send instructions for action here as soon as convenient.
W. P. SANDERS,
GEO. B. DRAKE,
General GEORGE L. HARTSUFF.
STANFORD, July 31, 1863.
GENERAL: I have just arrived here. Have fought and followed Scott from Big Hill today; have killed and wounded quite a number; taken over 100 prisoners; among them the lieutenant-colonel of Scott’s regiment. A large number of guns and other property has been destroyed or captured. My horses are completely worn out. Some of the men have had nothing to eat for three days, and have not rested to feed our horses but once since leaving Lexington. It is reported that Scott’s men are not much better off. They sent their stock by the way of Crab Orchard, and will probably get it over the Cumberland tonight. I shall rest and feed men here. Lieutenant Guthrie, loyal, Fifth Tennessee, was killed today.
W. P. SANDERS,
General GEORGE L. HARTSUFF.
LEXINGTON, KY., August 10, 1863.
COLONEL: I have the honor to make the following report of the operations of my command during the late raid of the rebels under Scott.
On the 27th of July, I received orders from the general commanding the corps to proceed to Richmond, Ky., and, at my discretion, assume command of all the mounted forces there. I found Major Foley, Tenth Kentucky Cavalry, in command of a detachment of his own regiment, and of the One hundred and twelfth Illinois and the Second and Seventh Ohio, in all about 500 men, and that all possible steps had been taken to find out the movements of the enemy, and to resist his advance.
During the night I received information of a skirmish some 12 miles from Richmond, (KY) on the Big Hill road and that our scouts and advance pickets were being driven in. At daylight I moved out on road and took up a position to check their advance. The enemy appeared about sunrise, and commenced a skirmish, which lasted three hours, at which time I found that I was about to be surrounded by a superior force, and determined to fall back to the Kentucky River. During this skirmish the enemy used three pickets of rifled ordnance and one mountain howitzer. I moved my entire command out on the road and marched through the town of Richmond in good order. Up to this time my loss had been 3 men wounded and several horses disabled. As the command was leaving the town, by some unexplained cause, the rear guard were thrown into confusion, broke, and rushed into the column, and created great confusion there. I was writing at the time and was thrown behind the rear guard. All efforts to rally them were unavailing, and AUTHOR’S NOTE: Continued on this next page:
War of the Rebellion: Serial 034 Page 0835 Chapter XXXV. SCOTT’S RAID IN EASTERN KENTUCKY.
I moved to the front of the column, and, with the aid of Majors Foley and [T. T.] Dow and other officers, made a stand with about 100 men. The panic had become so great that they only remained long enough to check the enemy for a moment. The confusion became a panic, and the retreat a race for the river. The men could not be controlled, and scattered in various directions. Some 4 or 5 were killed, several wounded, and about 75 taken prisoners and paroled. I have not received the official reports of the different regiments. At the river, Clays Ferry, I halted with a part of the command, and prevented the enemy from crossing until I received instructions to fall back to Lexington. The enemy were about 1,600 strong, with eight pieces of artillery.
On the 29th, I was ordered by General Hartsuff to assume command of all the mounted troops in the vicinity of Lexington, and to drive the rebels from the State or capture their force. I started at 3 p. m. on the same day, with detachments of the First Kentucky, Tenth Kentucky, Fourteenth Kentucky, Second and Seventh Ohio, Eighth and Ninth Michigan, and Fifth East Tennessee Cavalry, First and Second East Tennessee, Forty-fifth Ohio, and one hundred and twelfth Illinois Mounted Infantry, and Crawford’s Tennessee battery, in all about 2,400 men. The advance guard met the enemy’s picket 5, miles from Winchester, captured a lieutenant and 9 men, and drove the rest into the town. At Winchester I learned that part of the enemy force had been sent to Paris. I detached the Forty-fifth Ohio and a part of the Fifth Tennessee, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Ross, Forty-fifth [Ohio], about 500 men, to follow that party, and with the remainder of followed the main body, under Scott, on the Irvine road. We commenced to skirmish with the enemy’s rear guard immediately after leaving the town, and kept it up until we reached Irvine, the next day. It rained very hard during the night, rendering the roads so bad that my artillery could not keep up. During the march to Irvine we captured nearly 100 prisoners, killed and wounded a number of the enemy, and compelled him to abandon some of his wagons and stock. I found the whole force at Irvine, on the south side of the river. After about one hour’s fighting, I drove them from their position, compelling them to leave a large number of horses and mules, besides a large portion of the property captured from the Fourteenth Kentucky Cavalry at that place. I was compelled to stop several hours here to feed and followed on during the night. We overtook the enemy’s rear guard and recaptured one piece of artillery (mounted howitzer).
Awesome Metal Detecting Lead
After reaching the Big Hill, the enemy turned to the right on the Blue Lick road, and moved toward Lancaster. During the day we fought constantly with the enemy, he making a stand at every favorable point, capturing a large number of prisoners and property of every kind. Near Paint Lick Church the enemy made an obstinate stand and fought about an hour. At this place I ordered Captain Watrous, with his detachment of cavalry, to charge the enemy with the saber; it was handsomely executed, capturing about 30 prisoners, and wounding a number of the enemy with the saber. At Lancaster, on the same day, I ordered a charge of all the cavalry, under Major Taylor, and succeeded in capturing over 200 prisoners, and completely routing the enemy. My horses were nearly worn out or we could have secured nearly all the rebels at this point. The enemy resisted at all points on the road where they could use their artillery. We drove them through Stanford about 4 p. m. the same day. I was compelled to stop here to feed again, the second time since leaving Lexington, and after a continuous journey of over 100 miles. END OF O.R. PAGE
Okay… so now you have seen how I mark LEADS I find in the O.R.’s. I copy the whole page out of the O.R.’s online and paste it in a Microsoft Word file entitled Civil War Relic Site Leads. I then highlight the leads, with yellow being a “POSSIBLE” and green being a “HOT” lead… one to give priority to.
Remember… you can search for leads by name of a town or village, a landmark like the name of a mountain or of a grist mill or a spring where people went to get good water or a covered bridge or creeks and rivers… as well as about several hundred other things… USE YOUR IMAGINATION. You could also search by the name of the state you want to hunt in but be prepared for THOUSANDS of hits.
Because of the massive amount of information contained in the O.R.’s, doing these searches can be a bit intimidating… this is NOT a “fast research” tip… this is one for those who have the patience to sort through a LOT of info in order to find totally un-worked camp or battle site leads that, once found, will provide months or years of great relic hunting experiences. Most detectorists will NOT have what it takes to do this as human nature tends to follow the path of least resistance so as not to have to work hard to find good sites. How about you…??? Do YOU have what it takes to find “Civil War relic bonanzas” in this day when all the EASY to find accessible Civil War sites have already been hit hard?
IF… and I do mean, IF… you take this article to heart and DO find… say… an unworked Civil War campsite where a few thousand soldiers camped for even just a month or two, you will thank me over and over for writing this. And… once you do find one, as I have done several times, you will never be happy again hunting the local parks, tot lots, or worked-out Civil War sites where the best you can do is a bullet or two for an all-day hunt.
Quite frankly, I would not be writing this article if I were 20 years younger because I would not want you to become more “competition” to contend with in my own searches. But now, in my old age, while the “spirit is still willing, the flesh is weak” in that my old legs will no longer carry me the miles of walking that is usually necessary to find a previously unknown site. I have to be able to park near where I am going to hunt because at 75 years of age, if I get a couple of miles from my vehicle and my energy suddenly gives out, as it does at some point, I am in big trouble and might have to spend the night in the woods or fields.
Now… I am going to do some more sample searches in the O.R.’s and not print the whole page in this article but just some of the leads I find on those pages to give you an idea that the leads in O.R.’s are practically limitless.
First off… let’s do a search on COVERED BRIDGE in the O.R.’s and see what pops up that I see as good leads:
1– At daybreak on the next morning the brigade was placed in position for battle. By the order of General Davidson I put my regiment in line of battle in an open field to the right of the road and moved it forward toward the village (Mechanicsville). On approaching the summit of a gentle acclivity about a quarter of a mile in front of the village the enemy opened upon us with shell, canister, and solid, and solid shot. The men did not recoil, but continued to advance. By General Davidson’ order I soon halted the regiment, the fire of the enemy continuing and increasing. I then commanded, “Down, men! down!” when the men fell to the ground, and the shot of the enemy passed over them, doing little damage. At length, by the command of General Davidson, for the double purpose of giving place to Wheeler’s battery and taking a less exposed position, I moved the regiment some 20 or 30 rods to the right, and halted in a gentle hollow in the field, receiving several discharges of canister and shell from the enemy’s guns while moving to and after taking that position. Wheeler’s battery then most effectually riddled the village, driving the enemy’s sharpshooters out of the buildings and causing his artillery to reply at longer and still longer intervals until it was silent. General Davidson then commanded me to charge upon, seize, and hold the village. Breaking my regiment into columns by companies, I put them on a double-quick, and with a prolonged and defiant shout they rushed toward the village and the foe. The enemy’s artillery dashed down the road toward Richmond; his infantry, many of the men throwing off their knapsacks, ran across a broad field in rear of the village and into the wood. The village and the enemy’s position were taken.
NOTE: Civil War soldiers, once routed in a battle, panicked and threw away anything they had on them that they thought would slow down their efforts to reach safety. This often included even their own rifles and cartridge boxes. When fleeing through woods, many of these items were never found after the battle as the victorious soldiers moved on quickly to follow up on their victory and keep the enemy retreating. Long retreats are EXCELLENT for producing great relics if you are willing to walk the woods for long distances with your detector.
Across this creek, which is here deep, with steep and high banks, there was a bridge, the possession of which was essential to the success of the expedition. Upon reaching it, however, it was found that the enemy had destroyed it and were concealed in considerable force upon the opposite bank. A few shots were fired by the enemy, when the howitzer was run down within 20 yards of the opposite side and fire opened with canister, Captain Roche also dismounting his troopers and deploying them as skirmishers. His effective force had now dwindled much, the advance guard of 10 having kept up the main road with Lieutenant Marshall, and 10 more, under a sergeant, being left to guard the bridge across Beaver Dam Creek. The enemy fired rapidly, and apparently by volleys, from the front up the road at the piece. Three rounds of canister stopped that fire, when it was resumed from the left flank heavier than before. On this flank Troop A were actively employed, but canister caused the enemy again to shift his position to the front, where he once more essayed to drive away the cannoneers. Alternating the discharges of the piece between front and left flank, Captain Roche drove the enemy from the woods, silencing their fire, with what loss it is impossible to learn, as the enemy were under the cover of small trees and brush; yet, as the range was so short, it must have been considerable.
The bridge being completely destroyed, and having no means of rebuilding, Captain Roche immediately returned. The family after which he had gone lived a mile beyond this creek and a mile from the rebel camp previously referred to.
On the main road, 10 miles above where Captain Roche turned to his left, there is a camp of four companies of the Sixty-second Georgia Cavalry, under Lieutenant-Colonel Kennedy, and he was anxious lest they might have gone down and endeavored to intercept his return. But seeing no one, he quietly retraced his steps to Nethercutt’s Fork, whither Acting Lieutenant Turner had returned ten minutes before.
This skirmish lasted thirty minutes, eighteen rounds of canister being used.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: 18 X 75 Canister iron balls per each can-shaped cannon shell = 1,350 CW artifacts waiting to be detected… plus all the other bullets and dropped items like gun tools, lost uniform buttons, canteens, etc. abandoned when the Rebs retreated in a hurry from this skirmish site. As you can see…even small skirmish sites lasting only 30 minutes could create THOUSANDS of CW artifacts waiting to be recovered. Keep in mind that THOUSANDS of skirmishes were not even reported and so there are NO written records of them unless they were mentioned in a letter some soldier wrote home about the skirmish or recorded in his journal or diary.
Once again I remind the reader… there is no shortage of CW sites to hunt that have never been detected… the shortage is in references to their exact locations but… if that were not the case, they would have been found and hunted out long ago. Civil War RELIC HUNTING is turning into TREASURE HUNTING because just like with buried caches of silver and gold, you FIRST have to find the location where the artifacts were lost before you can find and recover them.
2 — Enemy’s cavalry with two pieces of artillery attacked my pickets near Free Bridge, VA and were repulsed, losing 5 killed and 2 horses. We had 3 wounded. Am in pursuit.
3 — SKIRMISH AT SOUTH BRIDGE, WV. GENERAL: In compliance with verbal orders, received after consultation between General Kelley and yourself, on the night of the 25th instant I concentrated 700 of my regiment at the North Branch Bridge, and on the following morning at 5 o’clock marched in the direction of Romney, passing through Frankfort. Upon arriving at a point one and a half miles from Springfield, the rear of my column was fired into by the enemy from the heights of the road, severely wounding 2 men, detaining the column about one hour, which was occupied in clearing the woods of the enemy and dressing the wounded. We marched thence through Springfield, seeing frequent signs of the enemy’s horsemen in retreat towards the bridge over the South Branch of the Potomac. Upon arriving within a half a mile of the bridge my flankers and skirmishers on the left and front discovered the enemy on the opposite side of the river, when a brisk fire at once commenced. About this time the guns of General Kelley’s column in the vicinity of Romney were heard. After skirmishing with the enemy across the river about half an hour I determined to force a way over the bridge. The enemy, numbering, by the best information we could get, from 400 to 600, including cavalry, having beforehand prepared to defend its passage, had arranged covers for his riflemen on an eminence immediately fronting the bridge. Captain Alexander Shaw, of Company A, who led the advance of the column to this point, was with his company directed to lead the way across the bridge at a double-quick step, supported by the remainder of the regiment. Captain Shaw promptly moved his company as directed and when about halfway across the bridge discovered that a portion of the plank flooring on the farther side had been removed. The enemy, on discovering the movement, opened fire by volley, killing 1 and wounding 6 of my men, causing the company to seek shelter behind the parapets of the bridge. After skirmishing some time from the parapets of the bridge, and an eminence on our left, and not hearing the firing of General Kelley’s column for the previous hour, I concluded he had carried Romney, and the object of my march -to create a diversion in his favor-being accomplished, I determined to retire, which we did in good order, to Old Town, in Maryland, arriving there about 9 o’clock p.m., after a march of 25 miles.
Now let’s do an O.R.’s search on the word “railroad” and look at a couple of leads:
4 — FROM UNION RAID ON THE FLORIDA RAILROAD: I found Gainesville occupied by one company of the enemy, numbering about 70 men, who were dislodged by Company B, of the Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry. As my horses were very much in need of rest and forage, I assigned the different parts of the command to their places, with orders for the men to keep on their own accouterments, slip the bridles from the horses and feed them. At the same time had the cooks to make coffee, all remaining close to their places.
My position was as follows: Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry near the center of the town, my piece of artillery in their rear, and the Seventy-fifth Ohio Volunteer Mounted Infantry in the rear of the artillery near the Florida Railroad, all in open lots, while I threw out pickets on all sides, both mounted and dismounted.
At about 7a. m., having been in the town about half an hour, the officer of the rear guard now on picket south of the town informed me that the enemy were rapidly approaching from that direction in heavy force. I made immediately preparations for defense, facing my command to the rear, throwing the right flank of the Seventy-fifth Ohio Volunteer Mounted Infantry to the left, resting on a swamp and thicket, and the left flank to the right, also resting on a swamp and thicket, while the howitzer was placed near the road, close to the center of the line. The Seventy-fifth Ohio Volunteer Mounted Infantry being dismounted, except Company I, which was sent to the north of town, took the fill of the Florida Railroad and the neighboring fences for protection, while the Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry was held in reserve. This disposition was not complete when the enemy made a furious attack, which I repulsed as soon as possible. The enemy was checked in front, but he immediately surrounded me with his whole force, thus compelling me to send Company B, Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry, to the rear of the town, and throw portions of the Seventy-fifth Ohio Volunteer Mounted Infantry on both the right and left flank, thus weakening my first line. By this disposition the enemy were held in check until 9 a. m., when the chief of my field piece reported that he was nearly out of ammunition, and would be able to hold his position only a few minutes longer. During this time Company B, Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry, had charged the enemy several times in rear of the town, thus keeping him in check in that quarter; but nearly half my horses having been disabled by the enemy’s fire, both infantry and artillery, and my men being pushed from their cover, I concluded that my only safety was in retreat, cutting my way out the Waldo road, and if possible join Colonel Noble’s command, which I supposed to be between Starke and Magnolia.
5 — FROM WHEELER’S RAILROAD RAID: COLONEL: On the 10th instant, 40 privates and 4 non-commissioned and 2 commissioned officers were detailed from this regiment to guard a train on the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad, from this city to Murfreesborough and return. About 4 o’clock in the afternoon, the train, while on its return trip, 4 miles this side of La Vergne, was suddenly attacked by guerrillas, numbering from 200 to 300, who were secreted in a dense grove of cedars, completely covering them from view. Simultaneously with the attack the train was thrown from the track, in consequence of two of the rails being slightly displaced. The guards were stationed upon the top of some passenger cars and upon one platform car, and were under the command of Lieutenant Frank M. Vanderburgh. The suffered severely from the first volley fired by the rebels, a number being killed and wounded. After having discharged their pieces at the guerrillas, they jumped, as quickly as possible, from the cars upon the ground, on the opposite side from the point of attack. Protecting themselves as well as possible by the cars, they held the train for some minutes, continually firing at the enemy. Being overpowered by greatly superior numbers, they were compelled to give up the train, and, falling back a short distance, made a stand behind a fence, where they repulsed a party of rebels who were pursuing them.
Now let’s find a couple of leads by searching for “ARTILLERY DUEL.”
6 — Camp near Chantilly, October 31, 1862 – 12 p. m.
The enemy drove in General Stoneman’s pickets, and followed those that escaped into Aldie, near which I was encamped. My men were quickly in the saddle, and, led by Major Falls and Captain Sawyer, drove them from the town and pursued them for 2 miles, when, reaching their reserves, our troops were forced back. Colonel Karge, however, held the hill beyond the town with the cavalry of his brigade and two pieces of artillery. The enemy opened also with two pieces of artillery, and an artillery duel ensued for a short time, when I withdrew 2 miles from the town, to a commanding hill.
7 — FROM OPERATIONS ON CHICKASAW BAYOU NEAR VICKSBURG, MS: On the morning of the 27th a section of Captain Wofford’s battery was advanced from our lines and one gun posted so as to command the road leading from Mrs. Lake’s residence back to the swamp and the other at the gin-house. About 10 a. m. the enemy advanced on our position in two directions. Discovering that the force advancing along the road in rear of Mrs. Lake’s residence consisted of infantry, artillery and cavalry and largely outnumbered ours, and learning from a reliable source that a considerable force was advancing on our right flank, the howitzer posted at Mrs. Lake’s residence was ordered to open on the enemy, which it did with effect, checking their advance. The enemy soon placed a section of guns in battery and a brisk artillery duel took place, under cover of which our infantry and howitzer at the gin were withdrawn and our force concentrated near Mrs. Lake’s residence. As soon as this object was accomplished the howitzer under Lieutenant [W. A.] Lockhart was withdrawn, as we had no ammunition to expend in artillery duels. As the ground was difficult to retire over with artillery under fire Captain Wofford was ordered with his howitzer across the lake to our regular line of defense and the infantry posted to hold the enemy in check, which was successfully done, though the enemy made several attempts in strong force to drive us from our position. Night found us masters of the ground and the enemy severely punished. The Abolition general (Smith) was wounded during the evening’s skirmish.
So… are you starting to get the idea of the kind of leads you can find in the O.R.’s? Remember to focus your searches on the more obscure and smaller battles and be alert for clues to camp locations as you read the reports brought up by your searches Everybody researches the BIG battles and events and the odds are against you finding any that have not been already worked if they can be. Skirmishes that happened on roads between towns and at places that have drawn no great interest from Civil War historians and relic hunters offer the best chances of you finding your very own previously un-detected Civil War site still loaded with relics to be found and recovered.
It is NOT going to be easy… but… if you stick with it… and persevere in your research and searches, the odds of success get better and better because you will become better and better as time passes at both using your metal detector… and… becoming a “history detective” that can quickly spot clues to great sites and then follow up on them in a competent manner. Sometimes, you will find that even though a site is little known or mentioned in the records, when you find it, you will discover that someone has beaten you to it. That is just part of what you have to put up with in order to become a great relic hunter. Just recently I found an unmentioned Confederate camp in the woods in Arkansas but only found a few artifacts because some other detectorist had found it first. On the other hand, I was the first relic hunter to find the fairly large battlefield at Big Hill, Ky. The relics were thick and had a personal tragedy not kept me from returning after the first day’s hunt, I would have found hundreds more, if not thousands. Sadly, by the time I was able to return to that site, many years had gone by and others and found it after me and recovered most of the artifacts that were there.
At the present time, I am on the trail of a Yankee Winter Camp that was located in a huge valley about 30 miles from my house. 10,000 soldiers camped there for one winter during the Civil War and it has not yet been found by anyone. Details on WHERE in that valley these soldiers camped are lacking… only that their camp was somewhere in that many thousands of acres that are now soybean and corn fields. I have followed clues provided by local people but none have panned out so far. I was able to confirm that the camp is mentioned… just once… in the O.R.’s… with no details given as to where in that valley. There is a big creek that runs through the valley and I know that they had to camp near it to get water for themselves and all their mules and horses but far enough from the banks that they would not get flooded out if the creek rose above its banks during heavy rains. If I end up being the first to find it, it should provide good relic hunting for the rest of my life. A most worthy goal to pursue!
Civil War Diaries and Journals
Now… the O.R.’s, while a fantastic source for hundreds of thousands of site leads, are NOT the “end-all, be-all of resources for leads on where to relic hunt. Many soldiers on both sides kept diaries and daily journals throughout the war and these can provide great details on where the soldiers that kept them camped and fought. One diary might say something like… “We camped near the mouth of Hoot-Owl Creek about a mile from the railroad trestle for the entire month of June. Two days after arriving here, we had a hot skirmish with Reb Cavalry that tried to raid the camp. Our pickets alerted us to their presence with gunfire and we forded the creek and set up a defense line in the rocks on the other side. They tried to break our line several times but were repulsed by the boys in fine fashion!” The downside to these diaries is that they are all handwritten and many are very hard to read as each writer’s writing style was different. These diaries and journals are often found in University library collections that have been donated to the library by descendants of the original writers. You cannot check them out like regular books but often they will let you research in them right there in the library and use their copy machine to make copies of pages you find with good leads.
Overlaying Old Maps on New Maps
I mentioned this lead resource in Part 1 of this article, but I want to do it again here. “Map work” is an excellent way to develop good leads on potential relic sites and the best way is to overlay copies of the oldest maps you can find… no later than the 1870’s… over top of modern maps. Also, find the old maps of the areas you have an interest in that show property owners and features like schools, churches, mills and river fords and run the names of those features in the search window of the OSU O.R.’s website to generate leads in areas that are accessible to you. Nowadays, there are quite a few good apps for those of you with Smart Phones that can do the overlaying of old with new to help you in your research.
Lastly… Old Civil War Photos Can Give Great Leads to Camp Sites
There were over a million photographs made of the Civil War during the four years it lasted. Many thousands of these are available online and many can provide clues to camp locations… a number of which will not yet have been located in modern times. Try this… google “Civil War Camps images” and it will bring up hundreds for you to examine. Some will show a town in the background near the tents of the camp with the spires of prominent landmarks like churches or other unusually tall buildings like banks or city halls. If the town location is not given on such photos in the link you can access for info by clicking on the photo, those landmarks may enable you to pin down the site of the camp anyway by further online research. Dozens of BIG Civil War camps where 10,000 or more soldiers camped for a whole winter have still not yet been found. Those are the choice sites to find, of course, but there are THOUSANDS of smaller unit camps that may have only contained a hundred soldiers or at most a few hundred that have never been located yet. These also will be rich in artifacts waiting to be found and the odds are much better that you can find one… and MORE… of these over the course of time than finding one of the big ones. In addition, there are photos showing soldiers tents near railroad bridges and fords and river crossings that offer good leads as to locations for relic hunting. Frankly, I could find enough good leads in these photos alone to keep me busy hunting and FINDING Civil War artifacts for decades… even if I never looked at the O.R.’s!
To sum it all up… the FUTURE of successful Civil War Relic hunting will belong to those who learn to spend all the hours necessary sorting through Civil War related information in all its forms to find leads and become very good researchers and history detectives in the process. And… who walk the miles necessary and endure the times they come back empty-handed until they find what they are looking for.
Keep in mind that when you look and fail to find a Civil War site where you think it is, that is valuable information also… every possibility eliminated by searching it, brings you one step closer to finding what you are looking for. So… the dry runs are NOT really failures because they tell you where NOT to look in the future and… THAT… does beyond any doubt, bring you a step closer to success! KEY: THE MORE YOU DO OF THE THINGS I SUGGEST IN THIS ARTICLE, THE BETTER YOU WILL BECOME AT IT… the better you become at it, the more success you will have!
A Last Thought on This Article and Civil War Relic Hunting
When I worked at Garrett Metal Detectors back in the late 70’s as their Marketing and Advertising Manager, I got to meet many of the top PROFESSIONAL treasure hunters in the U.S. at that time. Some of them took me “under their wing” and taught me how to successfully hunt for any kind of treasure… be it stolen strongboxes full of gold coins or… Civil War relics. They told me that, on the average, they only made a big find about once every year and one half… everything else being empty holes, so to speak. But… and this is a BIG “But”… when they did hit one, it MORE than made up for all the empty holes. I saw the fabulous wealth they found in gold and silver bars and coins with my own eyes, so I KNOW they told the truth. And… by copying their approach to treasure hunting, it ultimately resulted in me finding some valuable caches and THOUSANDS of great Civil War relics. I have now attempted to pass that on to you. A few of you who read this article will “see the light” and follow in my footsteps as I followed in theirs. To those who do, I ask of you one favor. If I am still among the living when you hit your first big relic find, let me know, and I will be able to share in the thrill of your discovery. If I have gone the way of all flesh by that time, then pass on these tips to the next generation of detectorists when old age brings you to the end of your detecting adventures.
Dorian Cook is a native of Huntington, West Virginia, and spent the greater part of his childhood growing up in the Appalachian Foothills near the small town of St. Albans. From age 10 to 17 much of his time was spent exploring those foothills and the old cabin ruins they contained, as well as fishing and trapping along the Coal River.
After graduation from St. Alban’s High School in 1965 he moved to Dallas, Texas, acquired landscape design and construction skills and started his own business which he maintained for 44 years. During the eighteen years spent in Texas he became involved in Civil War artifact rescue activities in which he discovered Civil War campsites and battlegrounds previously lost to history. To date, he has found and recovered over fourteen thousand Civil War artifacts from over 140 sites in 22 states… the majority of which now reside in museums from Texas to Cincinnati. He also spent nearly four years as the marketing and advertising manager for Garrett Metal Detectors. In addition, his responsibilities included field testing new metal detection equipment as it was developed by the company.
His travels in pursuit of nearly every aspect of treasure hunting, prospecting, and metal detecting have taken him to historical locations in 42 of the United States and six foreign countries, as well. He has participated in official archaeological excavations for the state of Texas Antiquities Commission and the nation of Israel’s Israeli Antiquities Authority. Recently, he located the actual battle site of the Kentucky Militia’s defeat at the famous Battle of Blue Licks (which the historians had marked in the wrong place in the Blue Licks State Park) in what is often called “The last battle of the Revolutionary War.”
He is the author of five books on Kentucky’s pioneer and Civil War history, as well as over 200 articles published in various metal detecting related magazines.
His love of discovering “the lost and the hidden” and his extensive field experience in searching for the same for the past forty-four years has led him into Bible-related archaeological explorations in Israel and Egypt and similar American history-related projects all across the United States, as well. These numerous experiences have helped hone his “History Detective” skills to a “sharp edge.” One of the main goals in all his journalistic efforts and public presentations is to pass on as many of those skills as possible to his readers.
He currently resides with his wife, on a small farm in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Northeastern Kentucky and remains active in metal detecting historical sites and sponsoring a Civil War history and relic hunting group on social media.