More than ever people in the United States are interested in the Civil War. Thousands of American citizens in the North and South each year participate in Civil War reenactments, while books and movies on the Civil War period are as popular as ever.
The recent movie Gods and Generals, and the Ken Burns documentary series of a few years ago stirred the roots of many Americans and rekindled the fire for this dynamic period in American history. There is also increasing support for more preservation of Civil War areas across country. Memberships to groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans and metal detecting relic clubs are growing each year.
The number of individuals who use a metal detector to find Civil War relics and artifacts has exploded over the last couple of decades. In the 1950s, 60s, and even the 70s, a Civil War relic hunter was a rare and little understood bird. Today, Civil War hunts held in increasing numbers around the country have to turn away hundreds. Several of the big national Civil War relic hunts have sign-ups on the Internet and when they post these it only takes five minutes to fill hundreds of slots to participate.
I have been relic hunting since 1989, and even back in those days the experienced relic hunters at the Civil War shows were saying the relics had all been found and that I might as well quit and go fishing.
Today, I hear the same thing, 95 percent of the relic hunters I talk to complain that they cannot find anything. These comments did not deter me. I have found 85 belt plates, 6? bullets and over 500 buttons over the years. I have averaged 42 bullets a month since 1988. And there are still thousands of artifacts yet to be found in every part of the South.
I do 95 percent of my searching in the West Tennessee and North Mississippi area. Most of the relics I have found were close to the old Memphis & Charleston Railroad now known as the Norfolk Southern Railroad. At the time of the Civil War, the Memphis & Charleston was one of the first railroads in the South and was the only rail connection from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Coast at Charleston, South Carolina. This important rail route was used by both sides the entire war which make it fertile ground for relic hunting.
The Mid-South was a training area for Confederate forces in 1861 and 1862 served as the headquarters for the armies under Grant and Sherman in their conquest of Vicksburg, Miss. Several large battles were fought in this area such as the largest naval battle in the war at Memphis, the bloodiest battle in the first two years of the Civil War at Shiloh, and other engagements at Corinth, Iuka, and Davis Bridge. These campaigns and engagements make the Mid-South a top relic hunting priority. Although major battles were fought in the Mid-South most of the artifacts dug in this area are not from these engagements but from camps located at vital points in and around cities, rivers and rail lines.
While these campgrounds are harder to find and less documented, they can provide enormous rewards to the lucky relic hunter who finds the virgin camp.
I live outside of Memphis in Germantown, Tennessee, one of the towns along the Memphis & Charleston Railroad near Memphis. Germantown had a lot of Civil War activity from both sides as did every town along this rail route. The Mid-South is not unlike many areas in the South that had a lot of Civil War activity. There is a great opportunity for a relic hunter today to find his or her share of relics if you just know how.
The key to finding these relics in quantity is of course to have a metal detector and today they are much improved from the past. The next step is to find where the areas of Civil War activity are by studying the war records, reading diaries, letters, regimental histories and old maps.
Once these areas have been identified all you have to do is go there pick out a likely spot for relics and get on the property.
This last step is vital, because if you are not able to get on the property where the relics are, you might as well go fishing. A membership in a historical group or metal detecting club will help.
For example, I belong to the West Tennessee Historical Society and the Metal Detecting Club of Memphis. I also use my profession as a high school history teacher to get on property.
However, you do it this presentation to the landowner has to be practiced over and over until you feel comfortable asking on someones property. If a person is determined enough and will do the research, thousands of Civil War relics await you to be found in the thousands of campsites in hundreds of places all over the South.
In Germantown where I live and work, I have used these methods and found dozens of untouched camps in and around town. Just three of these camps produced 38 belt plates and thousands of bullets and buttons. These camps were located just two miles from my house and one mile from Germantown High School where I teach.
Relic hunters new to the hobby need to remember that when a relic goes in the ground it is there no matter what type or age structure is there. Most of my relics came from the well-manicured lawns of modern residential homes.
The bottom line is do not listen to all the relic hunters who are pessimistic and negative about relic hunting today and you must appreciate the stories of the golden years of relic hunting but do not let them discourage you from your quest.
A relic hunter today who is determined, informed, and refined can make these days the good old days.
The rarest Northern Ohio State belt plate in existence.