Reclaimed Relics: Digging up the Past

by | May 2024

EXCEPT FOR four years spent at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT-K) and two and a half years living in Murfreesboro, veteran relic hunter Quindy Robertson has always lived in Trousdale County. Since Tennessee ranks second in the number of Civil War battles during the War Between the States, relics from this era are his favorite to recover. He also enjoys hunting for Native American artifacts, old home artifacts, old coins, and fossils. 

He met his wife, Kathy Parker, from Cannon County, at UT-K. She is also a Civil War buff with extensive knowledge of the subject. They were married in 1973, and in subsequent years, they visited many Civil War battle sites in Tennessee and across the Eastern United States. In 1976, they built a home on one of their family farms near Hartsville, and that’s when Quindy became interested in metal detecting.

In August 1995, he borrowed a metal detector from a friend and tried his luck on the privately owned Hartsville battlefield/Union camp with his son, Jared. Their first hunt only produced a few iron agricultural parts, but Quindy returned the next day and dug two Civil War period lead bullets. After that, he was hooked. 

The property owner told Quindy that the field where the Union camp was located was the site attacked by Col. John Hunt Morgan, and it had been searched for nearly 30 years. He told Quindy that one of his classmates, Jerry Watson, from the Trousdale County class of 1967, also hunted there. Quindy bought a detector, and Jerry showed him a lot about how to use the machine effectively. The two still hunt together today. 

In the late 1960s, metal detectors were like minesweepers from World War II (WWII) and very heavy, but detectors today are lightweight and relatively affordable at a cost of less than $500.

“My machine weighs just over 3 pounds,” said Quindy. “Also, the electronic machines of today have digital displays that can discriminate better between good signals and trash targets like fence wire, nails, and aluminum.” 

Relic dealers and other veteran hunters told Quindy that he had waited 20 years too late to start detecting since the battle areas are now protected by law and any large camps on private land have been hunted extensively. But he has been fortunate to find five Civil War sites that were not previously hunted.

“Civil War, WWII maneuvers, soldier, and Native American camps will have two things in common. They will be on a high, well-drained site with a good source of fresh water.”

Veteran hunter Donnie Vaughn, also from Tennessee, has over 40 years of hunting experience and hunts alongside Jerry and Quindy. Donnie says that family cemeteries will often be near an old Colonial homesite — he’s proven this theory hundreds of times. 

When asked what he was most likely to dig up in Civil War camps, Quindy said, “Lead bullets and lead balls. I might also find a few brass buttons. U.S. buttons will have an eagle on the front. An enlisted soldier’s button will have a shield on the eagle’s breast. An eagle button with an A, I, D, C, or R would have been worn by an officer with a rank of second lieutenant or higher. The letters denote artillery, infantry, dragoon [prewar], cavalry, or rifleman. Eagle button sizes may be cuff, vest, or coat size. I was excited to dig my first eagle button. It had a sun above the eagle’s head. Unfortunately, it was a great seal button from WWII Army maneuvers and not Civil War period.” 

According to Quindy, personal items such as rings or identification tags are always significant finds. He said he’s found most of his reclaimed relics a mere 3-10 inches below the surface unless the soil has been disturbed previously.

“However, about three or four out of 100 bullets dug up will have been finely carved examples of soldiers’ art versus just whittled-on bullets. Chess pieces, some animal images, fishing sinkers, etc., will occasionally show up. Iron objects like eating utensils, broken knives, gun tools, etc., are more common finds.”

One last piece of advice that Quindy maintains is essential for newbies: “Go with people who can be trusted. There’s a lot of competition for sites out there. Make sure everybody in your hunt group knows not to divulge the location. Remember, it’s not just what you find but the fun and fellowship you enjoy while hunting for the relics. We should take every opportunity to educate our children and grandchildren about our American history.” GN

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