Civil War artifacts provide a connection to the past
For Diggin’ in Virginia’s owner John Kendrick, it is the connection of the past to the present that means the most to him. He recalls, “During one dig [Civil War relic hunt] I was driving around on my ATV when I saw a first-time hunter crying. I asked if she was ok and she told me she had just dug up her first Civil War relic. ‘A Civil War soldier was the last person to have touched this,’ she said to me. That made my dig.” Many other hunters feel the same way. Relic hunter Ed Korcel has relatives on his wife’s side of the family who fought in the Civil War. “There were three relatives that fought for the 58th Va. Two returned home after the war to Franklin County, Va, while one died in Highland County of camp fever.” His interest in the artifacts stems from the fact that “every time you find a Civil War relic, the last person who touched it was a soldier.”
Diggin’ in VA, LLC (DIV), owned by lifelong Fauquier County residents John and Rose Kendrick, is an organization that coordinates Civil War relic hunts in Fauquier and Culpeper counties. Their mission is to help relic hunters with the proper recovery and identification of historical artifacts. The first dig, DIV I, was in March of 2004 and included 60 hunters who dug side-by-side on a five-acre lot. When the business celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2014, 525 hunters came out and dug on 1,600 acres.
Now, twice a year, John and Rose Kendrick arrange a three-day dig for relic hunters on large, privately-owned farms mainly in Culpeper County. Due to relationships he has developed over the years, John is able to lease properties on which Civil War soldiers had camped from landowners for DIV’s digs. This makes land that had previously been off-limits available to his clients, who are able to keep their finds. “Living in this area, we appreciate our access to Civil War history; it has been a pleasure to invite people from out of state to experience it for themselves,” says Kendrick. “We return to the Brandy Station area because we know the soldiers camped here over the winter of 1863-4 and this is where the relics are,” says Kendrick. The three-day dig culminates with a large lunch gathering for the hunters who share their experiences and finds. Dean Arbogast, who has participated in 26 DIV hunts, contributes to the lunch by providing his smoker/cooker to help with cooking the pork and baked beans.
About the Kendricks
John Kendrick began his passion for relic hunting as a nine-year-old on the island of Saipan, where his father was stationed, finding remnants from World War II which had ended 15 years before. Years later, as a student at Fauquier High School, a friend showed him a belt buckle he found digging for Civil War artifacts, and Kendrick’s passion for relic hunting was reignited. “I went home that day and counted my savings from delivering papers and bought a used metal detector.” From that moment on, Kendrick became a Civil War relic hunter. Before he could drive, the self-described lone wolf would have his father drop him off at a nearby field and pick him, and his finds, up ten hours later.
Rose Kendrick uses her talent as a successful event planner to pull all the pieces together for the three-day event, from on-site coordination to helping guests with accommodations. “I used to coordinate large corporate events and this isn’t much different,” she says.
On April 4, 2008, a group of relic hunters gathered in a field on the Fauquier/Culpeper County line near the Rappahannock River and prepared to dig. One hunter, digging in a wooded area, uncovered an identification disc; a small round piece of metal, pewter in this case, with a soldier’s name inscribed on it. Upon returning home, he researched the soldier’s name. It was discovered that the soldier, Samuel Hoag, was part of the 43rd New York Infantry. He had been in the camp from November of 1863 to May of 1864. Further research uncovered a letter that he had written to his mother from the camp. The letter was dated April 4, 1864, the same date the soldier’s ID disc was discovered one hundred and forty-four years later.
Among Dean Arbogast’s most significant finds is a soldier’s handmade 6th corps badge made from a silver coin. The digs and the relics found remind Arbogast of “the way that people had to deal with the hardship [of war] and the way their life was turned upside down for four years.”
Warrenton Superintendent Richard Wines has participated in twenty-five DIV hunts. It is the lure of the past that brings Wines back for each dig. “I had ancestors who fought in the war. Everywhere one goes in Fauquier and surrounding counties has evidence of the War Between the States. Each artifact I uncovered had a story to tell.” Among his most significant finds is the tongue portion of a Confederate soldier’s belt buckle. Also, “On DIV XIV I found what is referred to as a camp trash pit. In this pit alone I recovered 19 bottles, a frying pan, the remnants of a shoe with a sock in it, many buttons, a breastplate, an inkwell, and various other artifacts.”
Baltimore resident Doug King participated in the first DIV hunt in 2004 and nearly every one since. One of his more significant finds was a Civil War bottle. “I dug it from a hut at DIV I, it was a cathedral pepper sauce bottle. I remember it as though it was yesterday! I was so very afraid that I would either break it or it would be excavated in pieces. It was thrilling to have my hands on this bottle which had last been touched by the soldier who had lived in that hut,” he says. With this find, King felt a personal connection with that soldier who fought for a cause 140 years earlier.
Over the past 12 years, many of the original DIV hunters have returned to reunite with their fellow hunters in the same places Civil War soldiers formed brotherhoods. King says, “Most folks would probably tell you that their most valuable or exciting find has been those friends found at a DIV event. DIV is more than a relic hunt, it is a reunion, a camaraderie, and a way of giving back to the community in so many charitable ways.”
DIV hunters are required to submit a record of relics uncovered during the dig. The Kendricks possess a comprehensive record of thousands of finds from nearby farms submitted by hunters over the years, which they intend to publish for public access. Because of their rarity, some relics can go for several thousand dollars. A collection of 905 Shaler three-piece bullets in one hole found by a DIV hunter is worth close to $100,000 because of the limited number of bullets issued and the fact that a full box would have contained 1,000 bullets. The Kendricks feel that the public would be interested in knowing about the items that were found in the soil in Fauquier and Culpeper Counties.
What began as a curiosity evolved into a ministry. Since formally retiring from their full-time jobs and focusing their energy on the DIV events, the Kendricks have had the opportunity to make charitable contributions to a number of Fauquier and Culpeper County nonprofits. “We have been very blessed,” says Rose, “and this is our way of giving back.” Over the years, the Kendricks have made donations to the Fauquier Shelter, Fauquier Food Bank, Hospice, Culpeper Food Closet, People Helping People, the Salvation Army, Pregnancy Center, and SAFE.
John and Rose look forward to arranging more digs for interested relic hunters. “As long as we are able to coordinate digs, we will continue to host them and help connect people with the past.”
WHO WAS Samuel Hoag?
18-year-old Samuel Hoag enlisted in the Civil War on August 11, 1862 in Bethlehem, NY as a private fighting for the Union cause. On September 14, 1862, he mustered into Company H, NY 43rd Infantry. Records indicate he was captured on May 4, 1863, in Marye’s Heights during the Battle of Chancellorsville, and paroled May 24, 1863. He was wounded May 10, 1864 during the Battle of Spotsylvania. Private Hoag received a promotion to corporal during his career and transferred from Company H to Company B on September 22, 1864. He was mustered out of the army on June 16, 1865, in Washington, DC.
Throughout the war, Private Hoag corresponded with his mother in New York. He recounted the battles and conditions of the camps, as well as his well-being. He also requested money, writing paper, and pens. In one letter dated, October 12, he requested a piece of wedding cake. In a letter dated one month later, he asked that newspapers be sent to him with any letters as the soldiers heard no news updates. On November 30, 1862, he wrote about washing day, boiling the clothes while in camp near Fredericksburg. One month later, he wrote about the Battle of Fredericksburg where 12,500 Union soldiers and 5,000 Confederate soldiers were killed. He described the rotation of soldiers during the five-day battle as they alternated fighting, sleeping, eating, and cooking while the battle raged nearby.
On April 4, the same day the ID disk was found by the DIV hunter in 2008, Private Hoag penned a letter to his mother near Brandy Station 144 years earlier. Samuel wrote asking if his mother remembered telling him to “not turn his back on an enemy, or act cowardly.” He assured her that he would remember what she said and would “behave like a soldier.” He closed his letter commenting on the stormy weather and that it is “near time for to shoot at target so I must close. Keep up courage and write soon.”
CIVIL WAR Winters
From April 1861 until May 1865, Americans fought each other in the American Civil War. Men ranging in age from 18 to 39, some as young as 15 by war’s end, left their families, fields, and farms to join a group of strangers all fighting for a common cause. Each fall, soldiers built camps for winter shelter and remained there during the non-campaigning cold months. These small villages included soldier huts with chimneys for warmth, “company streets,” churches, and sutlers’ shops that sold soldiers’ provisions. However comfortable—or uncomfortable—the makeshift villages were, their lack of basic sanitation led to rampant disease.
Fatigued, dirty, and lice and flea infested, Civil War Soldiers trudged through the wilderness of 19th century Fauquier and Culpeper Counties. A winter warm spell would thaw the frozen roads, creating knee-deep mud which would mire the shoes off soldiers’ feet, to be left behind as the soldier marched onward. Wagons carrying supplies were abandoned since horses and mules were unable to pull the weight of the load through the mud. Many things were left behind.
During the winter of 1863-1864, upwards of 100,000 soldiers settled in a camp near Brandy Station in Culpeper County. Winter camps were hard on soldiers, physically as well as mentally, but it was also a time when the men bonded and brotherhoods formed. The 1863-64 winter encampment of the Federal Army of the Potomac at Brandy Station turned the wilderness into a city of huts for six straight months.
When spring arrived and it was time to pack up camp and continue war campaigns, soldiers would collect essentials and march on, casting off items that would weigh them down: bottles and jars sent from home, epaulettes used only in parades, ammunition and body armor deemed cumbersome. Other items were lost in the surroundings: wedding rings and lockets were buried, even coin purses stashed for safekeeping were lost as the wilderness regained control of the former camp site. Garbage holes filled in with dirt which buried the contents. For nearly two hundred years, Civil War artifacts have rested just beneath the surface. Some have decomposed and returned to the earth, others, such as metal, glass, and pottery, have been preserved by the soil, waiting for discovery.