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Civil War Metal Detecting

Civil War Metal Detecting

Nov 14, 2022

Todd Herbst

 

The Civil War was an important part of America’s history and is something that many metal detectorists love to hunt. Many battlefields have debris from the battle being left behind on or in the ground. Civil War relics are a growing trend among relic hunters and metal detectorists. Also, Civil War relics have risen in value over the past decade with more hobbyists looking to buy, sell, or discover these historical artifacts. As the price of these pieces continues to rise it’s worth your time to learn more about Civil War relics. Plus, it's exciting to hunt for coins, bullets, buttons, possibly a bayonet and more!

How to Find Civil War Relics

One of the best ways to locate Civil War sites and find relics is to do some research on the places where soldiers went. Civil War research sites and books are valuable sources of information, but local historians are also a good source for information.

Most of the famous battlefields are now Federal Property and no one is allowed to metal detect. Many of the smaller battlefields or campsites are now private property and thus you need permission from the owner to metal detect that site. When you ask to metal detect their property be sure to let them know you'll respectfully dig on their property.

As a metal detector owner you have a bit of an advantage over non-metal detectorists who find artifacts and relics at sites just by luck. You're going to want to be knowledgeable in the areas where the soldiers had smaller battles or camped along the routes they traveled. Of course that's not all that is out there to be found. There are historic homes, barns, churches and entire battlefields waiting for you if you know how to look for them. Civil War relics aren't the only things you can find though. There are many types of artifacts just waiting to be found. The word relic usually means an object more than a hundred years old. In the context of metal detecting, it varies and can refer to anything older than 50 years, including melted down coins or belt buckles dug up by farmers or uneducated metal detectorists.

 

Minelab Equinox 800 Metal Detector

MInelab Equinox 800


Using the Proper Search Coil to Find Civil War Relics

Older historical sites like Civil War battle sites will be the most lucrative when finding metals and relics. These areas are more likely to contain relics and other historical items but there may be a lot of  trash and “junk” that you have to sift through in order to find what you are searching for. Larger search coils make it possible to search much larger sections of land, which means you can cover more ground and potentially discover more valuable items. While smaller coils help you focus in on your target to better dig up what you find.

Let’s take a look at the different vendors and different search coil sizes:

  • Garrett Metal Detectors: The largest coil size from this producer is an 11” x 8.5” search coil on their AT Max model. There are also smaller coils if you need something smaller for your intended goal. 
  • Minelab Metal Detectors: The Equinox 800 and 600 offers an 11” Search Coil and is known as a leader in the business.
  • XP Deus II Metal Detectors: Offers 11’ and 9” Search Coils to give you amazing speed and accuracy as well as usefulness on all terrains and conditions.

 

You need shovels, diggers and a pinpointer

The Civil War was over 150 years ago. That means that almost all Civil War relics are buried in the soil. Some areas may be easy to dig but some may be much harder. It’s a good idea to have a shovel or trowel with a serrated edge. You’ll find that in many areas where Civil War battles took place the landscape has changed so much over time. There could be very mature trees where there were once open fields that held battles or campgrounds. The use of serrated-edged digging tools will help if you have to cut through trees and brush roots to find your targets.

Once your metal detector locates an item a good pinpointer is an indispensable tool for metal detecting. It narrows down the exact location of your targets, cuts down on your digging time, and leaves smaller holes to fill in after you dig out your find.

What Do I Do If I Find a Civil War Relic?

When you’re metal detecting on Civil War sites the most frequent finds are: bullets, small buttons from uniforms, and pieces of a soldier’s equipment. But if you do your research — and some luck — you can find major treasure like canteens, bayonets and rifles. So how do you authenticate what you’ve found? There are a few options available to you:

Research - You've found an old military button - now what? By using a little research, you may be able to identify the item you've found and learn something interesting about your discovery. 

Other metal detectorists - One of the most valuable sources that you have is other metal detectorists. Metal detecting clubs usually have at least one or more members who are authorities on Civil War relics. This method of authenticating an item is really useful because you can show the item in person or online.

Civil War Museums -  Civil War museums will definitely be able to assist you. A lot of them have historians on site as well as someone who can handle your item as far as identifying and authenticating it. This should also help you decide how you want to approach the market for your item.

The Civil War Antiques Preservation Society - has an online forum where folks can find information about items they’re trying to identify. But sometimes too many opinions aren’t a good thing. If you send your questions to the curators and authenticators who have access to all of the information in their database, they might be able to help, saving time and energy – and getting you the correct answer quicker than you would get with a forum post.

When you are relic hunting and lucky enough to find something truly valuable or historically important, it may be wise to have the item authenticated by an expert. This will help to give you confidence in what you have and also protect against someone later claiming your item as theirs. There are many instances of this happening and while it can be a headache, there are also instances where a treasure hunter has been able to sell their find at auction for far more than they would have otherwise gotten.

 

Civil War relics on white background   Civil War relics on red background     Civil War relics in a clear case


Final Words

There are many places to search for Civil War relics, but before you start hunting make sure you know about protecting your finds and federal regulations about metal detecting. The first thing to do is check out the Nation Park Service page on the Civil War. 

It’s important to note that there are many Federally protected sites like Gettysburg, PA. where the former battleground is not open to relic hunting. But there are still hundreds of smaller battle sites and thousands of acres from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to Texas in the South and present day Illinois in the North still to be searched.

Get yourself an amazing metal detector from Texhoma Metal Detectors and start your Civil War relic finding journey. Then join our Facebook Page and  let us know what you find!