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Hunting at Castalian Springs

by: Donnie Vaughn

This month we are going up to Castalian Springs, Tennessee in Sumner County and I'm going to tell you how research, persistence, luck and a piece of glass lead us to Col. Harlan's elusive camp.

While doing some research and digging on the battlefield at Hartsville, I kept coming across several references to a Union camp down at Castalian Springs, 9 miles distant, and I set out to find this camp. I knew the area in and around Castalian Springs pretty good, having previously deer hunted for several years up there and I had also dug a few house sites around the area so I knew a lot of landowners. I thought finding a camp up there would be easy - boy was I wrong.

The camp was well documented but I could not find that one note or mention as to exactly where to start. The Castalian Springs area is quite large roughly running from Bledsoe Creek to Highway 231 east and west from the east fork of Bledsoe Creek all the way to the Cumberland River from north to south. So you can see that it is a vast area of several square miles. But I figured the camp was in close proximity to the Gallatin - Hartsville Pike, so I decided this would be my starting point-somewhere near the Pike. The first few trips up there produced nothing and I talked to several different landowners about the camp, but nobody had plowed up anything or knew of the camp's where about's. More research was needed. Finally, I came across a note where, after the Civil War, Mr. Alfred Wynne had filed a claim against the U.S. Government, because the Union soldiers had damaged hid farm (burned fence post, etc.) During their occupation. Now I had a starting point as the old Wynne farm was a well documented location, so I concluded that if the union soldiers camped on the old Wynne Farm, then they would be south of the Old Hartsville Pike, as most of his farm covered the south side of the pike during the Civil War. I then checked with some of the other diggers and they too had looked for this camp, but had not had any luck. I didn't want to spend a lot of time looking for a camp that had already been found. When I thought, I had the right area "zeroed" in, I ask Ernie Bateman, an old digging friend of mine, to help locate this elusive camp. So our adventure would begin.

On our first visit I talked to the landowner and found him to be one of the nicest men I ever met. Full permission was granted to search his farm anytime, about 400 hundred acres, and full of hills, woods, springs, ridges, open pastures, etc. The whole place looked good to me. Not only did we get permission, Mr. Smith (yea another one) told us that he knew where the camp was and if we would load up in his old farm truck, he would take us back there and show us where the army camped. After riding a good half a mile or more through light woods, open pastures, through a wide creek, and up the side of a long ridge, Mr. Smith finally came to a stop and said, "Them soldiers camped right here!" "Are you sure?" I ask. "Yea, I remember them being here." he said, "course I was younger then." Then he drove off leaving me and Ernie standing there with a blank look on our faces. Finally old Earn says, "He is either a hell of a lot older that he looks, or he's crazy." Well it was a nice looking ridge with water nearby and a few big oak trees scattered down its slopes and on top, so we decided to hunt it while we were here. Almost immediately we started digging cartridges, ration cans, buttons, coins, tent parts and even a dog tag-all from World War II. The farmer had put us in a World War II maneuver camp.

These camps are quite prevalent throughout Sumner and Wilson Counties and I've found several while looking for Civil War relics. After an hour or so digging WWII relics, I was ready to leave this end of the ridge and try another part of the farm. As I'm walking towards Ernie, he is digging a hole and yells over to me that he has a Yankee button - not a WWII button but a real, authentic, genuine Civil War Yankee button. You would have thought that we had dug a C.S.A. Plate the way we were jumping around. We now had tangible evidence that at least one soldier was on this ridge so hopefully the camp would be close by. Further searching produced another union button and two dropped .58's but nothing else. As far as Civil War relics, but we knew we were getting close. Before we could get back up there again, Ernie moved out of town so I kind a put Castalian Springs on the "back burner" for a while.

Enter Bob Fritts. Bob was a co-worker at Dupont and an old time relic hunter. So I hooked up with him and we started digging together. We dug many camps together over a period of time and one day while digging on Fort Mitchell at Buck Lodge, Tennessee, Bob ask if I had ever looked for the camps at Castalian Springs? I told him of Ernie and myself finding a few things over there, but didn't have enough research and no one who would sacrifice enough time to find the camp. Bob said he would help and that's all it took. On our first visit, I showed Bob the end of the ridge where two buttons and two bullets were found but Bob didn't like the "looks" of this ridge - said we ought to cross the creek because that hill with all them cedar trees looked a lot better. I still liked the looks of this ridge and Ernie and I had only checked one slope of it but how could I argue with Bob? After all, he had dug so many camps and I don't know how many plates . Before I knew it, Bob was across the creek and over in the cedar trees and limestone rocks and I hear him "hacking" away trying to dig targets around those tree roots. I stayed in the open area on the west side of the creek and skirted the base of the ridge and of course still digging WWII cartridges. After going just a little ways down the creek I dug a dropped 3-ringer, then another, then a couple of fired .58's, then another dropped bullet, so I decided to go up in the woods across the creek and get old Bob over here again to search. After climbing part way up the hill I saw Bob digging a hole, removing something, looked at it for a few seconds and put it in his pocket. "Well, Fritts, dug any bullets over here?" "Yea, a couple of .69's - found them right at the edge of the woods and I just dug a Yankee button right here." "Think its a camp?" "Naw, no nails but it's here somewhere." I told Bob I just dug five minnie balls over across the creek and I still wanted to check out that nice long ridge over there. Bob said that he still didn't like the looks of it and that we ought to go ahead and see what's on top of this hill. We spread out and started searching up through the woods stopping every few feet to dig a target. Shotgun shells and WWII relics littered the woods and we were digging stuff everywhere, when I finally reached the top of the hill. I had managed to dig four dropped On top of the hill was a fenced off open pasture and I stopped at an old wood cattle gate to wait on Fritts, thinking that he was still behind me down in the woods. While taking a break there, I was thinking that we ought to skirt this hill to the north and take a look at another hill still further northeast. That's when I noticed it. Looking down in the well worn cattle path, I noticed a large piece of black glass, you know the kind of glass that's Civil War era beers, whiskeys and ales came in. Thick black glass. Now how could a piece of broken Civil War glass end up on top of this hill, unless it had washed out of the field before me? Getting my bearings straight with my topo map, I noticed in the far distance the Old Hartsville Pike, quite visible from this elevation. Could this be the camp? All of a sudden, from across the fence, I saw old Fritts already out in the pasture about 100 yards away. He had came up to the top of the hill a different way and had crossed the fence at the far end of the pasture. As soon as I got over the gate I made about two steps and dug a dropped .58 about an inch deep. I hollered to Bob that I had found a minnie ball and he hollered back that he had just dug a .69 minnie. I believe we found the camp.

As Bob and I moved out into the large pasture, minnie balls seemed to be everywhere and they were mostly common .58's. We would dig a bullet take four or five steps and dig another I realized once again how much fun this hobby can be when you take time to research and find a place. As we made our first pass out through the pasture to try and get the perimeters of the camp I noticed a large depression at the southern end of the field. At the bottom of this depression there appeared to be an old dried up spring and all around this old spring we dug minnie balls, Yankee coat buttons, knap sack hooks, etc. and I dug an 1853 seated quarter. Just above the spring, upon the flat ground, we were to find our largest concentration of bullets and buttons. The ground was full of minnie balls and Bob and I were getting them as fast as we could go. Just at the height of the excitement I looked around and Bob was gone! Now why would anyone walk away form all these bullets? Well, that's just the way old Fritts was. You see, Bob hated to look in open fields and pastures even if he was finding stuff. He was a "woods hunter." You couldn't hardly keep him out of the woods. He would always say that everything in the fields had been hit by plows and disks and sure enough at the far end of the large pasture, I saw Fritts going through an open gate, heading for a tree covered bottom. Well, of course I stayed where I was just kept on digging. After two or three hours my digging pouch was full and I dumped all my finds in my back pack and started filling my pouch again. Suddenly, I looked up and there stands Bob. "Fritts, where in the hell did you go?" "I had to check those woods out." "Well, I've probably dug thirty or more bullets, seven or eight Union buttons and all kinds of odds and ends since you've been gone." "Well, I dug about ten .69's over near the far fence row and about three or four bullets in that little wood line." I got Bob to take me over where the .69 caliber bullets were dug and started finding some myself. Once again, Bob is gone. Says he is going to check another wooded hill in the far off distance. Once again, the old dirt digger stays right where he is and is still digging bullets, but no plates - yet. Late in the evening I see the "little round man" (Bob) making his way to where I'm digging. "Finding anything?" "Not much, but I did hit a picket post in an old corn field up on that far ridge." I looked to where Bob pointed and I saw the place where he was talking about, a good half mile away. Walking out that evening, I dug four or five minnie balls at the base of the long ridge back across the creek and once again told Fritts that we ought to check it next time. And of course, Bob still didn't like the "looks" of it. Too open, too much World War II stuff.

On our next trip we parked at a different place, over near the long ridge, and dug a few bullets on some flat ground at the ridge's base. We crossed the creek, dug a few more and went to the top of the hill and looked where we had dug before, but this time we didn't find too much. After an all day hunt - me hunting the open ground and Bob hunting mostly wooded areas; we only had forty or fifty bullets and five or six buttons and still no plates. After this hunt Bob wanted to start on some new places because of the lack of buckles, open pastures and the camp wasn't concentrated - too scattered. But I wanted to stay with it a while longer so I started hunting up there with a different partner or should I say partners. Roger Rochelle, David Curtis and my son Jon, who was getting big enough to start hunting on his own. This group made many trips together and we came out with some impressive finds. Our first trip up there, we hunted the long ridge that Bob didn't care about looking on, and found bullets scattered all around it's top and slopes, along with all kinds of W.W.II stuff. Over a period of time, we determined that the camps were truly scattered over a large area and in order to find anything we would have to hunt slow and dig a lot of World War II relics and shot gun shells. One day, while hunting on the long ridge, I got a small "blip" in my headphones that didn't sound all that good but I dug it anyway. At a depth of about two inches, I uncovered a little brass disc about the size of a dime, only paper thin. Carefully rubbing the dirt off it, I could make out a lot of words but could not read it because it was so small. David came up and ask me what I found so I handed him the small token and David reads it and hands it back. "What's it say?", I ask. "You lucky so in so.", declares David. "Well, what's it say?" "It's a sutler's token, dang it. It's good for five cents in goods at D.J. Churchs-sutler-105 reg. O.V.I." The 105th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry was one of the units that camped there and of course I was tickled to death to get a sutler's token from this regiment. The four of us concentrated on the area where the little token was dug and it wasn't long until David dug two more. On a later hunt, on the north end of the ridge, Roger was to dig a nice U.S. box plate and of course more bullets and buttons.

As time went on the Civil War relics were getting fewer and fewer but we would occasionally go back and still find a little bit. We all felt that there had to be at least one good buckle left in there. One good cool October morning I was the lucky one to find such a plate. David and I were hunting on the south end of the long ridge and Roger and Jon were hunting along the top and we had all found a few more bullets but nothing exciting. Working next to an old cedar tree, I got a good strong signal on my Garrett ADS-7 machine. Using "reverse discrimination" the signal was still good and I just knew that it was a plate. Carefully removing the dirt from the hole, at a depth of about four inches, I saw the lead back of what I thought was an eagle breast plate. I removed it from the hole and turned it over - and liked to have died! It wasn't an eagle on it's face but a rising sun and a boat. I knew what I had and could hardly contain my excitement. I thanked God, then went to find David as he was closest to me. "Well, Super Dave, I finally found a plate!" "What kind?" "A breast plate." I handed the plate to David face down and he turned it over. "That ain't no eagle plate", says David, It's an Ohio! I'll be danged, you lucky so and so." Soon Roger and Jon came down the ridge to see what all the excitement was about and I showed the plate around and they all shared the enjoyment as if each had found it himself, and that says a lot about these individuals. The fact that each would be just as happy when something good was found. It never mattered who found it, just that one of us found it. That's the kind of people you need to hunt with. The Ohio breast plate that was found is the rarest of all Union plates and it commands a hefty price on today's market. Of course we hunted hard over where it was found, but no more plates were to come out and I was so "shook" that I couldn't find anything else that day.

Over a period of time the finds were getting less and less so we just about quit hunting up there. Then came the phone call. Roger called one night and ask what I was doing the next day? I'm going hunting." "Where at?" "Well I've got some places in mind." "Let's go back up to Castalian Springs." "I don't know Roger, it's getting pretty thin up there." "Well I think I can find one of those tokens like you and David got." "Well I'll give it a try but we've covered every square inch of ground where the tokens came out, but if you want to we'll go." The following morning found Roger and I slowly working the west side of the ridge and still digging a few minnie balls. I felt that it was a waste of time however, because the little area produced the three tokens was void of any signals at all; at least I didn't hear any. Suddenly I saw Roger dig, pull something from the hole and examine it. "What have you got?" "One of them tokens!" Well I just couldn't believe it. How in the world did he find that? We had covered this ground a hundred times, but then I realized that this was Roger and if something was there, he will usually get it. As he stood up, he said he had better check his hole. Swinging his loop, he received another faint signal and ask me to check it. I could hear a little faint signal and told him that it sounded like trash. Guess what it was? Another Ohio token! Like I said, this was Roger.

One day, while hunting a cedared hillside, Roger and I found the remnants of some Union breastworks up in the woods, and dug a bunch of Union buttons all around and a few more minnie balls. I got lucky and dug an 1863 Indian head cent and an 1851 silver three cent piece in the same hole. About the same time, Roger yells down to me that he has dug an Illinois Veterans pin and some Union I buttons. This little area was real productive for us and we still go back up there every now and them. Years later, Julia and I started hunting together, I would take her up to Castalian Springs and she too found several minnie balls and buttons. The very first coin that she ever found came from there - an 1876 seated quarter, a pretty good start wouldn't you say?

All in all I would have to say that I truly love to hunt this area, still do. As far as the number of minnie balls, buttons, coins, etc., they were in the hundreds but only two plates came out so far. Who knows? There may be an O.V.M. buckle somewhere up there waiting to be dug. Until the next time this is the "Old Dirt Digger" telling you, good hunting and keep searching and researching. It's there somewhere.

John Hunt Morgan's Confederate Camp at
Hartsville, Tennessee

by: Donnie Vaughn

This month we are going up near Hartsville, Tennessee and hunt one of Morgan's camps but before we go, let me give you a little background on this site and how I came across it.

While doing some research at the State Archives building I happened to come across a map of Trousdale County that had a lot of the historical spots in the county marked. Most were "common knowledge" places, but one stood out like a sore thumb. There, on a distant hill, was a Confederate flag drawn on the map with the number "27". On the corresponding map guide I looked up number 27 and it read "Morgan's Troops stationed on Mill's Place during War between the States," could this be possible? A Confederate Camp? Probably been hunted was my first thought as there are some pretty good hunters up in that area but it was sure worth a try.

That following Saturday I found myself and fellow relic hunter, Mike McTaggart at the site trying to get permission, which turned out to be a long drawn out affair. After several trips, the landowner was finally obtained. On my initial hunt, I wandered around the huge farm rather aimlessly trying to find the camp and finally, upon a long ridge, in a little cedered woods I dug a dropped .58 minnie ball. Now I had proof positive that some Civil War activity had taken place on the farm. Expanding out from my first find, I dug a .69 round ball, then a fired .58, so I knew that I was on to something. Moving back to a small creek, I was able to dig a few more minnie balls but no real concentration of relics. It was much later before I realized that the camp was scattered throughout the farm and only on one little hill slope did the relics seem to be more concentrated. It took several trips before I could develop a pattern of the camp and I was able to pinpoint the location of the Mill's house site plus three more house sites of the farm.

One day, while hunting a long a ridge line, I dug a U.S. Box Plate and along this same ridge, at the base, Julia found the first marked button from the camp - a Union Coat Button. Almost everything that came out was Union marked, probably captured. On another occasion my son Jon and I were hunting in there together and he dug a few bullets on top of one of the numerous hills, but his detector was acting up, so I told him to use mine and I went down to the car and got my old Fisher 442 and used it. Where we had dug a few minnie balls, I was able to hear some real deep bullets with the old Fisher and they turned out to be .71 caliber Austrians and Confederate Gardner bullets. One signal that sounded like a deep bullet turned out to be more than that. After I had dug about 8 inches, the target sounded bigger than a minnie ball, so I yelled down to Jon that this might be a buckle. At the depth of about 12 inches I saw the unmistakable rim of either a box plate or a buckle. Of course, I was hoping for a C.S., but it turned out to be a U.S. instead. A U.S. buckle that is, with all the hooks.

At the back of the farm we located a large spring, just over the property line, and it was near this old spring that the relics seemed to be concentrated. We dug several bullets on the sloping hill side leading down to the spring along with various odds and ends. I dug a "skin" off of a U.S. buckle and also a matching pair of brass boot heel plates (clover design) and it was over in this area that Roger and I hit an old house site and dug a lot of "penny" buttons and a couple of Spanish Reals (1773 and 1763) We determined that part of the camp was probably over on the next farm where the big spring headed up and I received permission to search over there.

On our first trip over there the conditions were just ideal. Nice and cool with a good moist ground from some recent rains. The looks of the place had "camp" written all over it. With gentle rolling hills in a large open pasture and of course a good spring at the base of the hills and we just knew we would hit something in here as we had dug some minnie balls right up to the fence row. Now we had permission to get over and hunt. Starting out above the spring, it didn't take long before Roger dug a dropped enfield and I dug a .69 caliber round ball. Moving on out into the large pasture, we were able to dig several bullets along with some flat buttons, Union coat buttons, brass toe taps, tent eyelets, a spur, a sword hanger, etc. Upon a little flat we dug several picket bullets and a few scarce .74 caliber round balls (pumpkin balls).

One day while looking in a flat field on up behind the spring, I got a good signal, dug down, and pulled out a U.S. box plate. Later in the day I showed Roger the box plate and he said it looked like something was carved into the lead back. After cleaning it off that night I realized that there was something carved into the back. The old Confederate soldier had carved the Confederate Battle Flag on the back. Now that made the old dirt digger's day! Probably the best thing found there, so far, was by Mike Cox. One day Julia, Mike Rogers, Mike Cox and myself were in there hunting and Mike Cox got a little signal and dug down several inches and out came a button. Mike hands me the button to examine and there around its edge, as clear as a bell, were the letters T-E-X-A-S. Not too shabby. I haven't been up there in a long time, and several club members that we have taken will probably tell you that it's pretty well cleaned out now. It was good while it lasted, but I'll probably go back again sometime and hope to hit a little "hot spot".

Until next time this is the "old dirt digger" telling you to keep searching and researching, it's there somewhere.


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