Sunday, December 13, 2015

A visit with legendary Civil War relic hunter Richard Clem

Longtime relic hunter Richard Clem holds one of his prized finds: half of a Confederate "CS" buckle
that he dug in Berryville, Va. Below: A close-up of his find.
Richard Clem found this Confederate belt buckle in nearly pristine condition.
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During his Civil War relic hunting adventures the past 50-plus years, my friend Richard Clem has made some amazing finds. Union and Confederate belt buckles. An 1852 gold coin, Four soldier identification discs. Artillery shells. And, of course, bullets.

Richard, 76, once estimated that he and his brother Don have found 30,000 bullets near their homes in Washington County, Md., a few miles from the Antietam battlefield. (Years ago, they sold 15,000 of them to a New York man for a buck apiece.) Clem is most at peace, he told me last weekend during a visit to Sharpsburg, Md., when he's out in the field with a metal detector in hand and headphones on, searching for pieces of the past.

After my Civil War talk at the old German Reform Church in Sharpsburg last Saturday, my daughter and I took Richard for lunch at Captain Benders, a favorite stop of mine on Main Street. During our meal and small talk about his relic hunting finds, Richard reached into a large, yellow envelope and handed me a gift: four bullets and a Union button that he eye-balled in The Bloody Cornfield at Antietam in 1968 and 1970 when it was private property. The act of generosity is typical for Richard, who gave me an Union eagle breast plate, a 1994 find of his near his home, during our first visit more than three years ago. Of course, I couldn't thank him enough.

After we made it back home to Connecticut, Clem e-mailed me a short note, in all caps as usual. Our visit, he wrote, was "a time I'll long remember." That's typical of Richard, too.

Here's the story behind Clem's amazing discovery of a rare ID disc that belonged to a 49th New York corporal who was mortally wounded at Spotsylvania Courthouse. And here are other stories by Clem posted to my blog over the course of the past few years.

A gift from Richard Clem: Four bullets and a Union button that he eye-balled in
1968 and 1970 in Antietam's Bloody Cornfield.

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