Saturday, May 07, 2016

Oh, brother! How relic hunter uncovered rare Rebel buckle

In 2003 in Berryville, Va.,  Richard Clem holds his rare relic-hunting find: half of a Virginia -style
 CS tongue belt buckle. (Photo of Clem, buttons and belt plate below courtesy of  Richard and Don Clem)
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 love great Civil War relic-hunting stories, and my friend Richard Clem has a ton of them. His stories have appeared on my blog here, here, here and here. Clem is most at peace, he once told me, when he's out in a field with a metal detector in hand and headphones on, searching for pieces of the past. Here's another story from the Hagerstown, Md., man who, along with his brother, has relic-hunted western Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia  for decades: 

By Richard Clem

In the early morning hours of Aug. 13, 1864, Colonel John Singleton Mosby’s Partisan Rangers (43rd Virginia Cavalry Battalion) struck the rear of Major General Phillip H. Sheridan’s 600-wagon supply train heading for Winchester, Va. Mosby’s 300 horsemen surprised and routed the Federals near Buck Marsh, along the Berryville Pike. The raid, which ended by 6:30 a.m,, resulted in the Rebels capturing 200 beef cattle, 600 horses, 100 wagons and taking 200 prisoners.

John Singleton Mosby
After reading and studying the “Gray Ghost’s” Berryville Wagon Raid, the author and his brother, Don, decided to use metal detectors and maybe uncover some Civil War relics from the little-known battle. Our search started in early summer of 2003 along the Berryville Pike, just north of Buck Marsh.

The first area we went over was covered with thick, low-cut briars in an apple orchard. After fighting the rough terrain and coming up empty-handed, I climbed over a wire fence to try my luck in a more level pasture. Don kept the course. After an hour passed and still finding nothing of value, I met Don at a fence. With the words “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence,” brother handed me a beautiful, solid-cast Block “I” Infantry button. At that moment, I turned greener than the rich patina on the freshly-dug Confederate button.

Our next outing was on a section of rocky ground scattered with shade trees overlooking Buck Marsh. Digging English copper coins, broken dishes bearing a “London” trademark, brass shoe buckles and rusted knives and forks indicated this high ground was once an old Virginia homestead dating to the 18th century.

Through summer months, we continued combing the same area and collecting Civil War relics --including a sword handle, two U.S.belt buckles, two U.S. cartridge box plates, various Union and Confederate buttons and bullets as well as artifacts of the Colonial period. We never knew what century we were digging in until the buried object was removed from the Old Dominion soil.

With “positive targets” getting less and less and knowing “all good things must come to an end,” we started branching out from the once-productive area. After an hour or so hunting in the surrounding orchard, my bullet pouch remained empty. Then words of wisdom from a veteran relic hunter I met years ago on the battlefield of Antietam came to mind: “Boy, you’ll never get’em all." With this statement still fresh, I mentioned to Don, “Let’s go back over to the old spot -- the best might still be there.” It was!

In the same general area Richard Clem
 found the half of a CS belt buckle, 
his brother found this Confederate
 solid-cast  block "I" button and a rare 
Episcopal  High School button. Could the 
finds be connected to the same Rebel soldier?

Swinging close to an hour over the so-called hunted-out land, all I could show for my efforts was a few worthless brass ends of previously missed shotgun shells. Crossing over the ridge to call it a day, brother was spotted searching in the shade of some hardwood trees. Heading in his direction, I started searching in some knee-high grass when the detector meter indicated large brass. Starting to dig, I noticed the signal was centered in a narrow dirt path horses had made in the thick grass.

Several inches of hard-packed dirt was removed when dark green letters appeared in the bottom of the hole: “CS.”  The Virginia-style CS tongue (half of a tongue & wreath interlocking Confederate belt buckle) lay face up in almost-pristine condition. The CS, of course, stands for “Confederate States” of America. I knew immediately I had uncovered a valuable piece of Southern history -- odds of digging this relic seem like a million-to-one. I wasn’t swinging in or parallel with the horse trail, but rather cutting across it when the detector sounded off.  (More on this rare find can be found in Mullinax’s Confederate Belt Buckles & Plates, Plate 006 on Page 10.)

Trying to overcome my excitement, I turned off the detector and rushed over to my hunting partner. With encrusted dirt still clinging to the cast-brass treasure, it was proudly placed in his hand. “Where did you find this?” came the excited question. While pointing to the detector and headphones only yards away, Don remarked, “Unless I miss, my guess that wreath half has to be still laying around there somewhere!” You can bet we beat the “you know what” out of that tall grass, but no wreath. It could have been missed by only inches or it could be, as Don suggested, “in Tennessee.” Only the Ruler of All Knowledge knows exactly where it’s located.

On another typical, humid July afternoon on the edge of the old homestead, Don dug a nice two-piece button displaying a Maltese cross surrounded with letters “EHS / Va.” These letters stood for “Episcopal High School / Virginia.” Founded in 1839, this school of higher education is still in operation today in Alexandria, Va. The students all wore the same style uniforms, with a row of silver-washed buttons down the front. Early in the War Between the States, students wanting to fight for the Southern cause sometimes went to war wearing their school uniforms because Confederate equipment was in short supply. The school closed during the Civil War, but reopened in the post-war period.

One of four Federal belt plates Richard Clem found
 at the site in Berryville, Va.
Because of their brass construction that resists the elements of nature, the CS tongue and Episcopal button were in excellent condition after being underground close to 140 years. That they were located in a rocky area that was never touched by farmer’s plow or strong corrosive fertilizer also was a contributing factor to the good state of preservation,  (More on this type of rare button can be found in Crouch’s Virginia Militaria of the Civil War, Page 72.)

Now, for some food for thought, let’s travel back in time to 1864. During research on Mosby’s Berryville wagon raid, the name “Lewis B. Adie” surfaced as being one of only two Rebel Rangers killed in action on that early August morning. Lewis Benjamin Adie was born July 21, 1844, in Leesburg, Loudoun County, Va. His father, the Reverend George Adie, was rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Leesburg.

A member of 149th Ohio Infantry wrote, “I saw him (Adie) lying on his face the body of a handsome man, who was shot by our company.” Another witness stated, “Before receiving the fatal shot, Adie killed two of the enemy with his revolver and pressing the third hard, he fell under the fire of an infantry company which arose from behind a stone wall.” The final resting place of the young trooper remains unknown, although one source lists him as being “buried on the field.”

A close-up of Richard Clem's rare find.
As a member of Mosby’s cavalry, Private Adie should have been carrying a sword. Don dug the handle of a Confederate sword at the homestead site. The belt that the sword scabbard or revolver holster in all probability would have had a tongue & wreath buckle as the CS tongue I dug. True, it can’t be proven Adie was even carrying a sword. But we know he “killed two of the enemy with his revolver” that would have had a holster and perhaps a tongue & wreath buckle. It would be hard to lose either half of one of these “interlocking” buckles unless it was taken from a person who was killed or dying.

What is even a stranger coincidence, at the beginning of the war, Lewis Adie was attending the Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va. The Episcopal button my brother dug came from that very school. All three of these artifacts were discovered close together on ground overlooking Buck Marsh, in the general vicinity where Adie was killed. The author realizes to connect these relics to anyone is next to impossible. Yet the question must still be asked: “Could the sword handle, CS tongue and the Episcopal button all have been the personal effects of one Lewis Benjamin Adie?” Any attempt to answer this question would be mere speculation, but it provides some good “food for thought.”

I’ll always remember one summer evening leaving the old homestead under a breathtaking Virginia sunset. Walking along a dusty lane while passing back and forth the just-dug CS tongue, Don offered to trade me his whole day’s find of two bullets and two plain brass buttons for the cherished relic. We never made a deal. As we drove out of the orchard in the pickup truck on our way home, words from the past echoed once again:

“Boy, you’ll never get’em all.”


--Episcopal High School, B3990
--Williamson, James J., Mosby’s Rangers, Ralph B. Kenyon Publisher, New York, 1896.
--Crouch, Howard R., Civil War Artifacts, SCS Publications, Fairfax, Va., 1995.
--Mullinax, Steve E., Confederate Belt Buckles & Plates, O’Donnell Publications, Alexandria, Va., 1991.

During our visit in Sharpsburg, Md., in December 2015, Clem showed me his fabulous discovery.

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

1 comment:

  1. Nice read. Interesting story. I was really hoping he found the other half of the buckle. Maybe he will some day.