|Stan Hutson holds a Riker case of Civil War buttons on the spot of his find at a construction site.|
BELOW: A panorama of the construction site. (CLICK AT UPPER RIGHT FOR FULL SCREEN.)
At about 6:30 p.m., Hutson heard a promising signal in his metal detector headphones. "I knew it was something good," he said. Hutson, a maintenance worker for the National Park Service at nearby Stones River (Tenn.) National Battlefield, dug a hole about six to eight inches deep. The ground was mostly stripped of topsoil by the construction crew in preparation for the building of apartments.
|A close-up of one of the three Confederate|
droop eagle buttons Stan Hutson found.
(Courtesy Stan Hutson)
But Hutson -- who does all his relic hunting on his personal time -- wasn’t finished.
In the same hole, he unearthed another button. Then another. And another. One of the buttons was a rare Confederate droop wing eagle button. The hair stood up on Hutson’s arm. The Rebel button was just like the one his relic hunting friend David had found roughly an hour earlier about 50 yards away. In all, the U.S. Army Afghanistan war veteran discovered three Confederate droop wing eagle buttons and seven ball buttons.
“It was,” he told me, “the find of a lifetime” and “like hitting the lottery.” Confederate buttons, commonly found by relic hunters decades ago, are rare finds nowadays, Hutson said.
What makes the find even more astounding is eight of the 10 the buttons still have a little bit of cloth attached. Although the buttons were buried for nearly 157 years, you can even see the weave.
Hutson, a relic hunter for about a year, speculates the buttons all came from the same great coat, more than likely one that belonged to a Confederate officer from Texas or Tennessee. Troops from those states swept over the ground early on the frosty morning of Dec. 31, 1862, to fight Yankees nearby. The officer, tired, hot and focused on directing soldiers, simply may have tossed away the coat in the heat of battle.
|Stan Hutson's finds: 10 buttons, including three Confederate droop wing eagle buttons, and pieces of cloth|
that were attached to some of them. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
At the spot of his find, Hutson posed for photos with a Riker case containing the 10 buttons. We surveyed the scene with a mixture of sadness and wonder. Bulldozers had removed hundreds of yards of topsoil, giving the area a surface-of-the-moon-like appearance. Like many other areas where fighting occurred during the Battle of Stones River, this immediate area was overtaken by urban schlock: fast-food restaurants, service stations and who-knows-what else.
|Eight of the 10 buttons Hutson found still|
had cloth attached. (Courtesy Stan Hutson)
Why couldn’t the site of Hutson's find be saved? Who will ever know what happened there at the Battle of Stones River, a Western Theater engagement that resulted in nearly 24,000 casualties?
More importantly, where are the battlefield preservationist champions for Stones River? Rutherford County, Tenn., sorely could have used a man like this.
In the distance, a two-story mountain of dirt, topsoil removed for construction of the apartments, loomed. When we stood on the eyesore, I stared at it briefly, hoping to find evidence of civil war. “There’s no telling how many bullets we’re standing on now,” Hutson said.
As we walked back to my car, Hutson talked about the “mental escape” relic hunting provides him. It’s great exercise, too. He's thrilled to have saved little pieces of Stones River battlefield history. “If not for me,” he said without a hint of braggadocio, “these [buttons] would be gone forever.”
“Look,” he added, “what Mother Nature has perfectly preserved.”
Then he recounted one more story about the hallowed ground soon to be gone forever. While he and his friend hunted the site, a doe and two fawns danced across the field. “Every evening they were out here frolicking,” Hutson said. “Where are they going to go? Their habitat is being destroyed.”
But who cares. Who really cares?