Sunday, August 25, 2019

'Find of a lifetime' at vanishing Stones River (Tenn.) battlefield

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.)

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Sweating profusely in the early evening heat, Stan Hutson swung his Fisher F75 metal detector back and forth across the barren landscape. He had arrived at the construction site in Murfreesboro, Tenn. --- scene of opening action of the 1862 Battle of Stones River -- at 5 p.m., but in 90 minutes' hunting his finds included just two round balls, a 58-caliber Minie and camp lead.

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)
Hutson reached into the red clay and topsoil mix and picked up a small, oval object with a green patina. He instantly knew it was special. The find was a Civil War-era ball button.

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.)
Hutson and I visited the site of his buttons find recently. I parked my car at a fast-food restaurant and then we walked about 50 yards or so to the construction site. Traffic hummed on nearby Interstate-24. Four Cat bulldozers and a dump truck, evil engines of destruction of hallowed ground, stood idle 20 yards away. This was an off day for the construction crew, which two days earlier had granted Hutson and his friend permission to hunt the ground.

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)
Only a small fraction of the vast Stones River Battlefield is National Park Service property. The rest is being carved up by pitiless developers. It breaks a history lover’s heart.

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?

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  1. Heartbreaking... For the sake of history and of wildlife, way more needs to be done to preserve and save.

  2. What a shame these areas are not being preserved. In the comments I have posted a photo of my great grandfather and his brothers, one of whom died from wounds received at Stone's River. They went through the war together. When Silas was ultimately fatally wounded the other two brothers stayed together until the war ended.

  3. I grew up and was born here in Murfreesboro Tn. It's sad to think this town was once a twin to Mayberry, and now is turning into a big town full of greed! There are some great people still around though. Yet. We are attracting some bad ones as well.

  4. Anonymous2:20 PM

    History means nothing to the greedy degenerates who deztroy places like this! Hope the developers get dug up some day to build a damn Wal-Mart!

  5. This is why anyone who cares should support the Civil War Trust.

  6. So sad. And the avenues has nothing named in remembrance of the fighting there. Its just a mall now.

  7. A great story, with a sad reality as well.

  8. Johnny Johnson2:59 AM

    wonderful find for you and others. Terrible disgrace what progress is doing to erase every last vestige of Civil War history