By Albert Witherington
There are many different types of Civil War artifacts that a relic hunter can excavate: rifles, swords, belt plates, buttons, artillery shells, and spurs.
Most of these artifacts are similar because the Civil War was the first major war in which the mass production of the Industrial Revolution had its great effect.
Certain artifacts, however, have a mystique surrounding them that transcends the ordinary and elicits an aura of romance and gallantry the moment the dirt is removed enough to realize what is in the palm of your hand.
Of the thousands of Civil War artifacts I have found with my metal detector, I very rarely find such an artifact.
This article is about two similar artifacts I found at different locations and months apart, but which have this rare quality and hold a special place in my heart.
I have found two brass bugle mouthpieces, one in the downtown area of Germantown and one south of Collierville in North Mississippi.
There have been countless movies depicting various periods in which a bugler lifts to his lips a gleaming horn and blows a heroic charge with flags flying that spurs on the attack that sweeps the enemy from the battlefield.
Signal devices have been chronicled throughout history from ram horns, conch shells, to metal horns in Roman times.
The bugles used in recent times were developed in the eighteenth century with the advent of new manufacturing techniques.
Bugles were used in this country in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, verified through government contracts, witnesses, and personal written accounts.
The first reference from the United States War Department came in 1825 which authorized two buglers per company.
Drums, fifes, and bugles were all used for various activities at camp and in the field. During the Civil War, the use of the bugle was widespread.
The soldiers’ lives were ordered by the sound of the bugle particularly the call for lights out at the end of the day.
This call was altered in 1862 by one of George McClellan’s generals Daniel Butterfield when he had his bugler tinker with the tempo and rhythm.
The revised version known as “Taps” was quickly adopted by the whole army. This haunting and evocative melody has touched the heart of every American that has ever heard it.
Other generals did not respect the role of musicians as much as the regular soldier. General Sherman once refused a furlough for a musician stating, “shooters before tooters.” This lack of respect exhibited by Sherman would surface numerous times in the war in many areas.
When I dug my two brass bugle mouthpieces with my detector, I immediately wondered if these beautifully-crafted artifacts had blown a famous charge at Corinth, Moscow, or even Shiloh.
The first mouthpiece I found was in downtown Germantown in a small grassy area that produced over thirty bullets, mainly a rare type of sharpshooter’s bullet called a Cosmopolitan, probably used by the 8th Missouri, the infamous unit of Sherman’s army that burned Germantown.
Other artifacts from this small area were a brass artillery stirrup, a bit rosette with the letters “U.S.” on it, and a few eagle buttons.
The second mouthpiece I found several months later in a pre-Civil War ghost town along a sunken road that snakes through fields leading from Collierville into North Mississippi.
In these fields, along the old roadbed, my brother-in-law Bill Bugg and I have found eight Civil War belt plates and dozens of buttons from both sides.
Some of the better button finds were a Rhode Island, a South Carolina, a Confederate Mississippi, a block I (Confederate Infantry), and a Confederate officer’s button, but the best button I found on this site was a Republic of Texas Marine button.
There are only a few of these rare buttons known to exist since there were only 300 Marines in the Texas Navy in the 1830s.
This button won for me the honor of one of the top 10 finds for 2013 by the world’s leading treasure hunting magazine “Western & Eastern Treasures Magazine.”
We found over 30 bullets, mostly Sharps rifle, a .52 caliber cavalry weapon.
We found many coins around the old home sites that are long gone except for pottery and bricks littering the fields around the road.
The dates of the coins are from the 1700s to the 1890s. Some of the best coin finds were a 1784 and an 1804 Spanish reales, an 1858 half-dollar, 1834 half-dollar, and numerous quarters, dimes, and half dimes.
Along with all the old house junk were a William Henry Harrison 1840 campaign token and an 1860 Steven Douglas campaign badge.
This site is huge and almost always produces something of interest for me and my hunting partner, Bill Bugg.