The Discovery of a Forgotten Confederate Soldier - An Adventure of a 16 Year Old on a Mississippi Battlefield

Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
A wise man once told me that memory is a fragile thing.
Four decades have now passed since I was but a sixteen year old teenager on my first civil war relic hunt on Mississippi soil.
Port Gibson of all places!
I hope my memory still provides accuracy as I recall the days of my youth when the discovery of a soldier's remains ignited my interest in the American civil war
.

Let me preface my story by saying this: I did not make the discovery of this soldier, I was just a participant in the discovery.
Also, please forgive the poor photo quality. These photos were made from Kodak slides.
I hope you enjoy this recollection from 1979:


I was invited by a friend of mine to relic hunt with older friends of his with metal detectors on private property that was being logged by Georgia Pacific west of Port Gibson on the battlefield site. Lots of ground was being pushed up and moved around. As a result, the odds of finding some neat relics from the civil war was very enticing.
While our high school buddies were out chasing girls and drinking beer, we were the "nerds" recovering history from a long ago battle.
Even stranger, my parents let me go 100 miles away with some adult strangers deep into the woods to dig rusty war relics. What were they thinking? Times were certainly different then, I guess.
We got up early and left home around 4:00am and were hunting in Port Gibson by 6:30am ready to start our adventure.
Rodney Road Picture - Port Gibson.jpg

I recall being entranced by the whole Port Gibson experience. It was so different from the Piney Woods area of the state where I grew up.
Rural Claiborne county had it all - Deep historic roadbeds with towering loess soil embankments carving their way through the hilly terrain; deep ravines that seemed bottomless; large hardwood trees that spread an eerie canopy over the forest; and bubbling brooks cascading over moss-covered tree roots down into rocky creek bottoms. And of course, there were relics. Lots & lots of relics! Now that couldn't hold a candle to girls and beer!

Among the group of us, I recall only one person having the metal detector.
The rest of us soon discovered why we were allowed to come on this adventure in the first place. You see, we were the "diggers". The "grunts". We were the ones providing the physical labor not to mention the gas money to finance this expedition. At the time, it seemed to have little impact on our experience. We were having fun.

As we scattered about the property, I immediately began to find indian artifacts, which brings me to another fact I failed to mention earlier. I was intensely interested in finding indian artifacts (Another great way for a sixteen year old to score big with meeting people of the opposite sex).

Finding indian arrowheads, tools, and pottery just added to the bonus of our history hunt. Talk about fun!!

After about an hour, I was called over to the side of a steep ridge. I found my friend was already digging a hole.
The metal detector had zeroed in on a target. At around 12 inches in depth the shovel struck an object in the hole. It was a bone. Not an animal bone, but a HUMAN bone. A pelvic bone to be exact.
My first thought was that we had discovered a native American burial. It seemed logical to me, seeing that we were finding indian artifacts scattered all across the ridge top. But bone doesn't pick up on a metal detector.
That's when we discovered the initial source of our detector going off.
We found the remains of a canteen! Bad condition, but it was canteen nonetheless.
Other relics followed, and the mystery of these human remains became etched in my memory forever.
shell in hole with shovel.jpg

By this time, everyone in our group had gathered around the hole in amazement as we began to orchestrate and carefully excavate the site of the remains. Several of us dug while one person used the detector to scan our dirt. Buttons began to surface. A mix match of buttons - some U.S. general service eagles, some white porcelain buttons, I believe a flat button or two was in the mix. Nothing rare or uncommon at this point.
Another shovel full and out popped an iron utility buckle, a few leather rivets, some odds and ends.
Then came the real treasure - the remains of an Enfield cartridge box tin FULL of Enfield bullets. Only one was missing from being a full cartridge box.
And then the crown jewel...A rare but crude CS cartridge box plate. These are hardly ever found.
The identity of this burial couldn't be more clear. We had found a Confederate soldier, hastily buried on the battlefield or his body was lost in the thick entanglements of the forest and forgotten. Probably listed as an M.I.A (Missing In Action).
No gun, pistol or knife was found. This was probably taken from him after he fell.
We did discover the cause of his death.
We pulled a .69 calibre musket ball from the base of his skull, probably case shot from an exploding overhead artillery shell.
Brian trying to kill Little Rick with Rock.jpg

It took us two days to collect the remains.
Yes, authorities were notified and the bones we collected as well as the artifacts were given over in an investigation that confirmed our Confederate theory.
A local dentist examined the teeth and determined the soldier was probably in his late teens based on the forensics.
Grave site of unknown soldier.jpg

We treated the remains with great care and respect and even constructed a cross made with sticks and placed at the head of the burial excavation site.

Then it struck me. I was the same age, or thereabouts, as the boy soldier that lost his life fighting in the civil war one hundred years ago. I was having a fun adventure, yet on this same ground his experience was much different. So much so, that he lost his life.
This was profound and history now became more that just a history text in a classroom. I was living it, breathing it, discovering it first hand.

I don't necessarily remember anyone in our group being overly religious. But I did go to church every Sunday and even on Sunday nights. Heck, I even sang in the choir. So I was elected the one to offer a prayer at the grave site.

Much more happened, many memories made.

Forty years later, I'm still searching the fields and forests of Mississippi seeking civil war history. I can only hope that any discovery I make will in some small way make a difference in the preservation and appreciation of our rich state history.
 

Georgia

Sergeant
So, nothing which was found gave any indication of the name of the soldier? Going backwards, which CSA batillions/groups were involved in that area of fighting?
To be able to give some family closure on what they already have had to accept upon their soldier not returning home would be amazing- even many generations since.
Any idea on where the items and the reinterment of the bones? Mitochondrial DNA testing is a powerful help and maybe, just maybe, a family member is part of a DNA database.
 

Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
So, nothing which was found gave any indication of the name of the soldier? Going backwards, which CSA batillions/groups were involved in that area of fighting?
To be able to give some family closure on what they already have had to accept upon their soldier not returning home would be amazing- even many generations since.
Any idea on where the items and the reinterment of the bones? Mitochondrial DNA testing is a powerful help and maybe, just maybe, a family member is part of a DNA database.
yes, there was a Confederate unit that held that spot. But nothing remained to indicate his identity other than what I mentioned.
The DNA database is a good idea.
 

ucvrelics

Lt. Colonel
Forum Host
Regtl. Quartermaster Shiloh 2020
Joined
May 7, 2016
Location
Alabama
Great Story. I didn't know you knew Rick F. I first met Rick at a SCV meeting in Hattiesburg while visiting my Grandparents. We became close friends over the years and found the camps at Morton together. He would tell me that story every time we got in the truck.
 

Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
Great Story. I didn't know you knew Rick F. I first met Rick at a SCV meeting in Hattiesburg while visiting my Grandparents. We became close friends over the years and found the camps at Morton together. He would tell me that story every time we got in the truck.
I heard stories about camps being found over there in Morton.
Glad you liked the story.
 

Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
Great Story. I didn't know you knew Rick F. I first met Rick at a SCV meeting in Hattiesburg while visiting my Grandparents. We became close friends over the years and found the camps at Morton together. He would tell me that story every time we got in the truck.
Did you know Dave Callaway? He used to live in Pearl and ran Dave’s Military store. He was a big time relic hunter. He found a cache of 14 damaged gun barrels in the ravine fronting the old Magnolia Church on the battlefield. I believe he found those back in the 70’s. Lots of relics were found there in that decade!
 

Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
So, nothing which was found gave any indication of the name of the soldier? Going backwards, which CSA batillions/groups were involved in that area of fighting?
To be able to give some family closure on what they already have had to accept upon their soldier not returning home would be amazing- even many generations since.
Any idea on where the items and the reinterment of the bones? Mitochondrial DNA testing is a powerful help and maybe, just maybe, a family member is part of a DNA database.
He is buried in Biloxi, MS at Beauvoir, the last home of Jefferson Davis....He is the Unknown Soldier of the Confederacy. The only one officially named as such in the country, who fought for the South during the civil war.
 
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