Exploring Civil War Campsites
by Dave Poche and Wayne Rex
An American Digger Magazine Review for Our History Project
272 page book on CD
Available from http://www.americandigger.com, http://www.greybirdrelics.com,and other selected dealers
Review by John Velke
American Digger Magazine
At first glance, Dave Poche’s and Wayne Rex’s new book on CD, Exploring Civil War Campsites, seems strikingly similar to Finding Civil War Campsites in Rural Areas and Interpreting History from Relics Found in Rural Civil War Campsites, two printed books previously reviewed in this column. In fact, a close examination reveals that much of the information appearing in the two previously published works is included under this new title. However, one benefit of publishing a book on CD is that the authors have not been constrained by page count. The two previous works contain a combined total of 104 pages, whereas this new title contains 272 pages and eight Excel spreadsheets. Instructions on interpreting aerial photographs expand from five pages to ten pages, and examples of typical Civil War campsites expand from twenty to twenty-seven pages. The additional details and examples will be helpful to most researchers.
The main text of the book is in Adobe Acrobat as a PDF file, which makes it easy to open and use on most computers. Although the instructions don’t say to do so, I found it easiest to copy the file to my hard drive and use it from there. One of the great advantages of a book on CD is that it is extremely easy to link to a helpful website for further information. The authors have done a marvelous job of creating links to more than 20 websites that are referenced or recommended.
Those new to relic hunting will find the do’s and don’ts in Chapter 6 and the search pattern techniques in Chapter 7 particularly worthwhile. Chapter 17 on cleaning and preservation should be read by anyone unacquainted with the effects of corrosion or the reactivity table for metal objects.
Among the most useful chapters for even the most experienced relic hunters are Chapters 14 and 15, “Simple Bullet Forensics” and “Advanced Techniques and Observations.” But a word of caution: on page 164 the authors enter into a discussion regarding the interpretation of ramrod impressions using the premise that “If a ramrod is heavily applied to the nose of a bullet or to a musket ball, it is an indicator that [of] the ‘greenness’ of the soldier.” While this is certainly one possible interpretation, another equally credible interpretation, particularly when applied to fired Confederate bullets, is that the soldiers lacked the necessary supplies and equipment to keep their gun barrels cleaned and that during the heat of battle it became increasingly necessary to exert additional force to ram the cartridge down the barrel.
Exploring Civil War Campsites is not without other faults. For example, under the heading “Additional Research Sources,” several relic identification books are recommended, including the fine works by Francis Lord, Stanley Phillips, and Howard Crouch, but conspicuously missing are Stephen Sylvia’s and Mike O’Donnell’s Illustrated History of Civil War Relics and Charlie Harris’s Civil War Relics of The Western Campaign.
Experienced diggers are also likely to take offense at some of the unsupported generalizations made about relic hunters sprinkled throughout the text. For example, on page 51 the authors say, “Most people who metal detect Civil War campsites are not disciplined enough to document their finds.” Earlier on the same page, after listing the equipment the authors carry into the field every time they go out, they say, “Unfortunately, most people who detect probably don’t carry this much equipment with them.” However, absent from the authors’ own list is a small camera to be used in documenting finds.
Conversely, in Chapter 10 the authors go into great detail on the value of using a GPS unit to pinpoint the location of each find. Their instructions are simple enough for even the technologically challenged to comprehend. If you are not using a handheld GPS device or if you are merely using one to find your way back to your vehicle at the end of the day, you will want to read this chapter.
Chapter 16 ties everything together when the authors use all of the lessons from the previous chapters and share a real-life example of finding a previously unknown Union Infantry camp. Whether you are a novice or an experienced relic hunter you can’t help but envy success. With a retail price of $29.95, you could easily spend much more than that amount on gas driving around to unproductive sites. Exploring Civil War Campsites will help put you in the right place to make some finds, saving both gas and time.
(American Digger Vol 4 Issue 2)
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