Digging Civil War artifacts more than hobby for re-enactor
Originally published August 17, 2012
By Ike Wilson
C. Paul Martz routinely spends entire weekends digging for Civil War artifacts he describes as buried treasure that should be appreciated and preserved.
Since 1997, Martz, a janitorial custodian at The Frederick News-Post, has devoted his spare time to finding the objects.
He and colleague John Barone established the Civil War Artifact Preservation Association.
"Our mission is the recovery of artifacts and to preserve them for years to come, and for the public to see, " Martz said.
"When I find an artifact, it is very special to me for the simple reason that I found it. It is a piece of history, and once a man like me owned it."
Martz and Barone have collected enough remnants of the everyday soldier's life and war to fill 14 display cases in museums in Harrisburg, Pa., Shepherdstown, W.Va., and Richmond, Va.
One of the displays is currently in The News-Post lobby.
The two men have found exploded cannonballs, bayonets, belt buckles, bullets, cannon fuses, butt plates, pieces of oil lanterns and Civil War trunks, parts of a reed pipe and harmonica, melted bullets from fire pits, and a fence post with bullets.
They have also recovered drumsticks, forks, knives and teaspoons; pocketknives, an Eagle breast plate; clay pipe; breech plug; buck and ball ammunition and artillery shells.
Martz and Barone will display some of their finds Sept. 14-15 during a celebration at the Sharpsburg town square.
A Keedysville resident and Civil War re-enactor, Martz has found the most objects in Sharpsburg, he said, but not on battlefields.
You can not dig or hunt on State land or battlefield park land.
Martz and Barone dig on private properties, with permission,
The not-for-profit preservation organization lends the displays to schools so that children can learn about the Civil War, Martz said.
"The lesson is to let them know how bad war is," Martz said. "We also hope there won't be another."
Recovered artifacts are documented using five books.
Civil War objects are deteriorating rapidly in the ground and will be lost forever unless they are properly preserved, Martz said.
The men also work with state and local archaeologists.
They use their metal detection equipment to home in on potential finds, then the archaeologists take over with the dig, Martz said.
Rapid development and growth today have created an urgent need to preserve our history by recovering pieces of our past, and collecting data that will be useful in telling the history of each archaeological site, Barone said.
"We go to great lengths to provide the most accurate history or documentation available for the items we examine," Barone said.
Martz found a Rhode Island state seal coat button and through research linked it to the 9th Corps at the Battle of Antietam. "It was a nice button," Martz said.
Each item is numbered according to the location it was found, or from whom it was donated.
"We believe historically significant artifacts should not be traded or sold randomly without regard to their historic significance," Martz said.
Clarence Paul Martz stands next to a display case containing artifacts from the Civil War,
which he recovered from private property with the consent of the owner.
A PICKETS CHRISTMAS / FREDERICKSBURG VIRGINIA December 25th 1862
1862 and Christmas day my thoughts are many miles away,
As I walk my post in the snow so deep...to keep from freezing, I must stamp my feet...
I think of home all lit so bright... with Christmas cheer...oh what a pleasant sight.
Quiet different from the snow and cold, and the mud of the river this side we hold,
at home there's cheer... food... and joy, things missed so much by this soldier boy,
but here on picket... I must stamp my feet, across the river there moves a shape clad in Grey and Blue...
a man's form we take so true, a picket from some Southern state, the enemy that we are supposed to hate.
But who can hate on Christmas day? He too is many miles away...
from home and friends.. and family so dear.... I call to him... I hope he will hear,
" Hello Johnny " " What " a poor price to pay, we've drawn picket on Christmas day...
" Hello Yank " on that you're right.... It’s Christmas day... not a day to fight,
" What say we call a truce? To kill each other would be no use...
What's to trade real coffee be nice would cut the cold of this and ice.... Good enough Reb...
so get a trade boat, and across the river some to float...
we'll send some coffee and a little plus, a Christmas meal... to you from us...
the boat was sent with much joy... there was Virginia Burley to shear with the boys.
Coffee...Saltmeat...and ... Biscuits... were placed in the boat, and across the river it was sent to float,
when the small boat reached the Southern shore, the boy's over there let out a roar...." Thank'ee Yank "
this is more then enough, without this our Christmas would've been quite rough,
our rations here have been mighty slim...
and Christmas for us would've been quite grim, but the coffee, and grub, will brighten
our day ... " Merry Christmas and God Bless " is what my boys say,
The response from the Reb's brought pride to our boy's...by giving some strangers their Christmas joy,
one day in battle, we may meet again, and some of these lives will be there end,
But Christmas day 1862 will live on in the minds of these Grey and Blue,
These enemies who for a time stopped a war...
and made Christmas day mean so much more...
more then the light's... the food... and the cheer....
Major General George B. McClellan affected a smile as he read the fateful orders from Washington.
Turning toward his late night visitor, McClellan spoke without revealing his bitter disappointment.
"Well Burnside, I turn the command over to you." With these words, the charismatic, overcautious leader of the Union's most famous fighting force exited the military stage, yielding to a new man with a different vision of war.
President Lincoln approved Burnside's initiative but advised him to march quickly.
Burnside took the President at his word and launched his army toward Fredericksburg on November 15.
The bewhiskered commander (whose facial hair inspired the term "sideburns") also streamlined the army's organization by partitioning it into thirds that he styled "grand divisions.
" The blue clad veterans covered the miles at a brisk pace and on November 17 the lead units arrived opposite Fredericksburg on Stafford Heights.
The Federals could not move South, however, without first crossing the Rappahannock River, the largest of several river barriers that flowed across his path to Richmond.
Because the civilian bridges had been destroyed earlier in the war, Burnside directed that pontoon equipment meet him at Stafford Heights. A combination of miscommunication, inefficient army bureaucracy, and poor weather delayed the arrival of the floating bridges. When the pontoons finally appeared on November 25, so had the Army of Northern Virginia.
Burnside's strategy depended upon an unopposed crossing of the Rappahannock.
Consequently, his plan had failed before a gun had been fired. Nevertheless, the country demanded action. Winter weather would soon render Virginia's highways impassable and end serious campaigning until spring.
The Union commander had no choice but to search for a new way to outwit Lee and satisfy the public's desire for victory. This would not be an easy task.
Battle of Fredericksburg, The River Crossing
Longstreet's corps appeared at Fredericksburg on November 19. Lee ordered it to occupy a range of hills behind the town, reaching from the Rappahannock on its left to marshy Massaponax Creek on its right.
When Jackson's men arrived more than a week later, Lee dispatched them as far as 20 miles down river from Fredericksburg. The Confederate army thus guarded a long stretch of the Rappahannock, unsure of where the Federals might attempt a crossing.
Burnside's lieutenants, however, doubted the practicality of their chiefs plan.
"There were not two opinions among the subordinate officers as to the rashness of the undertaking, "wrote one corps commander. Nevertheless, in the foggy pre-dawn hours of December 11, Union engineers crept to the riverbank and began laying their pontoons. Skilled workmen from two New York regiments completed a pair of bridges at the lower crossing and pushed the upstream spans more than halfway to the opposite bank; then the sharp crack of musketry erupted from the river-front houses and yards of Fredericksburg.
These shots came from a brigade of Mississippians under William Barksdale . Their job was to delay any Federal attempt to negotiate the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg. Nine distinct and desperate attempts were made to complete the bridge[s] reported a Confederate officer, "but every one was attended by such heavy loss that the efforts were abandoned.."
Burnside now turned to his artillery chief, Brigadier General Henry J. Hunt, and ordered him to blast Fredericksburg into submission with some 150 guns trained on the city from Stafford Heights. Such a barrage would surely dislodge the Confederate infantry and permit completion of the bridges. Shortly after noon, Hunt gave the signal to commence fire. "Rapidly the huge guns vomited forth their terrible shot and shell into every corner and thoroughfare of [Fredericksburg]," remembered an eyewitness.
The bombardment continued for nearly two hours, during which 8,000 projectiles rained destruction on Fredericksburg. Then the grand cannonade ceased and the engineers ventured warily to the ends of their unfinished bridges. Suddenly -impossibly - muzzles flashed again from the cobble-strewn streets and more pontoniers tumbled into the cold waters of the Rappahannock.
Burnside now authorized volunteers to ferry themselves across the river in the clumsy pontoon boats. Men from Michigan, Massachusetts, and New York scrambled aboard the scows, frantically pulling at oars to navigate the hazardous 400 feet to the Confederates' side. Once on shore, the Federals charged Barksdale's marksmen who, despite orders to fall back, fiercely contested each block in a rare example of street fighting during the Civil War. After dusk the brave Mississippians finally withdrew to their main line, the bridge builders completed their work, and the Army of the Potomac entered Fredericksburg.
Battle of Fredericksburg, Prospect Hill
December 12 dawned cold and foggy. Burnside began pouring reinforcements into the city but made no effort to organize an attack. Instead, the Northerners squandered the day looting and vandalizing homes and shops. A Connecticut chaplain left a graphic account of some of this shameful behavior:
I saw men break down the doors to rooms of fine houses, enter, shatter the looking glasses with the blow of the ax, [and] knock the vases and lamps off the mantelpiece with a careless swing ... A cavalry man sat down at a fine rosewood Piano ... drove his saber through the polished keys, then knocked off the top [and] tore out the strings ...
Below Marye's Heights a Georgia brigade under Brigadier General Thomas R. R. Cobb poised along a 600-yard portion of the Telegraph Road, the main thoroughfare to Richmond. Years of wagon traffic had worn down the surface of the roadway lending it a sunken appearance. Stone retaining walls paralleling the shoulders transformed this peaceful stretch of country highway into a ready-made trench.
Jackson's end of the line possessed less inherent strength. His command post at Prospect Hill rose only 65 feet above the surrounding plain. Jackson compensated for the weak terrain by stacking his four divisions one behind the other to a depth of nearly a mile. Any Union offensive against Lee's seven-mile line would, by necessity, traverse a virtually naked expanse in the teeth of a deadly artillery crossfire before reaching the Confederate infantry.
Burnside issued his attack orders early on the morning of December 13. They called for an assault against Jackson's corps by Major General William B. Franklin's Left Grand Division to be followed by an advance against Marye's Heights by Major General Edwin V. Sumner's Right Grand Division. Burnside used tentative, ambiguous language in his directives, reflecting either a lack of confidence in his plan or a misunderstanding of his opponent's posture -- perhaps both.
Meade's men, Pennsylvanians all, moved out in the misty half-light about 8:30 a.m. and headed straight for Jackson's line, not quite one mile distant. Suddenly, artillery fire exploded to the left and rear of Meade's lines.
Major John Pelham had valiantly moved two small guns into position along the Richmond Stage Road perpendicular to Meade's axis of march. The 24 year-old Alabamian ignored orders from Major General J.E.B. Stuart to disengage and continued to disrupt the Federal formations for almost an hour. General Lee, watching the action from Prospect Hill, remarked, "it is glorious to see such courage in one so young.
Union guns responded to Jackson's cannoneers. A full throated artillery duel raged for an hour, killing so many draft animals that the Southerners called their position "Dead Horse Hill." When one Union shot spectacularly exploded a Confederate ammunition wagon, the crouching Federal infantry let loose a spontaneous Yankee cheer. Meade, seizing the moment, ordered his men to fix bayonets and charge. Meade's soldiers focused on a triangular point of woods that jutted toward them across the railroad as the point of reference for their assault. When they reached these trees they learned, to their delight, that no Southerners defended them. In fact, Jackson had allowed a 600-yard gap to exist along his front and Meade's troops accidentally discovered it.
Jackson, who had learned of the crisis in his front from an officer in Gregg's brigade, calmly directed his vast reserves to move forward and restore the line. The Southerners raised the "Rebel Yell" and slammed into the exhausted and outnumbered Pennsylvanians. "The action was close-handed and men fell like leaves in autumn," remembered one Federal. "It seems miraculous that any of us escaped at all."
Jackson's counterattack drove Meade out of the forest, across the railroad, and through the fields to the Richmond Stage Road. Union artillery eventually arrested the Confederate momentum. Except for a minor probe by a New Jersey brigade along the Lansdowne Road in the late afternoon and an aborted Confederate offensive at dusk, the fighting on the south end of the field was over.
Burnside waited anxiously at his headquarters on Stafford Heights for news of Franklin's offensive. According to the Union plan, the advance through Fredericksburg toward Marye's Heights would not commence until the Left Grand Division began rolling up Jackson's corps. By late morning, however, the despairing Federal commander discarded his already-suspect strategy and ordered Sumner's grand division to move to the attack.
Battle of Fredericksburg, Marye's Heights
In several ways, Marye's Heights offered the Federals their most promising target. Not only did this sector of Lee's defenses lie closest to the shelter of Fredericksburg, but the ground rose less steeply here than on the surrounding hills.
Sumner's first assault began at noon and set the pattern for a ghastly series of attacks that continued, one after another, until dark. As soon as the Northerners marched out of Fredericksburg, Longstreet's artillery wreaked havoc on the crisp blue formations. The Unionists then encountered a deadly bottleneck at the canal ditch which was spanned by partially-destroyed bridges at only three places. Once across this obstacle, the attackers established shallow battle lines under cover of a slight bluff that shielded them from Rebel eyes.
Orders then rang out for the final advance. The landscape beyond the canal ditch contained a few buildings and fences, but from the military perspective it provided virtually no protection. Dozens of Southern cannon immediately reopened on the easy targets, and when the Federals traversed about half the remaining distance, sheets of flame spewed forth from the Sunken Road. This rifle fire decimated the Northerners. Survivors found refuge behind a small swale in the ground or retreated back to the canal ditch valley.
Although General Cobb suffered a mortal wound early in the action, the Southern line remained firm. Kershaw's Brigade joined North Carolinians in reinforcing Cobb's men in the Sunken Road. The Confederates stood four ranks deep, maintaining a ceaseless line of fire while the gray-clad artillerists fired over their heads.
Lee, from his lofty perch on Telegraph Hill, watched Longstreet's almost casual destruction of Burnside's divisions as Jackson's counterattack repulsed Meade. Turning toward Longstreet, Lee confessed, "It is well that war is so terrible. We should grow too fond of it."
The final Union effort began after sunset. Colonel Rush C. Hawkins' brigade, the fifteenth such Federal unit to charge the Sunken Road that day, enjoyed no more success than its predecessors. Darkness shrouded the battlefield and at last the guns fell silent.
Grim arithmetic tells only a part of the Fredericksburg story.
Lee suffered 5,300 casualties but inflicted more than twice that many losses on his opponent. Of the 12,600 Federal soldiers killed, wounded, or missing, almost two-thirds fell in front of the stone wall.
Despite winning in the most overwhelming tactical sense, however, the Battle of Fredericksburg proved to be a hollow victory for the Confederates. The limitless resources of the North soon rectified Burnside's losses in manpower and materiel. Lee, on the other hand, found it difficult to replenish either missing soldiers or needed supplies. The Battle of Fredericksburg, although profoundly discouraging to Union soldiers and the Northern populace, made no decisive impact on the war. Instead, it merely postponed the next "On to Richmond" campaign until the spring.