Artifacts from Civil War Camps


While the department’s archaeologists have been working in the South Yard with the students of the James Madison University field school, Lance Crosby, our resident Civil War enthusiast, has been searching the woods for more evidence of Civil War encampments. By means of a systematic survey, with all finds marked and plotted using GPS, he’s made some exciting finds that we thought we would share with our readers, even if they are but the tip of the metaphorical iceberg.


Gardner bullet

A common find in metal detecting surveys, Lance has recovered a wide range of bullets over the past few months. The illustrated example, a Gardner bullet common to the Confederate forces, is one amongst many different types of bullet fired during the American Civil War. This bullet, approximately 0.58 caliber, is made of lead (the “white rust” is lead oxide) and weighs approximately 1-1.5 oz.Other examples include “wormed bullets,” or bullets that were jammed in the rifle and required extraction with a worming tool.

Firearm Hardware

Nipple or Cone Protector Tompion

In addition to bullets, several other types of firearm accessories or hardware have been recovered. Perhaps one of the more interesting and evocative is a “nipple” or “cone protector,” seen here pictured on the far right. The “nipple” was a small, threaded tube that connected to the chamber of the gun such that when the hammer struck the percussion cap placed over the nipple, the flash ignited and traveled into the chamber, ultimately firing the bullet. The hammer could, however, damage the nipple, and so the nipple protector was attached to the trigger and the donut-shaped protector placed over the nipple.The tompion (also, tampion), pictured above on the left, was a device inserted into the end of rifles to protect the bullet and powder charge from water.  Many of these rifle accouterments were located with other gun tools during surveys of the East Woods.

Spurs, Equestrian Hardware, and Vehicle Tools

Martin Spur - Detail. Martin SpurCarriage wrench

Another interesting, and more rare, find is this example of a silver riding spur. A common part of a man’s attire, it was not unusual for an individual to own many different sets of spurs.As the detail shot (far right) shows, the spur is incised with the maker’s name, “Martin.” Samuel Martin was thought to have been working in Canada during the late 1700s.

In addition to this spur, a number of other equastrian-related artifacts have been recovered, including horse shoes, farrier nails, and tack. (As the premiere mode of transportation until the early 19th century, some of these artifacts may be antebellum.) The artifact pictured to the right is a carriage wrench, used to tighten the hub and other hardware.

Utilitarian Items (Household Goods, Clothing)

Buckle Knapsack Hook Three-tine fork

 Many of the artifacts recovered are of a far more mundane character, dealing with the every day lives of the soldiers of the Confederate encampments. Whether it was in terms of clothing (buckle, haversack hook), meals (fork), or lighting (lantern), the metal detector survey has begun to piece together a picture and story of camp life in the 1863-1864 period.

Something Unusual…

1732 Spanish Real

While the Spanish real-half (pronounced ray-al) from 1732, pictured to the right, is not directly linked to the Civil War, it is nonetheless one of the more interesting finds recovered from the metal detector survey. After all, 1732 is the date that the Madisons arrive at Montpelier, and also the year in which Ambrose Madison, James Madison, Jr.’s, grandfather, was poisoned!

And finally…

Confederate Infantry Button

Metal detector surveys are only the first step in the preservation and understanding of the Civil War encampments and the lives of the soldiers who lived, worked, and died within them. The Montpelier Archaeology Department has recently secured a $35,000 American Battlefield Protection Grant to continue survey of the encampments, as well as engage in excavations.For more information on James Madison’s Montpelier as it features in news articles, please visit our “In the News” section of the main web page.

Matt Reeves