Tuesday, November 26, 2019

McGlothlin Searched For Artifacts

Forty one years ago, in 1978, this article on Frank McGlothlin of Covington was published in a local newspaper. Written by Alice Hicks, it tells the story of McGlothin's efforts to find, document, and preserve relics from the Civil War.The information in the article detailed war activities in the area, particularly the story of the efforts to save the Gray Cloud, a steamboat transport ship.

Metal detector used in collecting

BY ALICE HICKS May 5, 1978 

Covington on July 27, 1862, was not the prosperous town it is today. A war was going on and the enemy occupied New Orleans. Unable to conduct its normal trade with the port city, the economy of Covington was dying.

A black market traded raw materials such as cotton and resin to the Yankees in exchange for such necessities as shoes and medicine.

Covington residents suffered at the hands of both Confederate and Union troops. Many Confederate deserters hid in the area; there was ample cover and no large garrison stationed nearby. The deserters stole supplies from civilians who were having difficulties getting the necessities themselves.

Occasionally help would be requested from the Union troops in New Orleans, but they too were more apt to steal than to enforce order.

Most Union expeditions across the lake, like the one on July 27, were aimed at breaking up official Confederate camps. That day the steam transport "Grey Cloud" carried 500 Union soldiers to the north shore where they unloaded some artillery pieces and marched into Covington.

The people were afraid that the troops might start looting and burning, but the Yankees only forced those displaying the Confederate flag to take it down, marched along Columbia Street and out of town.

Then the soldiers received information that Confederate troops were planning to capture the Grey Cloud. Union officers decided to undertake a forced march and get back to the boat as soon as possible.

It was a hot day and the troops were dressed in wool uniforms. Two of the men pulling a fieldpiece from the Vermont light artillery got heatstroke and died before returning to New Orleans.

Did the Yankees reach the Grey Cloud before the Confederates, and what happened during the fighting? These are questions that intrigue Frank McGlothlin, owner of the Foxhole Army Surplus store on N. Columbia Street in Covington, and avid Civil War relic hunter.

His collection includes every imaginable artifact left at campsites and battlefields during the Civil War. "Some collectors specialize in buttons or buckles or artillery shells," McGlothlin said, "But I collect them all."

Over 500 types of bullets were used during the war, and books have been written to help the collector identify which type he has found. Relic hunting grew in popularity during the 1950's when metal detectors became available to the general public.

McGlothlin began with a used army mine detector in 1963. "The metal detectors today are much more sophisticated," McGlothlin said. "They locate a mini-ball, or bullet, at a depth of one foot. An artillery shell can be detected a three or three and a half feet, depending on the mineralization of the soil."

McGlothlin has found eight mini-balls from The war, called the Gardiner explosive, worth about $40 each. Gardiner explosives were Union bullets, and rare because not many were manufactured. But usually the rare and valuable artifacts are Confederate.

The Southerners had less equipment, and were more careful with it, than the Union soldiers.

It was the fashion in those days to have the state seal on the uniforms brass buttons and perhaps on the belt buckles as well. If something broke, a Yankee was more apt to discard it than a Confederate, so it is the southern artifacts that are particularly good finds. Only three of the North Carolina belt buckles have ever been found and they are valued at $1200 each.

Hundreds of unexploded Civil War artillery shells are found every month around the country. They are usually harmless, but they can explode during the process of being disarmed; three people have died in such explosions.

Besides the mini-balls, buttons and buckles, other artifacts commonly found at sites are coins, bayonet scabbard tips, and knapsack hooks. But much more important to McGlothlin than the horseshoes or pieces of cookware or other relics is the challenge of finding the site itself.

Searching for a site begins with painstaking research. McGlothlin is an old hand at writing off to state and national archives for records giving clues to the sites of battles and encampments. He gets old maps and tries to read them accurately.

Pinpointing a location shown on al old map can be very difficult. An officer may have reported that a skirmish occurred three miles southeast of a river, but often it is hard to decide just which river he meant and the three miles was at best just a good guess.

After research indicates a promising area, there may be some practical problems to overcome in searching for the site. The area may have been built over, or covered with a garbage dump. Other areas are just as wild as they were in Civil War times, such as the thickly wooded area of Virginia where the Battle of the Wilderness was fought. In such dense underbrush the skeletal remains of a soldier with his accouterments can still be found.

Civil War relics have caused another sort of confrontation, this time between the relic hunters and the rangers who are supposed to enforce the prohibition against relic hunting in national parks.

A guerrilla type warfare is continually waged between rangers on horseback and relic hunters with metal detectors.

After McGlothlin finds a promising area, he searches for relic to show that there is actually a site. Common sense and good judgement indicate what sort of place would have ma a good campsite or furnished cover during a skirmish.

Interpreting finds from a site can be difficult unless you are an expert. As the war progressed, Confederate soldiers grew poorer and found themselves using more and more captured equipment.

Therefore a campsite containing both Union and Confederate artifacts might actually have been a Confederate site toward the end of the war.

McGlothlin has visited Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont to buy relics. There are even shops, usually located near famous battle sites, which sell nothing but Civil War relics. There are also Civil War Relic Exhibitions where relics are displayed and sold.

But what interests McGlothlin are the Civil War sites around Covington. He has even begun scuba diving on sunken gun boats in the area. Plans are being made to start a local re-enactment group. This type of group stages mock battles from the Civil War as accurately as possible, using as much authentic equipment as possible.

What ever did happen to that Union detachment from the Grey Cloud on July 27, 1862? They reached their boat before the Confederates could get into position, but were fired upon as they made their way back to Lake Pontchartrain. Three of them were wounded. The Confederates are rumored to have lost seven men because of the superior artillery aboard.
The war is over now, but the men who had to fight it will not be forgotten as long as collectors like Frank McGlothlin are around.

McGlothlin's army surplus store was on Columbia Street.