"Everybody always wants to know what was the coolest piece we found," said Jamie Brandon, state archaeologist based at the University of Arkansas with the Arkansas Archeological Survey. "But archaeologists find the really cool things in patterns.
"I guess the coolest thing would be the 6-pound, solid cannonball shot," admitted the site director of a spring break archaeological survey at Pea Ridge National Military Park. The Archeological Survey and the National Parks Service partnered for the research.
During the recent archeological survey of Ruddick’s Field at Pea Ridge National Military Park, archaeologists and volunteers found rounds and fragments from several types of ammunition shot from artillery. Troy Banzhoff, park interpreter, provided these explanations:
• Case rounds. Normally manufactured rounds fired from cannons — such as the 6-pound ball found. These shell of the cannon balls were hollow, then packed full of iron or lead balls and exploding black powder in the middle. Different fuses were used, cut to different lengths determining how long the fuse burned and how far the cannonball would fly until the shot exploded, sending out the smaller shots.
The majority of fragments found during the dig came from case shot, Banzhoff said.
• Canister rounds. Tin cans packed with iron — such as the unidentified round bars found during this exploration. These were shot at a close range, with the can exploding and the shrapnel dispersing over a wide area.
• Solid rounds. Solid cannonballs skipped across the battlefield, targeting the lower bodies of soldiers. The 6-pound ball found by Mark Wheeler and Jared Pebworth is an example. Canister shot also was used this way.
• Individual bullets were found — mostly unharmed — in the area of the siege, leading researchers to think they were rounds dropped by Confederate forces. One was identified in the field by the AAS’s Jared Pebworth as a 36-caliber, teardrop bullet from a pistol, made at the St. Louis Arsenal. Pebworth noted he previously has found a number of similar pieces found in the camps commanded by Gen. James G. Blunt, the Union’s division commander at the Battle of Prairie Grove in December 1862.
"It was very deep -- about 2 feet deep," said Mark Wheeler, a 20-year park volunteer who dug up the cannon ball.
"You could just hear the faintest little beep," said Jared Pebworth, a member of the AAS sponsored research program, running the metal detector for the find.
"What we found was exactly what I expected we'd find -- a heavy concentration of artillery fragments," said Troy Banzhoff, the park historian, of the overall survey. "We found some bullets -- but not a lot. It backs up our interpretations of the battle."
In other words, the heavy concentration of artillery fragments found in a couple of areas seemed to prove the theory of a barrage in the field.
"But it was heavier farther east than we anticipated," Banzhoff continued. "The Arkansas Archeological Survey will give it some further study."
Volunteers involved in the survey project also found many little pieces of round bar stock, cut to exactly the same diameter, in one area of Ruddick's field, Brandon said.
"Today it could be compared to rebar," Banzhoff explained.
In the beginning of the survey, the pieces were bagged as what the volunteers called "trash." They left the pieces on the replaced divots of dirt and marked them with yellow flags.
"But there were too many to be related to farming," Brandon said. "At first, we thought it was a shirred bolt from a tractor [sometime after the battle when the field grew corn], but that might happen just once or twice in the history of a field."
Archaeologists and historians on site then began asking themselves about the troops at the battle, Brandon said. "The Confederates were using anything to fill [canister shot] to explode, we knew from other reports in the Western Theater -- almost like modern improvised weapons."
"We know after the Battle of Wilson's Creek in August [of 1861 in Springfield, Mo.], the Missouri State Guard was firing rounds of its own canister shot, filled with trash metals," Banzhoff said.
"But they were found near the tree line, where the Confederates sat [indicating the Union troops fired them at the Confederates]," Brandon said.
Banzoff noted the canister shot at Pea Ridge probably was fired by the Union -- more than likely the 2nd Ohio Artillery Battery -- on March 7 as the Confederate charge came within cannon range of the Union lines.
"We will go back and forth between the archeological and historical record with these questions and probably a whole bunch of others."
Volunteers also dug up a flat button off a civilian coat, Banzhoff reported. The Missouri State Guard -- a militia which sided and fought with the Confederacy -- wore such coats and fought in the field, he said. Archaeologists' research as to the manufacturer might reveal more clues as to the button's role in the battle.
A belt buckle found by Ed Parks and Marty Galliardy was quickly judged not of military issue by Pebworth. But, he noted, it could have come from the uniform of a Missouri State Guard member, or it could be a harness buckle from horses who plowed the fields. But it was still in the ground for at least 50 years since the national park was established. It was bagged for further research.
A large area disturbance was identified as a barn, Brandon said.
"We found round nails, so it was built after 1900. But it was gone by the time the aerial photos were taken in the 1940s," Brandon reported. "It's something the historical record does not tell us."
"But it's part of the park's heritage landscape -- and it's still historical, telling about early 20th century family life."
The historical record notes that William Ruddick owned this field and that on March 7, the Confederate army did charge across it, Banzhoff said.
"It's amazing anything is left after 150 years," Brandon said, noting that in the 1940s many children followed behind their father's plows picking up artifacts to sell. He noted that such pieces were sold at Elkhorn Tavern.
"And probably others are too deep to be detected," he said. "There will always be something left for future archaeologists and technicians."
A initial report of the survey's findings will be released in December, Brandon said, with a final report following in three years. "So the punch line is yet to come."
"One important thing behind this is it tells us a lot of bigger things," said Kevin Eads, park superintendent. "It can confirm or alter the written word where we derive stories."
The final AAS report will provide the National Parks Service "with better information about the events that occurred during the battle," said Steve Devore, an archaeologist with the parks service who was on site during the survey. That will be feedback into decisions about how the land is managed, developed and returned to its condition on the day of the battle.
NAN Our Town on 04/14/2016
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