Caulk's Field, MD
Digging into the past
By CRAIG O'DONNELL Staff Writer | Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 3:15 am
FAIRLEE - One night in August nearly 200 years ago, the local militia faced off against a party of British just outside this Kent County village.
When it was over the Americans had won, driving Royal Marines and sailors back to their ship with a dozen killed.
Last week, State Highway Administration archaeologist Julie Schablitsky was wrapping up a survey of the battlefield.
Because highway construction is usually funded in part by federal money, the SHA keeps archaeologists and historians on staff. Under the law, before a project like the Inter County Connector on the western shore or the upgraded U.S. Route 301 through Delaware can move forward, historical and cultural artifacts have to be located and catalogued.
Now, because of the War of 1812 bicentennial and the historic value of the nearly untouched Caulk's Field battle site, the SHA lent its expertise for a survey.
Richard van Stolk, one of the landowners, said the entire project was very exciting. He clearly enjoyed hosting the archaeological team, which stayed in the circa-1740 farmhouse on its visits.
Schablitsky said volunteers have been invaluable. Students from the University of Maryland and a group of metal detector fans have been roving the fields, first between the Caulk's Field house and Georgetown Road, and this fall to the south and east of the house.
She said the idea is to locate metal, flag where it was found, identify it if possible, and precisely position it on a computer-generated map. That's where the tale is told.
"Buttons are everywhere," she said, with at least one easily identified by its London, England maker's mark. Copper and brass buttons last well, she said. The dining table in the house was covered with items connected with the battle. A box contained odds and ends that probably date from later.
Coins have been found, though careful cleaning is usually required to determine what they are. As the battle went on, the soldiers were "shedding metal," she said.
One valuable clue from British archival records is a 200-year-old sketch map, drawn by British Lt. Henry Crease for his report to senior officers. It has the relative locations of militia and the assault force of Royal Marines and seamen commanded by Capt. Sir Peter Parker. It shows their positions at several points in the course of the fight.
The roads adjacent to Caulk's Field are paved now, but otherwise their location has been the same for two centuries. Crease's map isn't specific about the roads.
It indicates where the main body of British advanced in relation to an American cannon or two, for example, and the house. Schablitsky said the brick farmhouse was built about 75 years before the war, and there was a long period before the battle when objects could have been lost in the fields in the course of normal farming life.
It is still a working farm, and some of the bits of metal could be from the later 19th or 20th century. Who can date a stray horseshoe?
But 1812 musket ammunition is distinctive. Concentrations of intact musket balls will show where soldiers were while firing. Some soldiers would have dropped ammunition while trying to reload.
The pattern of flattened or deformed lead balls show where they were aiming. British muskets and American muskets used a slightly different caliber, so who dropped it can be worked out.
She said the British Brown Bess musket used a .69-caliber ball, with American ammunition being about .62 caliber, a difference that is still measurable after two hundred years.
A musket's range is known, so the pattern of artifacts gives clue to where men were.
Fragments of canister shot from a cannon show the Americans had small fieldpieces – Schablitsky said the guns were likely six-pounders – and used them.
Canister shot consisted of balls packed into a cylinder, making a cannon into a giant shotgun.
The survey began in April, where investigators spent two weekends between plantings. The researchers were back again for another look and finished Friday.
The first surveys were done along a grid of 30-foot-wide lanes. On Thursday, the search was more general. Glen Gunther of Battlefield Restoration and Archaeological Volunteer Organization – BRAVO – was among those roaming the field.
The volunteer group works with archaeologists and has been concentrating on the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey. But a handful of members have come to Caulk's Field on two occasions to help locate metal objects that might be battlefield debris, he said.
The men from BRAVO were scattered around the field. Each time something pinged a detector, they would dig and probe to see what was there. If an object could be found, it was put in a clear plastic bag and attached to a small flag.
All the flags are labeled, and located precisely, before the artifact leaves the field.
And then a searcher would spiral out from that point to see if it was an isolated item or part of a larger collection, Schablitsky said.
One hoped-for result is to locate the general area of the local militia's encampment. A lead sprue left over from casting musket balls would be one significant clue, said grad student Mike Roller of the University of Maryland. Roller and his wife Adrienne Allegretti were taking measurements to plot artifact locations.
Roller's graduate project is investigating a vanished shantytown in Pennsylvania. Allegretti is employed by a GIS mapping firm. She came along as a volunteer expert, she said.
Another is to use artifacts to find the militia's last stand, where the troops regrouped after falling back from the advancing British. It appears to have been east of the house, an unexpected result.
And what of the Royal Marines buried there?
Three search dogs, trained to locate injured or dead, put their noses to work.
They were kept separate and yet, remarkably, all agreed on three distinct areas where they alerted to human remains.
All are along the edge of the field closest to the road. Schablitsky said it makes sense that the dead would be buried toward the side of a farm field rather than in the middle.
The archaeologists also are looking for evidence that some Maryland Light Dragoons – cavalry – took part. The records are unclear, she said. But it may be that pieces of brass used to construct bridles and other tack will turn up. The team has found several discs that look to be rosettes from a leather harness and a broken spur. But they could be from anytime before or after the battle.
The artifacts are the property of the landowner, but will go to a lab to be documented and preserved, she said.
Discovery at Valley Forge
On December 8, 2012 members of BRAVO met with Dr. David Orr of Temple University and Jesse West-Rosenthal, a doctoral candidate working with Dr. Orr, at the Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge, PA. BRAVO has been assisting Dave Orr, who was formerly the chief archaeologist at Valley Forge National Park, at this site since 2006 when we discovered it was an encampment area from the 1777 - 1778 winter cantonment for the Continental Army. Using metal detectors, members of BRAVO have recovered many artifacts at this site. The artifacts are mapped on a site map, giving the archaeologists a picture of where the "hot spots" are. Then using conventional archaeological techniques, the graduate students have been able to concentrate their efforts, which has resulted in the discovery of several hut sites, a camp kitchen (very rare) and trash pits.
December 8th was cold and wet, having rained the night before. We had been at the site numerous times, but it seems that something interesting has been recovered nearly every time. Within minute, Jim Barnett of BRAVO approached Jesse with a large muddy clump of rusted iron and asked "Is this what I think it is?"
Our responses were those of excitement. I pointed out the gun flint still in place. Jim had found a complete lock to a musket! Jesse (left in the photo) and Jim (right in the photo) just could not stop grinning all day.
Now the questions become - what type of gun did it come from and why was it left behind? It was too encrusted to identify on the spot and too fragile to attempt to clean so it was decided to have it professionally conserved. Having a quorum available at the site, the members of BRAVO took an immediate vote to cover the costs. The artifact was taken to the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory for preservation where it was also x-rayed:
The style of the cock is very distinct and appears to be British. Here is a photo of a Tower-marked model 1777 military British Brown Bess musket (photograph provided by and reproduced with permission by Bill Ahearn). For more detailed information on muskets, one of the best books on this topic is Muskets of the Revolution and the French & Indian Wars by Bill Ahearn.
We will not know for sure until the artifacts is totally conserved, but it poses many more questions such as how did it get there.
During the early years of the Revolutionary War, the Americans had very little in the way of standardized weapons. Many of the muskets and rifles were the guns that the farmer-soldier brought with him from home. They lacked bayonets and did not use standard size musket balls and the British knew this. The following was taken from an account of the Battle of Princeton, NJ on January 3, 1777 (Dodsley 1778:19):
"It cannot escape the observation of any person who has attended to the circumstances of this war, that the number slain on the side of the Americans, has in general greatly exceeded that in the royal army. Though every defect in military skill, experience, judgment, conduct, and mechanical habit, will in some degree account for this circumstance, yet perhaps it may be more particularly attributed to the imperfect loading of their pieces in the hurry of action, than to any other cause; a defect, of all others, the most fatal; the most difficult to be remedied in a new army; and to which even veterans are not sufficiently attentive. To this may also be added the various make of their small arms, which being procured, as chance or opportunity favoured them, from remote and different quarters, were equally different in size and bore, which rendered their being fitted with ball upon any general scale impracticable."
Some of the American guns were old Brown Bess Committee of Safety muskets left over from the French and Indian Wars. Others were captured British weapons. Archaeological work done by John Seidel at the Pluckemin, NJ encampment discovered that captured British bayonets were having their sockets cut and rewelded to fit American muskets.
In 1777 France began shipping large quantities of standard muskets called "Charleville's" after the name of the Charleville Armory from which most were being shipped. They came with standardized 15" bayonets , another important commodity that the Americans were in very short supply.
At the same time "Baron" Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand von Steuben was hired by Washington to train the troops. When everyone hears the name von Steuben, they usually get a mental image of troops being taught how to march and they were. However, they were also taught how to fight. They learned how to form in three ranks for effective volley fire. While the front line is firing, the rear ranks are in various stages of loading. In my opinion, more importantly they learned how to fix bayonets, charge and parry and thrust when engaged with the enemy!
It is speculated that with the arrival of standardized arms, the older weapons were no longer needed and some were probably discarded. We might learn more about this lock after it is thoroughly conserved. Congratulations Jim Barnett for a job well done!
The site is currently an active archaeological site. Temple University and BRAVO have exclusive permissions to excavate and remove artifacts for analysis and documentation. All artifacts found belong to the property owner, some of which are now being put on display in the Chapel gift shop. Persons disturbing the site will be prosecuted.