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Following our family picnic on Easter Sunday this year, I pulled out my DFX to search for some old coins on this mid-nineteenth century home site in southeast Louisiana. The original farmhouse, still standing and livable, has been in our family since 1881. After finding half dozen modern coins I got a strong, repeatable VDI of 47. This signal was too sharp to ignore, so I dug it up, with my brother in law watching. As it came out of the ground it was obviously a small, bright yellow belt buckle, which I impulsively thought must have been modern twentieth century junk.
After cleaning it with soap and water and sending photos of it to my friend Rich, a knowledgeable collector and detectorist in New Orleans, it became evident to us that this was an OLD belt plate of some sort. It was solid cast brass with gold plating, and showed the remnants of an applied wreath and old English script lettering in the center. Hours of research turned to days, until Rich emailed me a message that he had found out what it was. Consulting Kerksis and some other publications, comparing the measurements (44 X 69 mm, without keeper), Rich concluded that this was undoubtedly an 1832 Regulation Pattern, General Staff Officers sword belt plate, issued from 1834-1838. It was in excellent condition, other than the missing wreath, lettering device and belt hook on the rear, and the plow marks left on it after it had been discarded. Almost 90% of the gilt remains on the front, even today, and it is in very solid condition for having been in the ground for 127 years or longer.
Now I was consumed with finding out who had worn it. Using the name of the original patentee of this land, I found a 1910 judgment of the state court which recited the chain of title to include one John R. Burch [Jr.], who had acquired the large parcel in 1859. Two years later, Burch joined the Washington Rifles Militia of Washington Parish, LA, and soon thereafter was mustered into Confederate service with his fellows as "Company I, 9th La. Reg't". Burch was severely wounded at Sharpsburg, MD on Nov. 17, 1862 and eventually sent home for the duration of the war. But from where did he obtain a belt plate that was issued when he was only 4 years old? Many young confederates used the militaria of their ascendants as they outfitted themselves in preparation for the War Between the States, so I began a search for older soldiers bearing the surname "Burch" or "Birch". I found the name of one Richard Birch who had served in the Seminole Indian war from 1836-37, but did not know if the two Birches’ were related. Turning to local historical records, I learned that Richard Birch was the patriarch of the Burches and the grandfather of John R. Burch [Jr.]. Richard was born in 1810 and was still alive on the census report of 1855, so the dots seemed to have connected.
It is quite possible that Grandfather Richard Birch gave the general staff officer's sword belt plate to his grandson, John, who may have removed the enemies' initials 'U.S.' and the wreath (which seldom, if ever, appeared on Confederate belt plates). After returning home wounded in 1862, the hook on the back may have broken and John tossed the belt plate in a trash pile as unserviceable. Of course, we can never know exactly what transpired, but I would like to believe that is what happened. We do know very well that many fathers and grandfathers gave their departing loved ones implements they had acquired in prior military service, and it would be nice to think this is what happened with this particular 1832 belt plate. Whether John wore this plate or not, it is nevertheless a very fine Easter present.
All my life I have wanted to find a Confederate belt plate, but this surprising find came when I was dirt fishing for mere coins. What a happy Easter surprise I have enjoyed. Thank you White's for making the DFX for me to find this with.