The Famous Gold Piece
As the story goes, George Dixon met Miss Queenie Bennett when she was but a girl of 14. He was much older, 22 in fact. Can you imagine what that meeting must have been like? Her picture says it all. She was a beautiful, and apparently willful girl. She meets a handsome young soldier, while still a student at the Barton Academy. Did her parents approve? Did they even know about the relationship in the beginning?
Now where were we? Oh yes, she meets this good-looking, tall, blond and probably blue-eyed stranger and it's love at first site. This is the writer's version of the story and as we have little go by, it will do nicely.
What to do? He's going off to war. She wants to give him something to remember her by. She travels with him to the train at the Mobile Depot, and presses something into his hand. "For good luck", she tells him, wiping the tears away as he bends down to kiss her cheek. "Keep it with you always, and whenever you get to missing me, or you're feeling worried, just hold it in your hand". And the legend of the famous $20 gold piece is born.
Queenie goes back to school and her beau goes off to fight. On April 6th, 1862, his regiment is part of the Battle of Shiloh. Thousands of Confederate and Union Soldiers are wounded and many killed, so many that they don't even know what to do with the dead. George too is wounded, very early that morning, according to accounts of other survivors in his regiment. The archive records for the battle indicate a severe wound to the left thigh. But it isn't fatal, and though the wound is severe, it doesn't require amputation as so many injuries did during that time. According to his friend, James M. Williams, in his Civil War letters, "From That Terrible Field", the minie ball hits the gold piece, denting it into a sort of bell shape, and then travels up through his pocket and out through his side. He will be left with a limp, but is still able to serve.
And he is furloughed to Mobile following his convalescence. He goes to work in a machine shop there, being an engineer by trade, and probably gets to see a lot of Miss Queenie. They must have been more in love than ever. But, he signs on to help build the Hunley and later to Captain it, and she faces the possible loss of him again. Did she see him off at the train this time? Of course. This time parting is harder than before, and they take so long saying goodbye that he has to be prompted to board the train. She is led back to her carriage by her Mammy, who gently smoothes Queenie's hair and shushes her sobs as she wipes the tears from Queenie's eyes with the edge of her long apron. Queenie turns for one last look and waves goodbye. She insists that the carriage remain until he is out of sight.
If he had lost his leg, or been so severely wounded that he was of no further use to the Confederate Army, would he have married Miss Queenie? Almost certainly. This is supported by the fact that Miss Queenie did not marry until almost seven years after Lt. Dixon disappeared with the rest of the Hunley crew after sinking the USS Housatonic, February 17, 1864. She didn't even graduate from high school until the year following his death. How awful that must have been for this young girl, waiting and hoping for days to hear the news that he had escaped and would come back to her. Trying to focus on the routine of daily life, with the sure knowledge that she would never see him again slowing seeping into her heart.
Maybe her despair was the reason she got into those scraps with the Union Soldiers. She was even arrested several times for spitting on their boots and for taking down the Stars and Stripes only to replace it with the Confederate Flag. We'll never know for sure. We do know that Miss Queenie took her time in getting on with her life. She eventually married William_______, another survivor of the Battle of Shiloh and moved to Mississippi. She had nine children with William and died, giving birth to twins, in 1888 at the age of 35. The only known picture of George Dixon was found inside the cover of a family photo-album by her great-great-granddaughter, who was kind enough to allow it to be published. As it was a picture of no known relative or acquaintance, and the only picture tucked away from sight, and was not that of her husband, it is felt that the picture is probably that of 1st Lt. George Dixon, the love of her life.
But back to the famous Gold Piece. For 137 years, the legend has proliferated. That is, until the gold piece was found by archeologist Marie Jacobsen, who has headed the excavation efforts of the Hunley, for the Friends of the Hunley organization. As the excavation was ending for the summer (some of the archeologists had other commitments and the submarine was going to be shown to the public), while reaching down to place a tray under the remains of Lt. Dixon to help stabilize them for removal, she felt a flat object with ridges and pulled out the coin. It is said to be as shiny today as when he first received it.
Amazingly, the coin was not only found, but contained an inscription that significantly added to its value. Apparently it had great value to George Dixon as well, not only was it given to him by the woman he hoped to marry, but it had saved his life. In honor of this, he had sanded down one side of the coin and had inscribed it as follows - "Shiloh, April 6, 1862, My Life Preserver" He added his initials, G.E.D. Pictures of the coin are on display at the Warren Lasche Conservation Lab in Charleston, S.C., but the actual coin was taken away for protection.
If you would like to see picture of the coin and other artifacts from the excavation of the Hunley, just click on thehunley.com.