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Click on pictures to enlarge - notice black spots of lead where minie ball struck coin

Wednesday, August 28, 2002
Of The Post and Courier Staff

     It was a legend almost too fanciful and romantic for anyone to believe: that a gold coin once saved the life of the Hunley's captain on a Civil War battlefield.
     But now there is evidence proving that, sometimes, legends are true.
     Scientists studying the remains of the Confederate submarine's crew say that Lt. George Dixon's left femur has a nasty dent in it that was almost certainly made when a Union bullet hit a $20 gold piece in his pants pocket at the battle of Shiloh.
     Maria Jacobsen, chief archaeologist on the Hunley project, says that if not for the coin, Dixon likely would have been crippled or could have died.
     "If that coin had not been there, there is no doubt there would have been severe damage to his leg. It probably would have shattered his femur," Jacobsen said Tuesday. "Without the coin, the man probably would not have walked again."
     Dixon was lucky, Jacobsen said, that the impact didn't burst a major artery, which could have killed him.
     The story of Dixon's incredible luck, made almost cartoon-simple through the years, was discovered in a letter written by an officer in his company, the 21st Alabama. Dixon, the letter said, was shot in the leg in the early morning while fighting at Shiloh, Tenn., on April 6, 1862, but that a gold piece deflected the bullet, saving his
     The gold piece was supposedly a gift from his sweetheart, Queenie Bennett of Mobile, Ala., and after that day, he carried it everywhere.
     Scientists were skeptical until May 2001 when Jacobsen pulled a warped gold coin out of the sediment that filled the Hunley.
     On the coin was an inscription:
     April 6th, 1862
     My life Preserver
     Experts with the State Law Enforcement Division have since determined that the black marks on the face of coin are lead streaks, which would support the story. Minie balls were made of lead.
     Now, Jacobsen said, ballistics experts will examine the bone, which CT scans show has "radio-dense" particles imbedded in it. Those particles could be lead fragments from the minie ball that hit the coin.
     The injury, discovered during an_ examination by Smithsonian Institution forensic scientist Dr. Doug Owsley, is on the upper part of the femur, where Dixon's thigh and left hip met. It was most likely, Jacobsen said, an ugly wound. The coin may have imbedded in his flesh or, at least, left a horrible bruise.
     Warren Lasch, chairman of Friends of the Hunley, said Owsley will continue his examination of Dixon next month and, by looking at his knees, ankles and toe joints, may be able to tell if he still walked with a limp when he and the crew of the Hunley sank the USS Housatonic on Feb. 17, 1864.
     Lasch said the discovery proves the legend.
     "There's no doubt that the gold coin saved Lt. George Dixon's life on that battlefield at Shiloh," Lasch said.

Used with permission of The Post and Courier and Charleston.Net






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