Hunley team hoping to find fabled coin

Thursday, May 24, 2001

Of The Post and Courier staff

     Just because archaeologists have finally uncovered Hunley commander Lt. George Dixon, it doesn't necessarily mean his fabled gold coin will soon follow.
     As the first phase of the Confederate submarine's excavation comes to a close, scientists are keeping a close eye out for the dig's most coveted artifact: Dixon's good luck charm.
     But they have no illusions that it will just be lying loose somewhere in the gray muck still in the sub.
     "It might not turn up by the end of the week," project manager Bob Neyland said Wednesday. "Something really small like that could be concreted to something or it could have slipped down between something. But gold preserves well, so it may turn up."
     Legend has it that the $20 gold piece, a gift from his Mobile, Ala., sweetheart, Queenie Bennett, was in Dixon's pocket when the Hunley sank on Feb. 17, 1864. Historical accounts said that, by then, the coin served as his good luck piece.
     Dixon was carrying the coin when he stormed through the rolling Tennessee pastureland of Shiloh early one misty morning in April 1862. Dixon was one of the first Confederate soldiers shot in that landmark Civil War battle - downed by a Yankee musket shot. But the bullet hit the gold coin in his pocket, wrapping it into the shape of a bell.
     The coin from Bennett saved Dixon's leg, if not his life.
     Scientists have found textiles close to Dixon's remains in the submarine, presumably his uniform. While the textiles are in better shape than some of the others found in the submarine, Neyland said it's not possible yet to tell if some of those clothes still have intact pockets.
     If the sediment supported the textiles, the gold coin could turn up as archaeologists block-lift mounds of sediment that contain textiles and some of Dixon's remains.
     But if the coin isn't there, it could be anywhere. It could even be concreted to the forward bulkhead, which will not be excavated until the fall.
     Sometime in the next week, work on the Hunley will stop for a summer hiatus. At least two Hunley archaeologists have other commitments that will take them away from the excavation, and Neyland said the rest of his team is exhausted by a dig that has gone six or seven days a week since the first of March.
     Everyone, he said, needs some time off before beginning the tedious work of de-concreting around the controls of the submarine mounted to the bulkheads. Also, scientists have yet to excavate underneath the bench the crew sat on. They believe that under the bench there are storage boxes where they could find the crew's personal belongings.
     Plans call for the archaeologists to reconvene at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center late in the summer or early in the fall to do the detail work. They will remove all human remains from the submarine before they stop excavation.
     Archaeologists Tuesday evening and Wednesday removed two of the three craniums remaining inside the submarine. One of those, Neyland said, may be Dixon's - but they won't know until the final one is removed. That skull, at least what scientists believe is the final skull, is heavily concreted.

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

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