Dixon's coin found
Gold piece carried Shiloh inscription
BY SCHUYLER KROPF AND BRIAN HICKS
Of The Post and Courier staff
The Hunley's most romantic legend proved true late Wednesday: Sub
commander Lt. George E. Dixon carried a gold coin everywhere - even to his grave.
Archaeologist Maria Jacobsen pulled the good luck piece from the
sediment surrounding Dixon's body just as they were about to remove some textiles.
The warped 1860 U.S. $20 eagle gold piece - easily the most
coveted artifact of the lost submarine - was found where Dixon's left pants pocket would
have been. It is nearly as shiny as the day it was minted.
The discovery of the fabled gold coin goes a long way toward
validating the entire legend of the first successful attack submarine.
The story has it that the coin - a gift from his Mobile, Ala.,
sweetheart, Queenie Bennett - saved Dixon's life at the battle of Shiloh.
On a misty morning in April 1862, Dixon's 21st Alabama Infantry
was among the Confederate troops that stormed through the rolling pastureland of Shiloh in
west Tennessee. The Rebels had the upper hand, but the 21st Alabama took heavy casualties.
Dixon, troops in his regiment later wrote, was one of the first
shot during the fighting - but his life was saved when the gold coin in his pocket stopped
the Minie ball that had struck him.
From that moment on, legend has it, Dixon carried the coin
everywhere - even on board the H.L. Hunley.
The impact of the bullet left Dixon with a limp. An engineer by
trade, Dixon worked through his convalescence in a Mobile machine shop. There, he met
Horace Lawson Hunley and James McClintock, two New Orleans men who had grand plans to
build a fish-boat.
Dixon helped build and pilot two submarines, the latter
christened H.L. Hunley. It sank Feb. 17, 1864, after sinking the Union Sloop Housatonic.
Any lingering doubts about the tale disappeared Wednesday when
scientists noticed the added engraving defacing the coin's back. It reads:
April 6, 1862
My life Preserver
"When we started this trip six years ago, there were many
stories, and we didn't know what was fact," said Sen. Glenn McConnell, Hunley
Commission chairman. "This inscription proves George Dixon prized life, valued it
Warren Lasch, chairman of Friends of the Hunley, said the
presence of the coin also lays to rest any lingering rumors that Dixon was not on board
the Hunley during its final mission.
"In fact, this coin says a lot about the man," Lasch
The discovery of the coin comes as the first phase of the Hunley
excavation is wrapping up. Scientists expect to finish in the next couple of days and not
return until September. Starting June 16, weekend tours of the Hunley tank will resume
through Labor Day.
Around 9:30 Wednesday night, scientists prepared to block-lift a
hunk of sediment filled with textiles - presumably Dixon's uniform - and some of his
remains. Leading the crew was Jacobsen, nicknamed "Gold- finger" because of her
uncanny ability to find gold on nearly every archaeological dig she goes on.
Before sliding a metal sheet underneath the area to hold the
sediment in place, Jacobsen reached down to feel the area to make sure the sheet wouldn't
And then she felt it - ridges, just like on the edge of any coin.
An ETV camera recorded the find.
"I think I've got it," she said to a co-worker.
"What?" somebody asked.
"I'll bet you $100 this is it," she said, and then
pulled her arm out.
Gold glinted in the camera as the scientists rushed to pour water
over the coin in her trembling hands.
They had it.
"I don't know if anything will ever come close to that
moment ever again," Jacobsen said Thursday.
In Virginia, Bennett's paternal great-granddaughter Sally
Necessary came home Thursday to a full answering machine. She flipped through them until
she recognized Jacobsen's voice and felt a chill.
"She started off 'I made a promise to you many months ago
and I want to talk to you about what I found,' " Necessary said Thursday evening.
Necessary instantly knew it could mean only one thing - that the
coin had been found.
For some odd reason, Necessary had spent most of Wednesday
thinking about Queenie and the coin, knowing the excavation was winding down and it still
hadn't been found.
"It's not a legend anymore, is it?" she said.
"It's now a fact. I never doubted that it would be there. If it were not lost or
stolen, he would have it with him. When someone gives you something like that for
friendship, to keep you safe, you don't let anything happen to it. You keep it safe."
She didn't know what the meaning was behind the coin but wondered
if it was just a family tradition. She remembers being given a silver coin from her father
when she was younger.
The gold coin was quickly moved out of the Warren Lasch
Conservation Center to an undisclosed, secure location. No one can yet put a value on the
one-of-a-kind coin. When asked what the coin looked like at a press conference, project
manager Bob Neyland had a simple answer.
"It looks like a million bucks," he said. "It's