FACT:  It was minted in 1860, and one side shows Lady Liberty, the same side the bullet hit. The other side with the federal shield and eagle symbol appeared to have been sanded and had a four-line inscription.
Picture of a similar coin
Pictures of Dixon Coin

Dixon's coin found

Gold piece carried Shiloh inscription
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 greatly."
     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 said.
     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 cut anything.
     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 beautiful."


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

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