Exploring war relic's tie to isles


POSTED: Tuesday, July 07, 2009
This story has been corrected.  See below.

”;There comes a time in every rightly constructed boy's life,”; mused Mark Twain, “;when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure.”;


Civil War relic hunters are a special breed. They haunt the battlefields of the greatest conflict in American history, using metal detectors, trowels and their senses to find the detritus of battle, bits of metal and scraps of leather, and sometimes only a rusty outline in the earth, and every fragmented find creates a link to the past.

This spring, poking along a scarf of mineralized soil at Hansborough Ridge in Culpeper County, Va., relic hunter Rob Langdon detected the faint signal of a metallic shadow in the ground, among the buried foundation of an encampment tent. He dug down, and there, placed carefully between two stones of a collapsed retaining wall — hidden presumably by an unknown Union soldier nearly a century and a half ago — he found a rotting coin purse still bursting with coins.

The find caused a buzz among Civil War enthusiasts. The event was organized by an outfit called Diggin' in Virginia, and Langdon waited a week to empty the purse, so it could be done in controlled conditions and filmed for YouTube. Many coins were found in near-mint condition, including two gold pieces. But Langdon also uncovered a mystery, one that just might have a Hawaiian connection.

There was a small bronze bust also entombed with the coin purse, likely a “;cape pin,”; a device generally stamped or cast out of a harder metal with a pin sealed with lead within the reverse face. Soldiers of the period used these pins with a small chain to hold their capes together, and they were often decorative, bought or traded with camp sutlers.

As Langdon pulled this particular pin out of the purse, he did not recognize the face on the bust. Nor did anyone else gathered around the table, and these are people schooled in recognizing the smallest detail of Civil War ephemera.

It's a mystery and remains so.

Relic buffs Jimmie Good and Scott Huber wondered, however, whether the bust represented a member of the Hawaiian royal family, which is where we come into the picture. Huber wrote to the Star-Bulletin asking for some help in identifying the person in the piece.

As it turned out, we weren't much help. There is nothing in Bishop Museum remotely like it. Nothing on record at Iolani Palace, either. And the experts at Hawaiian Islands Stamp & Coin were equally stumped.

But the figure sure looks like he could be Hawaiian.

“;We are convinced of the ID,”; said Huber. “;We have not found any other historical figure that even comes close to a match. Also, I think if you look at some of the history and relationship between the North's President Lincoln and Hawaii's kings at that time of the Civil War, it would make sense to me.”;

Before you stick your hand up and proffer up Maximilian of Mexico, or Ludwig of Bavaria, or Prince Albert of England, no, they are not matches. Not even close. Kalakaua? Only if the pin dated to the 1880s, and the in situ discovery is firmly dated to the winter of 1863. (For the purpose of comparison, we've scanned a Hawaiian Mint pressing of a Kalakaua keepsake medallion.)

“;The context in which it was found would leave one to believe that this could have been the coin purse belonging to a native Hawaiian Civil War soldier,”; wrote Huber. “;How many other soldiers would have treasured this item enough to keep it with what had to be their worldly savings of the time? Most soldiers would have been found to have a bust or cape pin of a commanding general or president.”;

To Huber, period images of Kamehameha IV look similar, including details of the medals and uniform. Kamehameha IV, known as Alexander Liholiho, died in November 1863. Also, none of the coins discovered in the purse date later than 1862.

The Hansborough Ridge site is adjacent Coles Hill, in Stevensburg, Va., “;just outside Culpeper. This is in the area of the Battle of Brandy Station in June of 1863,”; explained Huber. “;It was the southern protection for the main winter encampment of the Army of the Potomac during 1863 to 1864, and a Union Corps field hospital.

“;The rock chimney, partial rock walls and depressions in the earth of a large number of the winter huts are still notable as you walk through the woods along the ridge even after 145 years. The purse was recovered from the wall of what would be considered a fairly standard winter hut, hidden there for what we can only assume was for safekeeping while the soldier was away.”;

Why that soldier — who might have been from Hawaii — never returned to reclaim his bankroll is another mystery.







Originally, this story and one caption mistakenly identified Kamehameha IV as Liholiho rather than Alexander Liholiho. Additionally, another caption mistakenly identified King Kalakaua as Kamehameha IV.