Legends are always fascinating. And sometimes, they are even true.
Today is the 150th anniversary of the second day of the two day Battle of Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing) in Tennessee. This battle was the bloodiest battle in America up to its time (but would be surpassed later that year near a creek in Maryland called Antietam). General Albert Sidney Johnston of the Confederate States of America lost his life at that battle (which was won by the Federals). In a war that had so many "what if" turning points or "could have been" turning points, it may have been the death of Johnston that lead to the ultimate defeat of the Confederacy. (Ironically, it is also possible he was killed by friendly fire). But, I will leave those debates to the historians.
What I love about the Civil War is those "rest of the stories" and one concerns a legend that turned out to be true.
The legend tells us that the sweetheart of one George Dixon gave him a gold coin as a token of her love as he went off to war, on the Confederate side. He promised his sweetheart he would keep it with him always, and he kept that promise. The coin was in his pants pocket as he fought at the Battle of Shiloh, and a bullet hit him - in the coin. The coin deflected the bullet enough that the wound did not require amputation, and George Dixon lived to fight another day.
Lieutenant George Dixon died on the submarine H. L. Hunley, in Charleston Harbor, in 1864, as I have blogged about previously. The Hunley was a marvel of the technology of the 1860's, a functional submarine that saw combat, but the crew met their death at the bottom of Charleston Harbor hours after their first and only battle action for reasons still unknown.
During the excavation of the H. L. Hunley, the coin was indeed found next to Dixon's body.
It is a $20. gold piece, bent, with an inscription:
April 6 1862
My life Preserver
In the lab, traces of lead were discovered on the coin, leading scientists to conclude that the coin was indeed hit by a bullet. And, due to where it was found, the authenticity of the coin is unquestioned.
I recently toured the lab restoring the Hunley. You can not take photographs, but you can see the ship (in a preservation tank) and the coin. And, that morning, something happened that could only happen in Hollywood. Except it didn't.
I was examining the coin, in its display case, with an older gentleman. He mentioned that his great-great-great-great (I may have left out a "great" or two) grandfather had fought at Shiloh.
Bet Lieutenant Dixon was winking at us at that moment.