Parched Mississippi Riverbanks Unveil Hidden Civil War Relics

by Emily Morgan
Photo by: Scott Olson / Staff

The ongoing drought has caused people to make some astounding discoveries. Now, people are finding all sorts of interesting items, from human remains to ancient relics. Now, the drought has literally brought to light a new discovery: an artifact from the Civil War. The artifacts were found lying on the banks of the Mississippi River due to its lower water levels caused by drought.

Riley Bryant shared clips of him discovering bullets and an entire intact belt buckle inscribed with the letters “US.”

“I’m walking the riverbank here in Memphis. You can see the Bass Pro Pyramid, and all this stuff is just washed out,” Bryant said in a video. “And look what I just found laying here, look at that! It’s a Civil War belt buckle! Look, it’s perfect shape.”

The Mississippi River is the second-longest river system in the country, spanning from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Seizing the river by the Union was a significant part of the Civil War.

Similar to other waterways, the Mississippi River is currently facing steep declines in water levels due to the drought.

Mississippi River hits new lows as drought continues in parts of the US

According to National Weather Service, in Memphis, the river reached record lows this week. The water level dropped to minus-10.75 feet.

“Technically, metal degrades and corrodes over time in water, but if the artifacts are buried in the riverine mud and sediment they can be well preserved,” said Helen Farr. Farr is an associate archaeology professor at the University of Southampton in the UK.

“In rivers, we find a mix of materials. Sometimes from shipwrecks, sometimes lost artifacts, items thrown overboard, or thrown into the rivers, or material eroded from river banks that are then transported and mixed up.

“The river can transport all sorts of small artifacts, changes in river flow can erode and ‘excavate’ previously buried materials—or rebury them under transported sediment and mud- they are dynamic environments!”

She added: “As for other organic materials: wood, leather etc these are preserved best in either really arid or really wet conditions—the extremes! That’s why underwater archaeology is so exciting.”

Bryant also shared a TikTok clip of him exploring piles of ballast stones from cargo ships.

He also discovered more Civil War bullets, a glass bottle from the the1880s, a meat hook likely from the same era, and an old oar lock for a rowboat.

However, he won’t be able to take any of the items home with him. According to Stacey L. Camp, an associate professor of anthropology at Michigan State University, federal law prohibits the removal of artifacts from federal, state, and tribal lands.

“ARPA [Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979] violations can result in fines and/or imprisonment,” she said. “If someone encounters an artifact, they should contact the landowner and leave it in place so it can be documented.”