FBI-agents as archaeologists

by Ursula Kampmann
translated by Christina Schlögl

April 26, 2018 – The Battle of Gettysburg was a pivotal event in American history. It was not just the turning point of the Civil War. It also became an icon of the American self-conception due to Abraham Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address. At the end of March, the battleground of Gettysburg got the media's attention once more – not because of its immaterial values like freedom and equality but because of 55 m. $ worth of gold. 

Adam Cuerden. Battle of Gettysburg. Lithographie 1887.

Adam Cuerden. Battle of Gettysburg. Lithographie 1887.

Numerous media reported that FBI agents were working together with representatives of the Departments of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and the professional treasure recovery service “Finders Keepers” to conduct a search in Dents Run Road near the city of Benezette. The press spokesperson enigmatically told the journalists, who had come running, that the agents were conducting a court-authorized excavation. She said there was no danger for the general public. 

The media immediately linked the FBI’s dig to the claims of “Finders Keepers”, who had said that their high powered metal detectors had found longish metal objects. The treasure hunters stated it was the treasure that was lost on the way to the battleground at Gettysburg. There are actually written records about a wagon of the Union Army leaving the city of Wheeling with 52 gold bars, each weighing 50 pounds, which were meant to be used for payments in 1863. This gold transport never reached its destination. Both the wagon and dead soldiers were found but the gold remained missing.
Countless hobby historians have since developed their own version of what happened at the time. Many detectorists are still hoping to find the treasure.  

As mentioned previously, “Finders Keepers” seemed to have found it in 2004. They repeated their claims several times without being able to present credible evidence. Their excavation finds of Civil War artefacts turned out to be remnants of a hunting camp from 1880. As representatives of the Departments of Conservation and Natural Resources noted, “Finders Keepers” could have also received an excavation permit for the area if they had been willing to pay a deposit of 15,000 $. 

The true price of victory. Photo from the battlefield of Timothy H. O’Sullivan.

The true price of victory. Photo from the battlefield of Timothy H. O’Sullivan.

The FBI’s appearance has lead to a resurgence of the rumours about the treasure find, especially due to the strange information policy of the agency. According to media reports, the FBI left with empty hands, but they also did not disclose what had actually been done at the empty street near the city of Benezett. 

The legend of the missing old bars of Gettysburg will thus remain – together with stories about the Nazi-treasure in Lake Toplitz, the lost gold of the tsar and the Nibelung treasure. 

This is a beautiful list of the most popular treasures hobby historians are still hoping to find. 

This article sums up the mere facts of the Gettysburg-FBI-affair very well.  

In her Courier Express article of March 15, 2018 Katie Weidenboerner provides a fantastic overview of the rumours, facts, assumptions and previous searches for the lost gold.

Subscribe to our newsletter now

Get the latest news from the world of numismatics promptly delivered once a week by email.

← back