The recent discovery of one of the nation's oldest military dog tags has shed light on a Union soldier from the Albany area who fought in the Civil War.
Last month, Jeffrey Rees of Ohio won Best Overall Find at the Grand National Relic Shootout near Richmond, Va., where he used a metal detector to find a sterling silver identification tag that Pvt. John W. Bradt of Rensselaerville apparently lost nearly 150 years ago while at war. Rees located the medallion during last month's hunt in a littered area of an old farm at which he thinks Bradt may have camped for a night in early 1864.
The relic is about the size of a quarter and in pristine condition. It identifies Bradt as a member of the New York State Militia's 20th Regiment and a resident of Albany County. Its reverse side lists the names of Civil War battles in which members of the unit fought.
"Holding something in your hands that probably hasn't been touched for at least 150 years ago is really cool," Rees said by phone.
Bradt worked as a farmer in Rensselaerville and could not read or write, according to records. He enlisted at age 27 in Kingston and was assigned to Company K of the 80th Infantry Regiment on Sept. 13, 1861, according to the state adjutant general's roster listing.
Bradt was wounded in action at the Second Battle of Bull Run at Manassas, Va., on Aug. 30, 1862. He reenlisted on Dec. 31, 1863. The distinguished war veteran died alone in 1901 at age 76.
Rees, 33, is an Ohio businessman and history buff who has been metal detecting since he was a kid. Research led him to believe Bradt may have lost his tag in the former Civil War camp. In Bradt, Rees has found one of the earliest examples of what became known as military dog tags.
Soldiers in the Civil War who feared dying anonymously in battle started pinning written name tags on their uniforms so they could be identified. Some created tags from wood and hung them around their necks. Private companies noted the demand and started production. Soldiers could order brass discs, but also ones made of silver or gold.
"They were private-issued, not government-issued," said Michael Aikey, director of the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs. "They were made by a variety of manufacturers in different sizes and configurations."
By 1918, American combat soldiers wore circular aluminium tags ordered by the government. By World War II, the military replaced that style with the oblong shape still used today. The Army is now testing new tags that will hold most of a soldier's medical and dental data on a microchip.
Bradt's identifier included a small circle with a string attachment that he probably wore around his neck, Rees said. Bradt may have lost the tag where he camped one night prior the Union Army's siege of Petersburg, Va., Rees said.
The Ohio man discovered Bradt's circle of silver under about 6 inches of soil on the second and last day of a metal detector competition in early March.
He hunted around a "period road" that he said had been skipped over by other detectors because it contained soda cans and trash.
"I was working that area and just happen to come upon it," Rees said.
Bradt's brother, Jacob, joined the same unit as his brother in 1861 at age 23, according to military records provided by Kelly Grimaldi, historian at St. Agnes Cemetery in Menands. Jacob Bradt was discharged with a disability on Jan. 29, 1863.
Several months later, John Bradt reenlisted after recovering from his wounds. He mustered out with the company on Jan. 29, 1866, at Portsmouth, Va.
John Bradt later died a widower in a home for disabled soldiers three days after Christmas in 1901, according to Grimaldi. He was buried in Bath National Cemetery in Steuben County. A telegram was sent to his brother in Cohoes notifying him that John Bradt had died from arthritis and senility.
Locating the old soldier's dog tag has inspired Rees to plan a trip to where Bradt is buried. "I'll never find anything like this again," Rees said.http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/He-didn-t-want-to-be...