Three Civil War bullets and a few holes in the Chickamauga Battlefield will cost an Adairsville, Ga., man a year and a half of probation and 94 days of community service.
Eric George Blaasch, 53, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court on Wednesday to violating the Archaeological Resource Protection Act by digging up artifacts at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
In the plea deal, Blaasch and the prosecution agreed to a sentence of 18 months probation and 94 days of service, according to John Horn, assistant U.S. attorney.
The maximum sentence could have been two years in prison and a $20,000 fine, Horn said.
In February 2005, a ranger investigated what appeared to be an abandoned vehicle in the park, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary C. Roemer. When the officer saw digging tools in the back of the car, he set up watch and spotted Blaasch emerging from a wooded area a time later.
Covered in mud, carrying tools and three Minié balls - a type of bullet used for muzzle-loading rifles - in his pocket, Blaasch initially denied the digging, saying that he was just lost.
Authorities said they had no reason to believe Blaasch had dug at the site before or that the dig was part of any larger operation.
Chickamauga Chief Ranger Todd Roeder said illegal relic hunting in the park is not common but does happen from time to time. Rangers write tickets or warnings to anyone in the park with a metal detector, though most are innocent mistakes, he said.
"We keep an eye out for it every day," he said. "There are rings of them out there that go around and do that in national parks."
In August 2005, Catoosa County resident Terry Stephen Crawford admitted to a similar crime of removing items and damaging archaeological resources, according to Times Free Press archives. He was sentenced to 21 months in prison and one year supervised release in addition to more than $11,000 in restitution.
Mary Koik, a spokeswoman for the Civil War Preservation Trust, said battlefields across the country have combat relic collectors trying to remove items.
"Chickamauga's not the first national park to have dealt with this," she said, mentioning a recent case near Fredricksburg in Virginia. "A lot of folks think, 'What's the problem with taking a bullet or two?' But just because it's owned by the federal government it doesn't mean we've learned everything we can from that area."