Whatever you have planned for the weekend, here's a better choice: the White Oak Civil War Museum in Stafford County.

I was just there for a third visit, and it has to be one of the best private museums in the country. For $3, you'll see the treasures that D.P. Newton and his father, Pat, and other relatives have excavated from the Union camp sites that blanketed the county during the war.

The Newtons didn't dig in the battlefields, because they are government land and the family considered it sacred anyway, D.P. Newton said. They were interested in the camps where the soldiers lived, and they could dig most anywhere because "we are all kin to one another," he said.

D.P. is the ninth generation of his family to live in the Stafford County area and, at last count, he had 2,000 relatives living nearby. After nearly 40 years of collecting artifacts, he has put away his metal detector.

"Things are different now," he said. "Back then, people would invite Daddy and me to go on their land, but not anymore. They say, 'Go over there and try in those woods.' But now, a lot of those people are gone, died off, and the new ones don't want you to come on their property."

On a Saturday or Sunday, you have a good chance of meeting D.P., an expert on all things Civil War in Stafford. He avoids talking about himself, but if you raise an issue about the Union regiments that camped in the county, you'll get a lot of information. D.P., who has collected excerpts from letters written from the camps, readily pulls out his source material.

"I like to let the soldiers say it," he said.

Although he has two relatives named Newton who fought for the South, he doesn't take sides, pointing out that many of his visitors had Union relatives, and he is pleased to help them find the exact places where those soldiers lived during the war. Through his research, he has documented where each regiment camped -- sometimes for just a few days -- as it awaited a battle or settled in for the winter.

I was surprised to learn that the soldiers often lived below ground. He has built three replicas of a typical Union soldier's home in the field. They feature a low wooden wall topped by a traditional canvas tent built over an excavated basement. Visible through the open flaps are rifles leaning against the dirt wall, simple beds and some clothing.

D.P. -- his real name is Danny Patrick, but he has been D.P. since fourth grade -- houses his collection in the old White Oak Elementary School, where he attended classes. He purchased it from the county for use as a museum.

In display cases he built himself, he has thousands of Minie{acute} balls (rifle ammunition), hundreds of buttons, buckles and bottles, and a good sampling of rifles, handguns and cannonballs.

He also has several boards taken from the wall of a cabin that was hit repeatedly. In some cases, bits of the spent ammunition are still lodged in the wood.

For D.P., the museum he opened in 1999 is a way to share his collection and his research.

"I want people to see how their ancestors coped during the war," he said. "There is a story to be told here, and I want children to hear the story."

The entrance fee is reduced for children. It's free for those under 6, $1 for children ages 7 to 12 and $1.50 for those 13 to 17.

D.P. relies on his work as a carpenter to make a living because the museum is not a moneymaker.

"I think I am the original nonprofit," he said. "There is no profit."

The guest book indicates the number of visitors ranges from two to 20 a day. His mother, Elizabeth Newton, runs the desk, and sometimes his cousin, Bonny Blakley, helps out.

The museum, at 985 White Oak Rd. (at Routes 218 and 603), is about six miles east of Fredericksburg. The mailing address is Falmouth. A computer-generated map says Fredericksburg. Newton says it's White Oak.

The hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday. For more information, call 540-371-434.

Calendar of Events

Frederick: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesday. At the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, author Terry Reimer will sign copies of "One Vast Hospital: The Civil War Hospital Sites of Frederick, Maryland, After Antietam." Free. 301-695-1864.

Baltimore: 7 p.m. Wednesday. At the Baltimore Civil War Museum, a lecture by Philadelphia Historical Society reference services chief Daniel Rolph on acts of compassion by soldiers and sympathizers offered across enemy lines. Fee charged. 410-685-3750.

Warrenton: 5:30 p.m.-midnight Saturday. At the Fauquier Springs Country Club, the Blue and Gray Ball, sponsored by the John Singleton Mosby Museum Foundation to raise money to restore the Mosby home in Warrenton. Fee charged. 540-351-1600.

Petersburg: Nov. 29-Dec. 1. At Pamplin Historical Park and National Museum of the Common Soldier, "Thanksgiving in the Trenches" weekend, including construction of a winter hut, drill and artillery demonstrations. Fee charged. 887-726-7546.

Sharpsburg: 6 p.m. Dec. 7. At the Antietam National Battlefield, annual automobile tour of the battlefield lighted by more than 23,000 candles. Free, but donations accepted. 391-432-5124.

Frederick: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Dec. 7. At the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, members of the 17th Virginia, Company H, will present everyday life of the soldier including equipment, food and diseases. Fee charged. 301-695-1864.

Fredericksburg -- 7 p.m. Dec. 9. At Aunt Sarah's Restaurant, dinner meeting of the Rappahannock Valley Civil War Round Table, with battlefield preservationist Robert Lee Hodge. Dinner reservations must be made by Dec. 4. Lecture at 7:30 p.m. is free. 540-786-2470.

Washington: 7 p.m. Dec. 10. At Fort McNair, dinner meeting of the Civil War Round Table of the District of Columbia, with speakers Gloria Swift and Gail Stevens discussing "Lew Wallace: Controversial Civil War General." Reservations must be made by Dec. 4. Fee charged. 202-371-7135.

Leesburg -- 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10. At the Thomas Balch Library, National Park Service historian emeritus Ed Bearss will discuss Nathan Bedford Forrest at the monthly meeting of the Loudoun County Civil War Round Table. Free. 703-737-7150.

Alexandria -- Noon-4 p.m. Dec. 14. At the Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site, a program on how Christmas was observed during the war. Donation suggested. 703-838-4848.

Linda Wheeler can be reached at 703-443-6846 or wheelerl@washpost.com.

The White Oak Civil War Museum in Stafford County displays objects that D.P. Newton and his family have found.D.P. Newton has been collecting artifacts for almost 40 years. His collection includes bullets found at the sites of Union encampments.