Civil War cannonballs can still pack a punch

“A unique bit of history occurred at Fort Macon in late 1941. A soldier placed two Civil War cannonballs in a fireplace of the living quarters to serve as andirons. One cannonball was live and exploded into a room of soldiers from the 244th Coast Artillery. Fortunately no one was killed.



“This incident ‘has been remembered ever since as the “last shot of the Civil War,” because the 244th Coast Artillery originally was the Ninth New York National Guard….’ ”

— From “Strongholds of the Coast” by Morgan Jones in Coastwatch (Holiday 2012)


“An investigation by federal explosives experts concludes that a Civil War relic hunter killed by an explosion in February was cleaning a 9-inch cannonball when a spark ignited the ancient ordnance.

“Sam White was working on the cannonball in his Chesterfield County (Va.) driveway with a grinding tool.

“The tool ignited gunpowder residue, which exploded the shell. The blast killed White and sent a portion of the cannonball one-quarter of a mile away and through the roof of another home.”

— From  “Spark ignited deadly cannonball explosion in Chesterfield” in the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Aug. 11, 2008) 


“Archaeologists who study historic munitions say that if they’re handled properly, they shouldn’t pose much of a risk. Most black powder explosives have been rendered inert by decades and decades of water seeping in. Those that haven’t aren’t prone to go off without the help of a flame — usually a stray spark from a power tool trying to open one up.”

— From “The Air Force demolished 15 Civil War cannonballs in Charleston. But should they have?” by Thad Moore in the Charleston Post & Courier (Jan. 1)


Midweek link dump: Sniff sniff bang bang

— New owner of abandoned Frying Pan Shoals Light Tower brings back first impression: “It smelled like 1964.”

— No casualties when antique cannonball dug from beach near Fort Caswell belatedly goes boom! (Unlike 1941, when two members of the Coast Artillery Corps at the antebellum Fort Macon suffered shrapnel wounds after rolling what they mistook for solid iron shot into a fireplace to use as andirons.)

— Collection of almost 700 ambrotypes and tintypes of Civil War-era soldiers donated to  Library of Congress. Most are unnamed, few are Confederates and perhaps only one is a North Carolinian. All are painfully evocative.