Peace Time: Ancient Cannon Ball Explodes



May 5, 2008:  The U.S. Civil War continues to kill. Sam White,  a Virginia based collector of Civil War munitions, died recently while cleaning up a nine inch, 75 pound,  cannon ball. White had previously restored or examined over 1,500 of these shells. But the one that killed him was different. It was fired from a ship board gun, and was designed to be more waterproof than shells used by land based artillery. This kept the fuze, and black powder explosive charge, dry and viable after 150 years. Mister White was using metal tools to clean up the shell, which apparently set off the fuze, and detonated the shell more than 150 years after it was fired off the Virginia coast.


There are still thousands of Civil War era shells buried, or sitting on the bottom off the coast. But a far more dangerous threat are unexploded munitions from more recent wars, especially the two World Wars. Over a thousand bombs, hand grenades, mines and shells from these conflicts are uncovered each year in Europe alone. Still more are unearthed in Asia and North Africa. People continue to die from the World Wars, and will for decades to come.


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