10 October 2016

TIL: old cannonballs can explode

I don't envy the people who lived through the most recent hurricane, but I do envy those who were able to access those beaches afterwards with their metal detectors.  They probably scooped up handfuls of gold doubloons.

But "today I learned" that cannonballs of the Civil War era are supposedly dangerous (?)
A bomb squad was at a South Carolina beach on Sunday after Hurricane Matthew apparently unearthed old Civil War cannonballs from the sand.

Charleston County Sheriff's spokesman Maj. Eric Watson said in a news release that the cannon balls were found on Folly Beach Sunday afternoon, but bomb squad members couldn't get to it immediately because of the rising tide.

Once the ocean level goes down, Watson said technicians would render the cannonballs safe. He warned residents might hear a small boom.
I didn't realize a) that cannonballs of that era were packed with explosives, or b) that the material could still be reactive.  Frankly, I probably would have picked those up from the beach.


  1. Very unlikely they are still dangerous if from the civil war era. They likely didn't' have any form of explosive beyond black powder and that doesn't have as long a shelf life or the unstable properties that smokeless powder and high explosives can as they age. Better to play it safe just in case.

  2. If I remember correctly, they had timed fuses, based on the calculated time from firing to impact, which is why they exploded instead of just being a big chunk of metal that knocked a hole in something.

    1. Mostly a timed fuse is really just a length of fuse treated to burn at an expected rate or a powder channel that will burn at an expected rate as well. There were also rigged mechanical apparatus with a percussion cap but they detonated black powder. The more fiddly concussion fuzes could be dangerous becasue they can be made of chemicals that are more durable then the explosives they detonated would have been and can themselves still explode. Here's an overview here: http://civilwarartillery.com/fuzes/default.htm

  3. Civil war cannonballs have killed a man as recently as 2008
    - Jay



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