Cannonball Showcase

IMG_2472It’s not unusual to see cannonballs and other ordnance decorating Charleston locations, because there is certainly more where that came from. The city has twice been subjected to bombardment from besieging troops – in 1780 by the British, and from 1863-65 by Federal troops. Contrary to the popular conception that these balls, shot and shells were fired into the city by ships, by far the largest amount came from land-based guns. Ship cannons in historic times rarely had the ability to be angled high enough to fired great distances, whereas land guns could easily be set at a trajectory that allowed great range. The British did fire into the city from ships that came very close to the peninsula, but they also used guns placed at land approaches to a city they had surrounded by 1780. Some of the British guns were placed West of the Ashley River, about were the neighborhood of Moreland is today, and launched both explosive balls and solid shot at patriot fortifications. Just last year, a 22-pound solid ball was unearthed on Savage Street, which would have been the western line of American defenses during the Revolution.

More common and plentiful were the bullet-shaped explosive shells of the Federal guns mounted on and around Morris Island. These huge rifled cannons could fire 200-pound projectiles in excess of 3 miles, and also included rounds mixed with pitch and tar to ignite fires. One single gun near Cummings Point fired 4606 shells into Charleston in the Fall of 1863 before its muzzle exploded, and estimated are as high as 22,000 rounds fired by Northern troops at Charleston. Some folks have dug these up, and the proper procedure is to call in the Air Force Base Bomb Squad, as the black powder inside still may be dangerous. However, as much as Charlesonians like their artifacts, many are willing to disarm the shells themselves, and a certain prominent attorney who lives on Tradd Street still displays a 200-pound Parrott shell in his hallway that was dug up by a contractor, who simply sat the shell in a garbage can full of water for several days to assure it was defused.

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