A Civil War Cannonball Killed A Guy (In 2008)
When we talk about how recent the Civil War was, we often mention how few generations separate it from us. We've pointed out that the daughter of one Civil War soldier was still alive in 2020 (she died 11 days after we published that article). More surprising still, the spouse of a Civil War soldier was still alive in 2020. James Bolin married 17-year-old Helen Viola Jackson when he was 93, and she lived to be 101.
Here's another way we're not too far removed from the war: Battlefield litter is still out there waiting to be found. And when we say "litter," we mean explosives, and they're still explosive today.
In 2008, a history buff named Sam White collected a bunch of cannonballs in Virginia to restore them. This was routine for him. He'd by now restored some 1,600 pieces for other people's collections. On this day, he had 18 cannonballs ready for him.
To understand what happened next, you need to know the basics of what a cannonball really is. Sometimes, it's just a solid ball, maybe even made of stone, and all the power comes from the cannon that shoots it. But other times, it's more than that, just as a bullet is more than a hunk of metal. An iron cannonball may be filled with gunpowder and may come with its own fuse to light the explosive within.
White was taking care of a 75-pound cannonball that still had powder inside, and thanks to the ball's waterproofing, the powder was just as volatile as it had been 140 years earlier. He attacked the ball with a drill or a grinder to bring back the shiny surface. This set off sparks, with ignited the fuse and detonated the ball.
And so ended the life of history buff Sam White. Afterward, authorities evacuated 25 nearby homes until they made sure none of his remaining pieces stood as a threat.
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