My First Complete Civil War Shell!

My First Complete Civil War Shell!

I had taken up water hunting during the summer to beat the heat.   Wading in cool knee deep water keeps you cool no matter how hot it is, it seems.  I tried creek hunting last year, and it was a disaster.  I was ill-equipped, and didn’t realize how different water hunting was from hunting the land and after only getting a couple of hub caps and a lot of aluminum cans, and almost drowning my e-Trac several times, I had given up.

This year, I spent time preparing.  First I asked some successful water hunters in the area for tips.  Aaron Lowe, Jonathan James and Mike Fuson of the Middle Tennessee Metal Detecting Club were extremely generous to spend time giving me tips.  I immediately realized I was doing just about everything wrong.   Finally, I asked Jonathan James, who had experience in the water, to hunt with me and show me the ropes.

I purchased a second-hand water-proof Garrett AT Pro with a small coil to dedicate to water hunting.   My wife, Jessica, bought me a really nice Apex pick with magnets on it to dig stuff out of crevices and cracks of rocky creek bottoms.   I love this pick.  It is lightweight and tough, practically bulletproof, with a fine smooth handle.


I made it my number one goal to find a Civil War relic in the water this summer.    Adding to the challenge, local law here doesn’t allow metal detecting in many waterways or areas, so you have to find water on private property or other areas where it is not a problem in order to avoid getting in big trouble.

So it came to pass that I bailed on working on Wednesday around lunch to hunt a small creek running through a farmer’s field.  I initially waded downstream through the cool water about a quarter mile and back with zero luck except for garbage.   Returning to where I started, and began moving upstream, in the other direction.  About 25 yards upstream the AT Pro rang out and I bent down and saw a cannonball embedded in the rocky bottom of the creek.  At least I hoped it was a cannonball, and not a mill ball, a shotput, fence fenial or some type of weird iron ladle head turned upside down.

The ball was stuck fast in a hole in the bottom of the creek.  I carefully worked around it with the Apex about ten minutes, careful to just pry loose gravel from around the shell and not bang on the shell like an idiot with a death wish.   150 years in the water had literally attached the bottom of the ball to the creekbed.   When it finally came out, I carefully pulled it from the water.  When I saw the fuse-hole I knew it was a Civil War shell.  This one is not a solid-shot made entirely of iron.  This was an iron shell, probably full of powder, and was probably extremely dangerous.  I carefully took it immediately to a nearby expert and left it with him to disarm it properly.

This one is a 12 pound Borman-fused shell, probably Federal.   It is my first complete Civil War projectile!

I don’t recommend that anyone handle and fool around with one of these.   Knowing that eventually I’d probably find one, I did a lot of research and asked a lot of questions to understand my potential risk, and exactly what I should do if I found one.   Without exception, the only injuries of CW shells exploding I could find occurred during de-activation of a shell – spark or heat from a drill bit breaching the core of the shell, for example.   But I wouldn’t bet my life on one of these not exploding for no reason.   I handled this one like a raw egg and took it directly to someone who I knew would make it 100% safe.

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