Man finds Civil War cannonball in yard

Jul. 02, 2013 @ 07:44 PM

A man found a live Civil War cannonball in his yard, hit it with a hammer and tried without success to sell it to an antiques dealer, authorities said Tuesday.

Deputies said if the man had hit the cannonball a few more times, it could have exploded.

The Durham County sheriff’s bomb squad was called at 12:20 p.m. Monday to a house at 2706 W. Main St. after the man reported finding the cannonball in his yard while digging.

He said he unearthed it June 16, hit it with a hammer to remove dirt and kept it for a few days before taking it to an antiques dealer in Hillsborough.

The dealer was unhappy “that this gentleman brought a possibly live cannonball into his shop and ordered him to leave,” said Deputy Paul Sherwin, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office.

The man returned home and called Durham police, who called the sheriff’s bomb squad,formally the Hazardous Devices Unit.

Bomb squad investigators put the cannonball into a “containment vessel” and took it to a firing range, where they destroyed it.

Lt. Tony Prignano, the bomb squad’s commander, said he confirmed the cannonball was from the Civil War and known as a Bormann fused shell.

“How it got on Main Street is beyond me, but that’s where it was,” Prignano said Tuesday.

He said he confirmed that it was a Confederate cannonball after comparing it to documents of Civil War munitions.

Prignano said deputies hit the cannonball with a “shape charge” using a low amount of explosives, and it “split in half like an egg.”

He said this isn’t the first time he’s dealt with a cannonball.

“A few years ago, we got a 12-pounder off Geer Street in East Durham and destroyed it,” he said. “This one was about six pounds (the powder’s weight). It was dry and had a big chance of exploding, but luckily, we did it safely and cracked it wide open.”

But Prignano said things might have turned out differently if the homeowner had continued to pound it with his hammer.

“If he had kept on hitting it,” Prignano said, “he could have donated the powder, and that could have been bad.”