Civil War era cannonball found under old oak tree in Conway

The 10-inch, 88-pound cannon ball was found in Conway. Source:
The 10-inch, 88-pound cannon ball was found in Conway. Source:
Jean Timbes, Ben Burroughs and Richard Johnson stand near the tree where the cannonball was found Tuesday. Source:
Jean Timbes, Ben Burroughs and Richard Johnson stand near the tree where the cannonball was found Tuesday. Source:

From WMBF News partner

Conway could have had an explosive day Tuesday when a Civil War era cannonball was found under a tree.

The 10-inch, 88-pound mortar projectile was found under an old oak tree in the front yard of Magnolia Bridal at the corner of Main Street and Fifth Avenue when crews were cleaning up storm damage.

Property owner Jean Timbes said crews were collecting fallen limbs when they noticed something under the tree.

"That area isn't usually raked, but with the debris they were cleaning it up," she said. "They called me and said they found something large and round under the front tree and I rushed over to see what it was."

It was a mortar ball!

Richard Johnson, retired owner of Historical Iron and historical conservator, and Ben Burroughs, local historian with the Horry County Archives Center at Coastal Carolina University, were called to the scene to investigate.

Johnson, who dug the cannonball out of its resting place, said it is either a dud that was fired from the river or it was a souvenir that someone brought home.

Johnson said the projectile could have belonged to Confederate soldiers.

"If there are no 'ears' on the mortar, it could have belonged to the Confederate soldiers," he said. "The 'ears' are indentation marks where soldiers would use a pair of tongs to grab the mortar shell and put it in the cannon. If it does have the 'ears,' it probably is a Federal or Union mortar."

Johnson said 8-inch and 10-inch cannon balls were used for siege purposes during the war. When he extracted the piece, he used a pair of calipers to verify its exact diameters.

The mortar that fired the spherical ball was smaller than the artillery 113,000-pound mortars, but similar to one displayed in Charleston today along its Battery Park.

"When someone was pinned in a position, the opposing army would lay siege to the town or fort and use these mortars to take it," Johnson said. "This particular spherical mortar probably had a timed wooden fuse plug that went into the hole in order for it to explode."

Johnson said a typical Army pattern was to fire one round into the air and count the seconds to see how far it went.

Once they knew the distance, they put another round into the mortar and just enough of a fuse to make it explode where they wanted.

The fuse automatically lit when the mortar was fired.

The balls could travel up to 2,000 yards or more than one mile.

The mortar ball was filled with fragments and pellets and when it exploded, the pieces rained down on the opposing Army.

"They had good accuracy and could hit an area 50-feet in diameter from a mile away," he said.

Johnson said the mortar might have been fired from the Waccamaw River, but he isn't 100 percent sure.

"It could also be a souvenir and nothing more," he said.

The only way to find out is to properly preserve the cannon with a reverse plating solution and look for some documentation.

Johnson said many people have found old cannon balls around Conway because more Civil War battles were fought in South Carolina than in any other state.

"There was a great deal of fighting here and we were occupied twice by Federal forces," he said. "They even used the old Horry County Courthouse as their headquarters in 1865."

Johnson said the mortar ball is likely worth between $600 and $800 or more depending on where it was manufactured.

"But it should be in a museum," he said.

Timbes said she has no idea how long that cannonball was wedged in the tree.

"The tree is at least 150-years-old, so who knows how long that has been there," she said. The property used to belong to Thomas W. Beaty and was on the outskirts of Conway in the late 1800s.

Union officers stayed near the property in the John R. Beaty house on Main Street.

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