Conway cannonball saga comes to explosive end

The 10-inch, 88-pound cannon ball was found in Conway. Source:
The 10-inch, 88-pound cannon ball was found in Conway. Source:

From WMBF News partner

The saga of Conway's Civil War era cannonball came to an explosive end this past week.

While cleaning the mortar, Horry County Museum director Walter Hill found what he believed to be part of a detonator lodged in the device.

"We were going through the careful process of cleaning this piece and about two inches into the hole, we ran into a solid obstruction," he said. "We expected just to find an empty cavern, but that wasn't the case. That is how this find went from really cool to something that could be dangerous."

Hill said he spoke with Civil War expert Ted Gragg and he suggested having it x-rayed.

Horry County police were called in and it was determined that the mortar was still considered a live round, meaning it could still explode under the right circumstances.

Hill said because it was considered a live round, officials with Shaw Air Force Base were called in to detonate the mortar safely.

"We couldn't keep it and the police couldn't keep it because it is a danger," he said. "It is a military ordnance and is not supposed to be in civilian hands."

Staff Sgt. Jeremy Sutphen, with civil engineer squadron explosive ordnance disposal at Shaw Air Force, said his unit got a call Friday afternoon asking his team to investigate the device.

"With any military ammunition, we are responsible for it," he said. "With the help of Horry County police, we evacuated the building and went inside to identify the device. Based on identification, we decided that there were still explosive components to the cannonball and that it was not safe to leave at the museum."

Sutphen said Horry County police helped them find an area to dispose of the ordnance.

"We transported it and detonated it at the Conway City police shooting range," he said. "It really wasn't a big explosion because we mitigated it with sandbags and buried part of the cannonball so that it wouldn't fragment."

Sutphen said it is not uncommon to find unexploded cannonballs or projectiles around South Carolina.

"We find them periodically throughout the state and we are usually called in by the local authorities to dispose of them," he said.

Jean Timbes, who owns the property where the mortar was found, said she is sad the cannonball had to be destroyed.

"I know that it wasn't safe, but it is sad," she said. "That was Conway's find and our story. It is sad that we weren't able to disable the detonator and save the piece of history."

Hill said he doesn't think the mortar would have exploded without a direct blow.

"It was bounced around a bit and was under that tree for many years," he said. "It is sad that we lost it. It was a really interesting piece of history that provoked a lot of questions."

Hill said while he was cleaning the mortar he learned a few things.

"We learned that it was a 10-inch, 88-pound Confederate naval shell that would have been used for firing over fort walls," he said. "The large, heavy shells were not meant for accuracy, but rather to explode within a fort and cause damage."

However, Hill said they still don't know how it got under that oak tree in Conway.

"We couldn't find anything that distinctly said why it was there," he said.

The mortar was found Feb. 18 under an oak tree in the front yard of Magnolia Bridal at the corner of Main Street and Fifth Avenue when crews were cleaning up debris from the ice storm.

Timbes had hoped to put the mortar on display at the Horry County Museum for the community to enjoy.

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