Construction Crew Finds Hundreds of Potentially Explosive Cannonballs

Summary

  • Hundreds of Civil War era cannonballs have been found at a construction site in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania
  • Ordnance disposal teams must carefully remove and detonate each one
  • Delays are expected to extend over a week

A construction crew stumbled across a potentially explosive find while excavating the site of a future apartment complex.

Located close to the former Allegheny Arsenal, a Civil War munitions factory, the construction site was expected to contain Civil War antiques. However, no one was prepared for the quantity of ammunition that has been uncovered.

The crew first spotted the munitions in the bucket of the excavator. Having known they needed to be on the lookout, a crew member identified them immediately.

Civil War artillery ammunition falls into four categories:

Solid

As the name implies, these were solid balls of iron. Their purpose was primarily to take out long rows of infantry or cavalry through sheer kinetic energy in a "bowling ball" effect.

Shell

Shells were designed to be used against fortifications and enemy artillery. They were hollow iron spheres filled with black powder, detonated by a fuse lit at time of firing.

Case

This anti-personnel ammunition was designed by British General Henry Shrapnel. It was a hollow iron sphere filled with up to 75 iron balls, intended to explode about 15 feet overhead of an advancing infantry group.

Canister

Canisters did not contain any explosive powder. They contained a number of small, metal balls which were designed to scatter upon leaving the muzzle of a cannon, essentially creating a very large shotgun.

Check out how a bomb squad handles detonation of civil war ordnance. 

While it is unclear exactly which type of munition is being dug up at the construction site, full precautions must be taken to assume that each one is a live piece of ordnance.

The sheer number of shells uncovered has necessitated that a special subcontractor, Ordnance Holdings Inc., come in to complete the removal.  

Source: WTAE Pittsburgh