Monday, July 15, 2024

Civil War artillery shell found on Gettysburg battlefield

Civil War artillery shell found on Gettysburg battlefield


An artillery shell that may have been fired at Union soldiers by Confederate gunners during the Civil War 160 years ago was found on the battlefield at Gettysburg on Wednesday, a spokesman for the military park said Thursday.

The 10-pound, bullet-shaped shell was found by an archaeologist near Little Round Top, a hill that was the site of fierce fighting during the three-day battle in July 1863.

The archaeologist, Steve Brann, was conducting a preliminary ground sweep with a metal detector before the start of construction during the 18-month rehabilitation project that has been underway since July, said Jason Martz, a spokesman for the national military park.

It was late morning. “He started to go through with his metal detector and got a hit,” Martz said in a telephone interview. “He starts to dig an inch or two at a time, and he has a handheld metal detector.”

When he hit rocks, he pried them out one at a time, Martz said: “He was starting to get frustrated because he kept getting hits but he still wasn’t finding anything.”

He dug down 20 inches. “That’s deep for something like this,” Martz said.

He first spotted one end and thought it was just a fragment. But he gradually realized it was an entire shell and carefully dug it out. “He laid it down next to the hole and got out of there,” Martz said.

Park officials were notified, and experts from the Army’s 55th Ordnance Company, at Fort Belvoir, Va., were summoned to dispose of it. They examined it and took it to a secluded part of the battlefield and blew it up, Martz said.

“I heard it from my office,” he said. None of it was saved for display.

“We’re never going to know whether the thing was live or not,” he said. “And we’re never going to know how that shell got to the point where we found it.”

The assumption, and it is only as assumption, he said, is that the shell was fired by the Confederates on July 2, 1863, the second day of the battle, as the opposing forces fought over an area between Little Round Top and a pile of huge boulders called Devil’s Den.

“That is our best guess,” he said.

The shell could have been fired from a gun called a three-inch ordnance rifle, or from a 10-pound Parrott gun, Martz said. The shell could have been solid, or it could have contained an explosive charge, he said.

The fighting in the area was especially bitter, with bloody charges and countercharges as the Union forces struggled to hold their lines against Confederate assaults.

Union lines held, and the battle ended the next day with Union victory and the start of the collapse of the Confederacy.

“It’s a rare find, for sure,” he said. Only five artillery shells have been found in the park since 1980.

In addition, “there are likely still bodies on the battlefield,” he said. “We treat this battlefield as a cemetery.”

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