Amateur archaeologist finds Civil War cannonball in Eno River in Hillsborough

tgrubb@newsobserver.comJune 10, 2014 

— A young boy with a love for archaeology dug a Civil War cannonball from the muddy banks of the Eno River earlier this month in Gold Park.

“Sometimes you chase history, and sometimes it finds you,” said Scott Washington, assistant director of the Orange County Historical Museum.

Eli Aquino, 8, was exploring the river with Hillsborough resident Tim Duffy and his friend Cornelius Lewis when they spotted the object on June 1. Normally, they find old glass bottles and shards of pottery, but this looked different, Lewis said.

They thought it might be a cannonball, but the fuse on top reminded them of a prisoner’s ball and chain. They took it back to Duffy’s house in a bucket of water, where it sat for about a week in the driveway.

“We like swimming, and he got some goggles from his mom, and he wanted to go find treasure,” Duffy said. “He was down there having fun.”

They called Washington and the Hillsborough Police Department about the object Monday. Police evacuated the property as a precaution and called the nearest bomb squad at the Durham County Sheriff’s Office.

The U.S. Bormann 12-pound fused cannonball, coated with red mud and rust, had an intact timer and was live, said Sgt. Mark Manning, with the bomb squad. Even if kept in water, black powder never goes bad, he said.

The bomb squad put the cannonball in a “containment vessel” and took it to a storage area. They plan to disarm it but aren’t sure how much will be saved, Manning said.

Duffy did the right thing by keeping the cannonball in water, Washington said.

“He consulted (with authorities), he put it in a bucket of water as soon as he knew, (and) didn’t move it,” Washington said. “You don’t want to transport these around.”

The best approach, however, is to call law enforcement and leave the ordnance alone, he said.

There’s no way to know how the cannonball got to the park, he said. Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston headquartered in Hillsborough during the Civil War, and many troops camped there before the 1865 surrender to Union Gen. William T. Sherman at Bennett Place in Durham.

The cannonball would have been packed with black powder and projectiles; its fuse was ignited by the muzzle flash, Washington said. The timer was set to explode the cannonball one to five seconds later, raining a hail of shrapnel on the enemy.

Hillsborough police regularly get calls about unexploded ordnance, Cpl. Scott Foster said.

“Most times, people don’t know what they’ve got,” Manning said.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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