Posted on July 27, 2004
MYRTLE BEACH — Researchers say a rare Civil War artillery shell found at a construction site last week in Murrells Inlet could have been ammunition left from a skirmish between Confederate blockade runners and the U.S. Navy on the Waccamaw Neck.
The shell appears to have been fired from a large Parrott gun, but failed to explode for more than 100 years, said Jonathan Leader, director of the state Department of Archaeology and Anthropology.
The Parrott round could have been fired at a Confederate fort in Murrells Inlet. The forts were built after Union troops sealed the Port of Charleston, historians said. The shell, which had an inner core of black powder, was meant to be a timed explosive, Leader said.
“I would suspect that it was a time-fused cone filled with black powder,” Leader said. “This one was timed. It could go off in the air or on the ground.”
The Waccamaw Neck was a hotbed of resistance during the Civil War, according to “The History of Georgetown County” by George Rogers. On June 1, 1863, there was a skirmish between the Confederate blockade runner Rose and two Union boats. Although the Rose ran aground, the Confederates managed to defeat the Union soldiers.
Another skirmish happened on Debordieu Beach in 1864, when the Confederate blockade runner Dan ran aground and the boat was set on fire to keep it out of Union hands.
The shell’s origins are a mystery, but one thing is clear: The ammunition could have caused injuries if handled in the wrong way.
“The best thing to do is not to pick it up,” Leader said. “Black powder is made up of natural elements; it doesn’t have to go inert. It can contain sufficient wallop.”
The oblong piece of ammunition, last fired in the 1860s, was found by construction workers at a new subdivision on U.S. 17 south of Murrells Inlet early last week.
A worker loaded the shell in his truck and took it to the sheriff’s office substation. The building was evacuated for several hours until the State Law Enforcement Division took it away.
SLED officials said the shell was taken to a remote area and detonated by the bomb squad.
The Parrott rifle, named after inventor Robert Parrott, had a grooved interior that improved its accuracy. Parrott rifles and ammunition were found in Chester in 1986, said Fritz Hamer, chief curator at the South Carolina State Museum.
A Parrott round also was found in Charleston in 2002.