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Civil War shell detonated after being hauled away

Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace, left, and Investigator Mike Traxler pick up the remains of the Civil War-era shell exploded Wednesday night.(Jon Giffin The Vicksburg Post)

[12/11/03]An artillery shell from the Civil War, still dangerous after 140 years, was detonated in south Warren County Wednesday night after law enforcement and a military team hauled it from downtown Vicksburg.

“A lady asked me to identify the cannonball and tell her if it was loaded,” said Joe Gerache, 77, and owner of Corner Drug Store.

Gerache has collected Civil War-era items, including medicines and weapons, since he was a teen. The drugstore is filled with his collectibles and he’s well-known as an expert. “I told her I can’t tell just by looking at it,” Gerache said, “but I would call someone with more expertise.”

Gerache put the shell in a box of pecans in his vehicle.

Meanwhile, the owner of the cannonball, who was not identified, called L.W. Callaway III, director of the Warren County Emergency Management Office, who in turn called federal ordnance experts.

The cannonball, apparently still filled with black powder so it would explode after being fired, was moved from Gerache’s SUV parked on Washington Street after precautions were taken.

The street was blocked for nearly an hour before a convoy including Warren County sheriff’s deputies, Vicksburg police officers, rescue and Army officials traveled to south Warren County.

The shell was remotely detonated on privately owned land.

A captain who would not give his name said if the shell had exploded during handling, shrapnel could injure and even kill those standing 100 feet away.

After the explosion, which generated little light with a loud boom, only pieces of the cannonball, bits of pecan shells and fragments of the cardboard box remained.

Callaway said it is not uncommon for the shells to be found in the Vicksburg and Warren County area.

Most are remnants of the Siege of Vicksburg in 1863 when Confederate and Union forces traded fire for months.