Civil War UXO kills collector


Thin Black Line
May 3, 2008, 07:13 AM

Civil War cannonball kills Va. relic collector

Steve Szkotak, The Associated Press

CHESTER, VA. - Like many boys in the South, Sam White got hooked on the Civil War early, digging up rusting bullets and military buttons in the battle-scarred earth of his hometown.

As an adult, he crisscrossed the Virginia countryside in search of wartime relics -- weapons, battle flags, even artillery shells buried in the red clay. He sometimes put on diving gear to feel for treasures hidden in the black muck of river bottoms.

But in February, White's hobby cost him his life: A cannonball he was restoring exploded, killing him in his driveway.

More than 140 years after Lee surrendered to Grant, the cannonball was still powerful enough to send a chunk of shrapnel through the front porch of a house a quarter-mile from White's home in the leafy Richmond suburb of Chester.

White's death shook the close-knit fraternity of relic collectors and raised concerns about the dangers of other Civil War munitions that lie buried beneath old battlefields. Explosives experts said the fatal blast defied extraordinary odds.

"You can't drop these things on the ground and make them go off," said retired Col. John F. Biemeck, formerly of the Army Ordnance Corps.

Experts suspect White was killed while trying to disarm a 9-inch, 75-pound naval cannonball, a particularly potent explosive with a more complex fuse and many times the destructive power of those used by infantry artillery.

White, 53, was one of thousands of hobbyists who comb former battlegrounds for artifacts.

"There just aren't many areas in the South in which battlefields aren't located. They're literally under your feet," said Harry Ridgeway, a former relic hunter with a vast collection. "It's just a huge thrill to pull even a mundane relic out of the ground."

After growing up in Petersburg, White went to college, served on his local police force, then worked as a deliveryman for UPS. Upon retirement, he devoted most of his time to relic hunting.

He was an avid reader, a Civil War raconteur and an amateur historian who watched History Channel programs over and over, to the mild annoyance of his wife.

"I used to laugh at him and say, 'Why do you watch this? You know how it turned out. It's not going to be any different,' " Brenda White said.

She didn't share her husband's devotion, but she was understanding of his interest.

"True relic hunters who have this passion, they don't live that way vicariously, like if you were a sports fanatic," she said. "Finding a treasure is their touchdown, even if it's two, three bullets."

White estimated he had worked on about 1,600 shells for collectors and museums. On the day he died, he had 18 cannonballs lined up in his driveway to restore.

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May 3, 2008, 09:08 AM
As an EOD/UXO guy with well over 40 years military and civilian experience I can tell you that this guy was nuts. He endangered the lives of his neighbors and relatives. No one in his/her right mind drills into a piece of live civil war explosive ordnance while standing over it.

White was not "restoring" civil war explosive ordnance: Rather he was inerting it. He also had a very lucrative business selling the stuff.

May 4, 2008, 07:30 AM
Wonder what he looked like afterwards. I mean what percentage effectiveness the shell had after that long. Professional curiosity.

Double Naught Spy
May 4, 2008, 07:41 AM
Reminds me of the cartoon with Bugs Bunny hitting the tips of shells in a factory and when they didn't explode, writing DUD on the sides.

Thin Black Line
May 4, 2008, 08:48 AM
When I saw the original title for the article I imagined a cannon ball rolling
off a book shelf and hitting someone on the head. When I read "exploded"
I wondered if this was now the oldest on record?

Makes me think twice about taking a humanitarian mission into the hills
of Nicaragua next year...

El Tejon
May 4, 2008, 12:01 PM
I bet it went something like . . . "Hey, Jasper, hold this here beer and let me show ya somethin'".:rolleyes:

He was an avid reader

Avid reader? Really? Apparently Bobby Lee Banjo didn't read the right things such as how dangerous unexploded munitions are.:uhoh:

May 4, 2008, 05:54 PM
Does he qualify as the last casualty of the civil war?

Double Naught Spy
May 4, 2008, 06:02 PM
Naw, just the latest casualty.

May 4, 2008, 06:03 PM
I'm originally from Virginia. Every couple of years you read about someone trying to inert a Civil War shell and it explodes. A collector friend of mine always submerged the shells in a bucket of water to neutralize any sparks caused by the drill bit.

May 4, 2008, 06:20 PM
Darn Yankee Sailors.......

If you have UXO you should NEVER try to disarm it yourself that is what EOD's are for this still happens over in Europe where people will step on old landmines (WW2 commonly rare cases of WW1 stuff) and get seroiusly wounded if not killed.

May 4, 2008, 06:32 PM
That happened Feb. 18, and was well publicized on national news at the time.

Wonder why the ran the story again after 2 1/2 months?

It was in my local paper this week too.


The Tourist
May 4, 2008, 06:40 PM
Why, oh why did you guys print this?

Now bubbas from Wisconsin are going to be jealous of your bubbas, and they're going to migrate to your area for unexploded ordnance.

And then along Labor Day weekend, my peaceful bliss is going to be shattered as one by one, trailor parks in my area start exploding.


May 4, 2008, 09:28 PM
There have been mustard gas shells dredged up out of the Atlantic off of Maryland or NJ. There are tons of shells on the bottom from NC on up the coast. And barrels, some radioactive supposedly.

Let me see...okay...,0,4135462.story+virginia+wwi+shells+found+in+house&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=2&gl=us


"Homeowners have been finding military ordnance in their clamshell driveways in Delaware and Maryland for the last year.

So far, 318 pieces of ordnance have been recovered.

A clam dredging operation pulled them up about 20 miles off New Jersey. The clamshells were chopped up and widely distributed for cheap driveway fill throughout the Delmarva Peninsula.

One piece found in a driveway in the summer of 2004 was a 75 mm artillery shell from World War I, filled with mustard gas in solid form."

May 5, 2008, 10:16 PM
there has been an ongoing issue down in orlando about old munitions... it seems that someone thought it would be a brilliant idea to build a neighborhood and a middle school within a few hundred yards of the land that was used as a bombing range by aircraft out of McCoy AFB in the 1940s through the 1960s

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