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Cannonball, large gun found at Fort Monroe

Oct 29, 2009

By Patricia Radcliffe, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Monroe, Va.

FORT MONROE, Va. - A team of environmental and unexploded ordnance experts here unearthed an 11-foot-long cannon and a 10-inch cannonball on Oct. 21. The find was part of a four-month munitions probe in preparation for the installation's closure in September 2011.

Buried vertically, with the uppermost edge about two inches below ground level, the cannon is believed to be a four-and-a-half-inch ordnance rifle, pattern 1861 (produced until 1865), according to Paul Morando, director of the Casemate Museum on post. If this is so, it would be one of only 57 known to exist.
Seven feet of the gun were found intact and the breech, or back end, is missing. Experts surmise that it may have been blown off in an explosion or otherwise broken prior to burial. They also found a Parrot round lodged in its rusty chamber.

The cannonball was discovered in the same vicinity and buried about four feet down. It weighs about 100 pounds and is 10 inches in diameter. Morando said it is the type that would have been shot from one of the Rodman Guns that once dotted the shores of the installation when it played a key role in coastal defense.

The cannon and three cannonballs (two excavated earlier) were "rendered inert" by Norfolk Navy Explosives, Ordnance and Disposal experts and returned Oct. 23 for possible future display.

During the removal of the artifacts, officers from the 233rd Military Police Detachment cordoned off the area, and the surrounding homes and office buildings were evacuated as a safety precaution. It took about two hours to unearth the items.

Explosives experts then placed the objects on a trailer and transported them to a secure area on post for overnight storage. The Navy EOD team removed the cannon and cannonballs from the fort on Oct. 22 for further examination.

"What an exciting discovery," said Rob Reali, the Base Realignment and Closure Environmental Coordinator for the Fort Monroe Directorate of Public Works. "We're at the back end of our investigative field work and we've dug up a lot of scrap metal. It was fantastic to find something with such historical context for a change. It really excited the entire field crew, and it has drawn quite a crowd from public works over the past few days."

The Base Realignment and Closure Munitions Investigation began earlier this year. The first step was identifying buried "anomalies" through magnetic imaging. That process revealed about 2,500 metallic objects that merited investigation, according to Reali. The majority of the finds were items like railroad spikes, horseshoes, rebar and plumbing fixtures.

"We have found only five munitions of concern," Reali said. "They include two other cannonballs (four- and 10-inch diameters) and a Civil War-era Parrot round that's roughly three inches in diameter and eight inches long. They too were turned over to the Norfolk EOD team and transported off post."

The completed munitions investigation moves the installation one step closer to its goal of safely turning over the property to the Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority a little more than 23 months from now.

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