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Past teaches present

By Joshua Mayes, historian | 628th Air Base Wing | April 4, 2018

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. —

On April 9, 1865 General Robert E. Lee signed the document officially ending the hostilities between the North and South. Although the American Civil War officially ended nearly 153 years ago, remnants of the war remain in the ground underneath Charleston in the form of exploded and unexploded ordnance. The construction boom in and around Charleston, along with major storms which hit the area, consistently reveal the presence of a variety of ordnance.  According to the 628th Mission Support Group deputy commander, Lt. Col. Matthew Brennan, “It is more common than you might think to find fired Civil War ordnance.”

The 628th ABW Explosive Ordnance Disposal flight, under the Civil Engineer squadron at Joint Base Charleston is notified, on average, two to three times per month to check out potentially dangerous shells found in the local area. All military ordnance, regardless of age, belong to the present-day military which means EOD must be called to check out the find and make preparations for disposal. Most of the ordnance is destroyed to prevent harm to military members and the general public. However, several types of Civil War shot and shells are used as training aids on JB Charleston to prepare EOD for the phone call bringing them downtown to conduct ordnance disposal. 

Mr. Graham Long, Head Curator of the Charleston Museum, conducts ordnance familiarization with EOD several times a year at the museum in downtown Charleston. He gives Air Force members a chance to handle the various types of inert shells he has in his extensive collection. Additionally, Long discusses where the ordnance has been found. EOD is already familiar with much of the ordnance in the collection; however, several of the items are considered rare, such as those shells fired by the infamous “Swamp Angel,” an eight inch, 22 mm, Parrott rifle, which bombarded Charleston in 1863. “The museum presents an opportunity for EOD to use items from our collection outside of their typical "museum gallery" setting. In this case, for up close and personal examination and education. Looking at Revolutionary and Civil War ordnance under glass is one thing, but for members of EOD, it's not good enough. Most of the members of this unit, if they stick around Charleston particularly, are going to have to deal with historical shot and shell. So, hopefully, by seeing and handling our collection, they can be even better prepared for what's out there,” said Long.

 

Lt. Paul Underwood, EOD Flight Commander noted, “It is important for EOD technicians to understand the ordnance they may come across in the Charleston area. Speaking with historians and visiting the Charleston Museum allows us to learn key identifying features for recognition of ordnance items. When we know what an item is, we have a better understanding of how it works. Knowing this allows us to recover the ordnance item in the safest possible manner. In the end, it is all about giving the EOD technicians every advantage to safely accomplish the mission.”

 

According to. U.S. Army Technical Center for Explosives Safety, “If you find ordnance or what looks like ordnance, do not move or touch it. Munitions are dangerous and may not be easily recognizable. Avoid areas where munitions may be encountered. Contact the police immediately if you suspect a munition.”