Sunday, February 5, 2012

Straight From the Department of Bad Ideas

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

On June 10 1865 - Federal veterans dedicated one of the first (if not the first) monument to the Union dead. Located on Henry Hill at the Manassas battlefield, this comparatively modest structure stands to remind visitors of the sacrifices at both battles decided on that field.

So...that actually seems like a good idea. The bad idea comes into play when we look at exactly how the monument was adorned. The builders needed a few decorations - and (according to a story I heard while visiting this very monument) decided to go with some 2o pound shells. No one thought to check if this was live ordnance, which it was.


[caption id="attachment_1943" align="alignright" width="222" caption="Don't get too close!"][/caption]

Strangely - also...according to hearsay - no one figured this out until 1975 during a restoration effort. From what I understand, when the National Park Service took the shells down for disarming, one exploded and killed a worker. Today, the shells are reproductions.

An interesting story to be sure...I am not sure of its veracity, so I am going to check with my friend Harry Smeltzer - he's the authority on all things Manassas. At least the story, apocryphal or not, provides a good lesson for future monument builders - be wary of live ammunition!




  1. Scott A. MacKenzieFebruary 5, 2012 at 5:56 AM

    I recall that a howitzer memorial on the Rhode Island State Capitol grounds sat outside for a century before someone found out it was loaded.

  2. Hmmm very interesting back story. How could anyone think live ammunition would make great decorations.

  3. Yes, the projectiles were "filled." At least one of them was a Parrott 8-inch case-shot. Sorry to "snopes" part of the story, but nobody was killed disarming the projectiles. I photographed one of them (I was tagging along with Harry) at the Manassas VC -

    The powdery residue you see in the projectile's cavity is not black powder, rather a sulfur "matrix" used to hold the iron balls in place. The powder would have filled a hole below the fuse. From what I could tell a plug was on the nose, rather than a fuse, during its long display on the monument.

  4. Keith,

    I see Craig has filled you in. Here's a link to my photo of the shell:

    It's the last photo in the post - click on the thumb for a larger image.

    I also wrote an article about the monument's dedication: