Death of a Relic Hunter

by Fred Ray on May 2, 2008 · 3 comments

The AP has an article on the recent death of relic hunter and Civil War ordnance expert Sam White this February in Richmond.

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.

Biemeck and Peter George, co-author of a book on Civil War ordnance, believe White was using either a drill or a grinder attached to a drill to remove grit from the cannonball, causing a shower of sparks.

Because of the fuse design, it may have appeared as though the weapon’s powder had already been removed, leading even a veteran like White to conclude mistakenly that the ball was inert.

I was in Richmond just after the explosion, which caused profound shock in the Civil War community there. It seemed everybody knew and loved Sam and couldn’t believe this had happened. He was frequently commissioned by the NPS to dewat artillery shells, and as the article says, was a real expert on the subject, not just some guy who dug up shells and drilled into them. Even the clerk at the hotel where I stayed knew Sam.

The accident has also caused some overreaction by the authorities, especially since the explosion happened in a residential area. There have been proposals for strict regulation of all CW ordnance, licensing, and prohibition of storage in residential neighborhoods. I was up there a month later talking to a group of relic hunters who very very concerned that it was going to drive them out of business.


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mike - Best Metal Detectors July 20, 2008 at 8:10 pm

I read about this shortly after it happened as it was a topic in most of the metal detecting forums I frequent.

It’s really sad, but hopefully some good will come of it. If others realize that he was an expert and this happened, then maybe they won’t attempt this.



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