Civil War Era Landmine Discovery In Arkansas Leads To Evacuation

Toni Matthews - Author
By

Nov. 3 2016, Updated 5:51 p.m. ET

Have you ever mistaken a Civil-War era cannonball for a Civil War-era landmine? Well, Matt Bell initially made that mistake while excavating in the area of Danville, Arkansas. According to the Sentinel-Record, Bell thought he happened upon a time-worn cannonball. However, after closer inspection by an expert, Bell learned otherwise.

Not only was it a landmine left over from the American Civil War, but thanks to how well-preserved the item apparently was, there was the possibility that it was still active. Yes, you read that correctly: A landmine planted sometime in the mid-19th century still had the potential to blow everything and everyone around it sky-high.

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If that’s not enough to turn one’s hair white, the member of Matt Bell’s excavation crew that discovered and dug up the landmine (but had no idea it was a potentially active landmine) tossed the item several feet — because he assumed it was harmless.

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The above information was already hair-raising enough, but then Bell unknowingly upped the ante. He put the landmine into the backseat of his pickup truck and drove the object home to Hot Springs. His intention was to show the Civil War artillery item off to friends and family. The landmine was even brought indoors and into a kitchen where it was scrubbed off and weighed.

The “not-cannonball” was determined to weigh about 31.6 pounds. The average Confederate landmine from the Civil War-era is thought to weigh about 32 pounds. Unfortunately, there are cannonballs from that era that weigh about the same, furthering the confusion.

Bell wouldn’t learn the shocking truth about his historical find until after he drove it over to the Civil War Museum West in Hot Springs.

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The curator informed him that the item was indeed a landmine, and even showed Bell a Civil War-era photograph of similar items as proof. Once Matt realized the man was telling the truth, he took the landmine home and KHOU reports he contacted the Hot Springs Police Department.

Authorities met with the startled man near Woodberry Street, where he quickly explained how he came to have the dangerous item in his possession. Police then moved to evacuate residents from the area, with 15 to 20 homes impacted by the request.

Fortunately, most people at the site of the evacuation weren’t actually home at the time. It’s hard to imagine having the police knock on your door and inform you that you were being evacuated because a neighbor brought home a Civil War-era landmine that just might blow up your home.

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The Associated Press reports that bomb crews were able to safely detonate the landmine. When speaking about his rather harrowing experience, Matt Bell told reporters the following.

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“I’m actually thankful to Jesus Christ that I’m here giving this interview right now!”

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Bell has every reason to be thankful. It’s not every day you dig up an old landmine, toss it around, drive it across the state, and leave it on your kitchen counter overnight — but then live to give television interviews about it because the item miraculously failed to explode.

Civil War historians and archeologists were no doubt disappointed that the valuable bit of history was blown to bits as a safety precaution. The landmine was said to have had a “pressure sensor fuse that breaks a glass inside, which begins a chemical reaction that starts a fire and blows it up.”

Carl Drexler, an archaeologist with the Arkansas Archaeological Survey, said that the landmine discovery was hugely significant. According to Drexler, he’d never heard of that type of Confederate landmine being found to the “west of the Mississippi.”

Said Drexler, “[The Civil War-era landmine find] would be a new chapter in Civil War history, Arkansas history, and military history. It would really be a substantial find.”

[Image via screen grab from Steve Phillips/YouTube]

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