Archaeologists, historians, volunteers differ on 'coolist' finds

Posted: April 14, 2016 at 1 a.m.

Mark Wheeler of Garfield shows a piece of cannon shot uncovered in Ruddick's Field at the Pea Ridge National Military Park. Pieces retrieved in a spring break dig directed by the Arkansas Archeological Survey will be returned after a three-year study to the National Parks Service and perhaps displayed at the local park.
Zoom

Mark Wheeler of Garfield shows a piece of cannon shot uncovered in Ruddick's Field at the Pea Ridge National Military Park. Pieces retrieved in a spring break dig directed by the Arkansas Archeological Survey will be returned after a three-year study to the National Parks Service and perhaps displayed at the local park.

"Everybody always wants to know what was the coolest piece we found," said Jamie Brandon, state archaeologist based at the University of Arkansas with the Arkansas Archeological Survey. "But archaeologists find the really cool things in patterns.

Shots fired

During the recent archeological survey of Ruddick’s Field at Pea Ridge National Military Park, archaeologists and volunteers found rounds and fragments from several types of ammunition shot from artillery. Troy Banzhoff, park interpreter, provided these explanations:

• Case rounds. Normally manufactured rounds fired from cannons — such as the 6-pound ball found. These shell of the cannon balls were hollow, then packed full of iron or lead balls and exploding black powder in the middle. Different fuses were used, cut to different lengths determining how long the fuse burned and how far the cannonball would fly until the shot exploded, sending out the smaller shots.

The majority of fragments found during the dig came from case shot, Banzhoff said.

• Canister rounds. Tin cans packed with iron — such as the unidentified round bars found during this exploration. These were shot at a close range, with the can exploding and the shrapnel dispersing over a wide area.

• Solid rounds. Solid cannonballs skipped across the battlefield, targeting the lower bodies of soldiers. The 6-pound ball found by Mark Wheeler and Jared Pebworth is an example. Canister shot also was used this way.

• Individual bullets were found — mostly unharmed — in the area of the siege, leading researchers to think they were rounds dropped by Confederate forces. One was identified in the field by the AAS’s Jared Pebworth as a 36-caliber, teardrop bullet from a pistol, made at the St. Louis Arsenal. Pebworth noted he previously has found a number of similar pieces found in the camps commanded by Gen. James G. Blunt, the Union’s division commander at the Battle of Prairie Grove in December 1862.

This story is only available from our archives.