Sunday, July 28, 2013

"Iron Man" of Charleston, SC, Collects Civil War Munitions

Old cannon balls, shells, grenades and other munitions from the Civil War.

Behind a two-story home on a rural Lowcountry road, long-forgotten relics from a more than century-old conflict lie marinating in electrolyte baths so that future generations might someday see them up close.

Dozens of cannonballs, mortar shells and other munitions used in the Civil War sit in water-filled barrels that are juiced with a small electrical charge that travels along a maze of wires from a battery. It’s part of a year-long process to remove iron oxide, salt water and rust to keep the aged armaments from chipping, cracking and crumbling when they are exposed to the air after years under water or ground.

The backyard operation is not part of a high-tech laboratory or the brainchild of a noted scientist. Rather, it’s a labor of love launched by a coastal native with a passion for history and skills honed by decades of experimentation, trial-and-error and advice from those who came before him.

Unexploded rounds from the War Between the States pepper the region and are uncovered from time to time during construction digs and renovation projects, prompting anxious calls to local police and military bomb squads. Their solution, more often than not, is to blow up the old rounds to eliminate any threat to the public.

That galls some preservationists, who see each exploded piece of ordnance as another chunk of history lost.

“They don’t need to do that,” said the man with the backyard munitions collection. “This stuff needs to be seen by people.”

The man has what may be the largest private collection of Civil War munitions in the state, but he stays far clear of the limelight as a general rule. He agreed to talk with The Post and Courier on the condition that his name not be used and the location of his home kept secret.

He’s wary of thieves, curiosity-seekers and reality-TV producers looking to make a buck off his endeavors.

And he has a lot of Southern pride, too:

More than a half-dozen TV types tried to track him down after he appeared anonymously in a Garden & Gun magazine article this year. But the collector, known by some as Iron Man, said he is not interested in helping with low-budget productions looking to ridicule the South or spur a frenzied hunt for artifacts on solemn ground.

“South Carolina is one of the few states where you can still find artifacts,” he said. “And it is a privilege.”

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