🔎 UNIDENTIFIED Canister shot, grapeshot or ball bearing? Calling all experts...


Jr. Member
May 25, 2014
East Tennessee
Detector(s) used
Equinox 800
Tesoro Vaquero
Primary Interest:
Metal Detecting
This "ferrous sphere" was dug up by a homeowner here in East Tennessee, who lives within rock-throwing distance of a small Union Civil War fort. I've spent a day in her yard and have not found anything conclusively of Civil War vintage, but it should be there under the layer of big nails.

Anyway, she let me take it home -- I put it in the electrolysis tank for 4 days, and this is what it looks like now.

Returning it to her tomorrow and would like to be able to tell her what she has. Here are the specs:

Diameter is generally about 1.310-1.312 inches, but there are areas where it goes down to 1.305 or even a hair less.
At times I think I have seen a mold seam, but it has always been inconclusive and now that it is fully cleaned I am not seeing one.
Weight on a jewelers scale is 146.79 g.
Based on diameter and weight, approximate density is 0.27 lb/in3 or 7.6 g/cm3, give or take. This seems to be on the high end for cast iron, maybe it's steel and therefore not shot?

I note from the link provided by TheCannonballGuy in another thread CW Artillery Shot Tables that there are quite a few possibilities for shot in the 1.3" range -- very close to this. Lack of an obvious mold seam seems bad. If it's not cast iron that's obviously very bad. But it was definitely found in the right sort of location and she thought it was about a foot down, so I'd love to hear some expert opinions before I tell her that her CW relic is a ball bearing.

Thanks to all -- Mark


Gold Member
Feb 24, 2006
Occupied CSA (Richmond VA)
Detector(s) used
White's 6000, Nautilus DMC-1, Minelab
Primary Interest:
Relic Hunting
I'm glad you already did what most people won't bother to do... check the 1861 Ordnance Manual's "Shot Tables" artillery-ball diameter-&-weigh charts to see if an extremely close match-up for the iron ball they've found. Thank you.

As you saw, there are a several types of 1.3"-diameter iron balls who could be a candidate. However, all but one is so rare (such as a 7"-caliber Brooke Canister ball) that the very-most likely candidate matching your 1.3" ball is a 24-Pounder caliber Howitzer Canister ball. That type of cannon was most often used in "small forts." (For example, in Virginia, Grant's army had no 24-Pounder Howitzers at all, and Lee's army had only four. That's because the 24-Pounder was ponderously large and heavy compared to most Field Artillery cannons -- so instead of trying to haul the big 24s around on mud roads, the armies of both sides tended to put them in permanent fortifications.

So, now we come to the final test for determining whether your 1.3" ball is a civil war Canister-ammo ball or not. You'll need to do some research to see whether the fort on your neighbor's land ever contained a 24-Pounder Howitzer cannon in its artillery armament. If no 24-Pdr. was present, there's no reason for a 24-Pdr. Canister ball to be present at the site.

For example, every so often on Ebay you'll see somebody selling supposed 42-Pounder caliber Canister ammo balls "from Gettysburg." But neither side had a 42-Pounder caliber cannon at Gettysburg. (Those balls are actually rock-crusher balls from a local Quarry-&-Stonemilling facility.)

Having long ago done some civil war relic hunting around Knoxville, I do know that SOME of the Knoxville fortifications contained 24-Pounder cannons. Good luck in your research.
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