PRAIRIE GROVE, Ark. — The decision by Arkansas authorities to detonate an unearthed Civil War artillery shell has some historians upset about the loss of the artifact.
The 14-pound James Rifle shell was discovered last month by a gas-line crew working along a road in Prairie Grove, the Arkansas Democrat–Gazette reported.
The shell apparently had been left by Confederate troops during the 1862 Battle of Prairie Grove and was turned over to the city, which planned to donate it to the Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park.
But before that could happen, someone from the Bentonville Bomb Squad saw a photo of the shell on the city’s Facebook page. The squad’s commander, Mike Meadors, said the shell was then confiscated and destroyed by the U.S. military in a rock quarry near West Fork.
“In the interest of public safety, this round was about 150 years old and still contained explosives,” he said.
The destruction caught city and park officials off guard, who said they didn’t have time to seek advice with other parks about what to do with the shell.
“We could have called Gettysburg or somebody and said ‘Surely y’all have run into this. What do you do?’” said Jessee Cox, the park’s superintendent. “There’s no 800 number to call and get those answers.”
Alan Thompson, a museum registrar at the park, said the shell should have been disarmed and preserved. He said the park has about 10 similar shells that were donated live and later disarmed at U.S. military arsenals.
Bentonville Police Chief Jon Simpson said he understands the historical significance of the shell, but that the U.S. military maintains control over it because it’s a military device.