Military History/Brass Cannonball?


Many many years ago (early 1960's) this object was found in the flower bed around a relative's house just outside of Clarion, PA. Growing up we were always told it was a cannonball. It is brass, it is not solid, and you can hear something rattling inside if shaken. I received it from my father the other day and decided to try to research it.

In my searches I found a posting where someone else asked you about a brass cannonball back on 10/17/2009 and it had a photo that looks quite a bit like the one I have. It is approximately 2-5/8" in diameter and has a round spot on one side that is a slightly different color, more penny colored, presumably a plug. Your posting was skeptical that this was a cannon ball due to the cost of brass compared to iron back in the day.

Over the years this cannonball has been used as a hammer so it is pretty beat up. Photo attached.

Can you give me any additional ideas about this item?

Thank you in advance!


You forgot to attach the photo.

None the less, brass was not used much if at all for cannon balls.

Cannon pretty quickly were standardized into shot sizes and weights following the standardization that Napoleon undertook in the late 1700's -early 1800's.

A shot in the size of 2.84 was a 3lb shot.  Pretty small and not used very much. 6,8, and 12 lb guns were more widely used.

If your ball does not weigh 3lbs it probably is not a cannon ball.

The only balls that were hollow, were called shells.  They were packed with powder and a fuse was inserted in a hole that was ignited by the firing of the gun and it would burn for a proscribed time and the bursting charge would ignite bursting the shell raining shrapnel down on anyone unfortunate enough to be underneath it at the time.  A small ball of less than 3 inches would as you can imagine present some problems.  The manufacturing challenges, the small charge and the amount of shrapnel generated, would make it not worth the effort.

Solid cannon balls do their damage via inertia generated by their weight, so a hollow 3 inch ball that would collapse on impact would scarcely be counted on to do much damage.  A solid ball on the other hand...there are two stories from Waterloo: a French ball was seen in flight, it hit the ground in front of a British regiment, and went bouncing then rolling along the ground.  An overly enthusiastic young trooper yelled to his mates to stop it and put out his foot as he would to stop a soccer ball and the rolling 12 lb ball so mangled his ankle and foot, it required amputation.  The second story is related by an officer, he stated that an 18 lb ball decapitated the officer next to him on horseback, then proceeded on to kill 28 other soldiers in a regiment in formation behind them.  The most destructive single shot he saw in his military career.

It is in all likelihood an ornamental ball from a metal railing or other decoration that fell into the flower bed at some time in the past and was buried.

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Keith H. Patton


I can answer questions pertaining to weapons and tactics, personalities, battles, and strategies in european and U.S. history.


I was a history major, and had done extensive research in the subject area. I have designed and tested numerous computer games for various
historical periods.

B.A History M.S. Science
I have had the opportunity to live abroad and walk numerous battlefields both in the United States, Europe, and the Pacific.

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