A Big Fucking Gun

In case you think America’s cultural love affair with grotesque violence is anything new, Chris Dixon visits with individuals “who specialize in the disarming and preservation of live shells and cannonballs” from the Revolutionary War and Civil War. He met one man who is known as the Big Iron Man:

He hands me an iron sphere the size of a billiard ball, part of a load of grapeshot. “Grape was like a big shotgun shell,” he says. “The troops were marching in and they’d fire grape into ’em. Thirty people would just disappear in a mist of red. It was horrible.”

If these weapons inflicted such misery, I ask, why preserve them? “People have been trying to kill each other through all of history,” his wife replies. “Well, this is how they did it from 1861 to 1865. It illustrates not only the advances in technology, but the differences in resources between the North and the South.”

Her husband props his feet up on a fifteen-inch Union cannonball. “The Yanks were throwing these at Battery Wagner on Morris Island,” he says. “That’s solid iron, four hundred and eighty-five pounds. Can you imagine what it took just to handle the cannon that fired this? It would damage a modern warship.”

“If you don’t understand history,” his wife adds, “how can you understand human beings? This isn’t just iron. It’s engineering and technology. It’s the bravery of the soldiers. It’s the sheer foolishness of it all.”

(Image: “200-1b gun on Morris Island. Used for shelling Charleston” via Wikimedia Commons)