Hurricane Dorian Returns Cannonballs to South Carolina

civil war-era cannonballs washed up in dorian aftermath

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Civil War-era cannonballs washed up on South Carolina’s beach after Hurricane Dorian, Fox News reported. They had been lost at sea for over 150 years, making landfall in the aftermath of the hurricane. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union.

Civil war cannon in South Carolina
Civil War-era cannonballs washed ashore in Hurricane Dorian’s aftermath in South Carolina, the first state that had seceded from the Union. Photo by Martina Birnbaum / Shutterstock

According to Fox, two cannonballs were discovered in Folly Beach, South Carolina—one eight-inch shell and one three-inch shell. A city spokesperson said he contacted the Charleston County Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team about the cannonballs, who will work with the military EOD team to collect and dispose of them. Leading up to the American Civil War, several Southern states seceded from the Union in order to form the Confederate States of America. South Carolina was the first to do so.

The Path to Secession

“Most white Southerners, certainly most white Southerners in the Deep South or the Lower South, read the election returns as a clear-cut victory for those in the North who hoped to put an end to slavery,” said Dr. Gary W. Gallagher, the John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War at the University of Virginia. “The Lower South states moved very quickly toward secession in the wake of Lincoln’s election.”

According to Dr. Gallagher, South Carolina largely led the way. “South Carolina called for a convention to consider secession and, within another six weeks, the rest of the Lower South had followed suit,” he said. “And each of the seven Lower South states voted to leave the Union within a very brief period.”

In the voting process, South Carolina again blazed the trail. Dr. Gallagher said that the state leadership voted to secede on December 20, 1860, by a vote of 169 to zero. Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana followed, in that order, all voting in favor of secession by the end of January 1861. All votes were landslides except for Alabama (61 to 39) and Georgia (208 to 89). Texas was the final state to vote to secede. State leaders did so on February 1 of that year by a vote of 166 to eight.

Rapid Turnaround

Keeping in mind that South Carolina voted to secede in late December of 1860, the following votes and the establishment of a Confederate government were remarkably swift. Following Texas’s voting results, the Lower South “sent delegates to a convention to meet in Montgomery, Alabama, to draft documents for a new slaveholding republic,” Dr. Gallagher said. “Their task was to draft a constitution and put in place a provisional government that would control the country until regular elections could be held. The delegates used the United States Constitution as their model—that’s one reason they could work so quickly.”

And work quickly they did. Altering the U.S. Constitution rather than drafting a wholly new one from scratch allowed the Confederacy’s Constitution to be completed the following month, in March. According to Dr. Gallagher, changes included the protection of slavery, new provisions to individual states’ rights, forbidding the passage of protective tariffs, and limiting presidents to a single six-year term, among others.

From the point of South Carolina calling a convention to move for secession to the point of drafting a Confederate Constitution, less than four months had passed, and it was only the beginning of what led to the Civil War.

The cannonballs of Folly Beach remind us of that time period. And it’s rather significant that they washed up in South Carolina, the state that essentially led the secession of the Southern states that led to the Confederate States of America.

Dr. Gary W. Gallagher contributed to this article. Dr. Gallagher is the John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War at the University of Virginia. He graduated from Adams State College of Colorado and earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from The University of Texas at Austin.