Local teacher and author donates her “best find ever,” a Civil War-era cannonball to City of Charleston

By Lorne Chambers | Editor

If you’ve been to City Hall lately, you may have noticed a cannonball encased in glass on the second floor, just as you step off the elevator. That cannonball has had two lives and has many stories to tell. First, it was part of our nation’s Civil War. Then, nearly 150 years later, on a foggy December morning it was rediscovered by local kindergarten teacher Dale Hawkins and her two children, Lauren and Lexi, on the west end of Folly Beach.

“The beach was deserted as Lauren, Lexi and I spotted the cannonball along the edge of the water,” recalled Hawkins. “The waves were breaking over the cannonball. We thought it was a rock or meteor.” Days later she took it to her classroom and had her students write about what it could be. “I didn’t have any idea what it was so I took it to school and let my kindergarten students write stories about this round ball,” she said. It was while at the school, she discovered it was actually a cannonball from the Civil War. She began to learn more about the history of the relic and in doing so, the history of Folly Beach.

Hawkins took it to the Civil War Expo at the Gaillard for verification and learned she had an important piece of local history. “They confirmed that it was indeed a cannonball,” said Hawkins. “They said it wasn’t the kind that explodes but rather when fired at a ship it caused a big hole and the ship sank.”

During the Civil War, Folly Island served as a camp and supply depot for Union troops besieging the city of Charleston. The only actual fighting to occur on Folly was on May 10, 1863, when a small group of Confederate forces, on a fact-finding mission, attacked Union forces. The battle was brief and Folly remained under Union control for the rest of the war. It was used as the staging area for the Battles of Fort Wagner, which were fought between July and September of 1863. Also, Morris Island was the location of Fort Wagner. The Second Battle of Fort Wagner was depicted in the 1989 film Glory.

While countless people scour our beach everyday, looking for sharks teeth and pretty shells, Hawkins and her children had found something much more significant. So she wanted to document it in some way. “Writing a children’s book has been a dream of mine since third or fourth grade,” said Hawkins, who took a graduate class at The Citadel to learn a little bit more about writing a children’s book. She teamed up with Mt. Pleasant illustrator Laura Martindale, who told Hawkins illustrating a children’s book was on her bucket list.

Entitled My Best Find Ever, Hawkins’ book is realistic fiction that tells the story of a little boy looking for pirate treasure but instead finds a cannonball. “I included many features of Folly Beach, said Hawkins, who also embedded several QR codes on various pages that when scanned take the readers to a website which explains the page in more detail. For example, on the seashell page the QR code will tell you more about the Lettered Olive, the official state sea shell of South Carolina.

“Because I included South Carolina history, I have gone into quite a few classrooms where the students were studying about South Carolina,” said Hawkins, who has kept the cannonball on the shelf in her living room for last six years. “While I love it, I always knew that it wasn’t really mine. I was going to donate it to a museum downtown but after talking to (City of Folly Beach mayor) Tim and Charlotte Goodwin I decided that it should remain on Folly,” said Hawkins. “It belongs to everyone on Folly, not just me.  It is a big part of our history.”

At the May City Council meeting, Mayor Goodwin officially presented the cannonball and told Hawkins story about finding it and how it ended up at City Hall. The mayor’s wife, Charlotte Goodwin, arranged for Folly artist Jane Word of to design and build the stand that the cannonball is now encased in glass for everyone to see.

“Eventually we would like to see a museum on Folly Beach,” said Hawkins, who retains the right to check it out for future book signings. “When I take it to signings people always want to touch it and have their picture taken with it,” she said.

While the cannonball remains Hawkins ‘“best find ever,” she has discovered her talent as a children’s author and is working on a new book entitled Two Carolina Girls, which should be available soon.

My Best Find Ever can be purchased here on Folly Beach at Bert’s Market or at Mr. John’s Beach store as well as online at www.Amazon.com.

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