GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – Those taking a walk in downtown Greeneville will probably notice the towering steeple of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
But just above the front doorway to the right is a peculiar sight.
There’s a gap in the brick and nestled inside is an old, rusted cannonball.
For decades, how exactly that cannonball got there was a mystery, but Wilhelmina and Beverly Williams, both long-time members of the church, claim they have the answer.
That answer lies in between Greeneville’s Civil War history and a tall tale concocted sometime in the 1950s.
Both Wilhelmina and Beverly are well-familiar with the history of Greeneville as they both lead downtown walking tours telling the stories important to the town.
Wilhelmina said the cannonball has been there as long as she can remember.
“As a kid driving by, my daddy would say, ‘There’s the cannonball,'” Wilhelmina said.
That’s an experience common for those growing up in Greeneville. The cannonball has also become a highlight on the walking tours.
Beverly said the true story of the cannonball begins during the Civil War during the same skirmish in which Confederate General John Hunt Morgan met his demise.
“The only activity that caused any physical structure damage was the day that Morgan was killed here a block away,” Beverly said.
On the same day General Morgan was killed, the original, one-story Cumberland Presbyterian Church was struck by a Confederate cannonball.
Beverly said Confederate artilleries were aiming for Union troops who had tracked down General Morgan near the Dickson-Williams Mansion next door.
The unfortunate aim demolished the original Presbyterian church, but the congregation quickly rebuilt after the war.
At some point in the decades after, a cannonball appeared, but the story about how it got there was lost to time.
Wilhelmina said that didn’t stop people from thinking it was the original.
“People think, ‘Oh, that cannonball landed there very nicely in that space.’ No, it didn’t,” Wilhelmina said with a chuckle.
The true story became apparent about ten years ago, according to Beverly. He said an undertaker at a neighboring funeral home told the church the actual story behind the cannonball.
“He noticed a man down here at the church on a ladder, digging away at the brick,” Beverly said.
The undertaker told the congregation that at some point in the 1950s, that man put the cannonball up in the facade. Beverly said further investigation found it was a decision made by church leadership to commemorate the church’s history.
However, the cannonball the man put up is not believed to be the same one that destroyed the church during the war.
Wilhelmina said it is an authentic Civil War cannonball though, allegedly taken from the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery.
“The superintendent said, ‘Well, I can’t give you one, I can’t sell you one, but if one’s missing, then I can’t do anything about it,'” Wilhelmina said.
The church has adopted the “Cannonball Church” moniker, and that bit of exterior damage has become part of the church’s identity.
“160 some years ago, during the Civil War, this church was here,” Wilhelmina said. “Now, these years later, it’s still here.”
Anyone who would like to see the cannonball for themselves can take a walk on Main Street in Greeneville and pass by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.