Civil War Blog

A project of PA Historian

Where Is the Cannonball that John Deppen Took from the Gettysburg Battlefield?

Posted By on October 12, 2013


According to information found in the Genealogy of John W. Deppen with a Brief History of His Ancestors, a copy of which is found in the Schwalm Library of the Gratz Historical Society, John Deppen, “perhaps in the company of others,” traveled to the Gettysburg battlefield and took a “spent cannonball” which was later passed down in his family.

John Deppen was born 14 August 1824, a son of William Deppen (1779-?) and Magdalena [Seiler] Deppen (1790-1862).

“John left Pennsylvania in 1845 with his brother Abraham.  They went to Ohio on horseback where Abraham bought land and John worked for him for four years. In 1849 John and five buddies left Ohio in a covered wagon drawn by a yoke of oxen to seek gold in California.  Two hundred miles later there were 15 teams and by the time they got to Illinois it was a large caravan.  They averaged about 12 miles a day through country without roads.  They cut down trees to build a roadway through swamps and drove through tall prairie grass.  At times they freed the oxen who would lead them to water.  John finally reached California and stayed 5 years prospecting for gold.  He returned to Pennsylvania with two companions by ox team.  In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, they sold the team and split the money.  John then walked home to County Line, Lower Mahanoy Township, in Northumberland County, where he knocked on the door and then asked his mother for a nights lodging.  After an absence of over nine years, bearded, sun-tanned, travel-stained and hardships stamped on his face, he was not recognized by his mother who told him to go to the nearest tavern.  He said, “Mother, don’t you know me?” which brought instant recognition.  He took his gold to Philadelphia where it was minted into $1,500 of gold coin, some of which he still had when he died.  He is buried with his wife Sarah at Malta, Pennsylvania.

“When news that the Union and Confederate Armies were locked in battle at Gettysburg reached Lower Northumberland County, John perhaps in the company of others, decided to go and offer their assistance.  They arrived in Gettysburg several days after the battle.  John picked up a spent cannonball and carried it home in a handkerchief.  He gave the ball to his son John W. Deppen who gave it to his son John Forrest Deppen.  The cannonball is now in the possession of John Forrest Deppen Jr.

“John had a child (Henry Deppen) by Sophie Wolf who was born in 1846 after John had left for Ohio.

“John and his wife Sarah had 11 children… all born near Malta.”

Source: Genealogy of John W. Deppen with a Brief History of His Ancestors, John W. Deppen Family History Committee, 1970, p. 14.

The only Civil War record in which John Deppen‘s name was located was the United States Civil War Draft Registration of July 1863.  At the time of the draft registration, John was a 40-year old farmer living in Lower Mahanoy Township, Northumberland County (see document below).


Click on document to enlarge.

The Deppen history was compiled in 1970, which was 43 years ago.  So, where is the cannonball today?


One Response to “Where Is the Cannonball that John Deppen Took from the Gettysburg Battlefield?”

  1. Richard deppen says:

    The cannonball is still in the possession of John forrest deppen Jr.
    who is living in Harrisburg with his daughter.

Leave a Reply

Please note: Comment moderation is currently enabled so there will be a delay between when you post your comment and when it shows up. Patience is a virtue; there is no need to re-submit your comment.