Saturday, May 14, 2011

Civil War Cannon Repair At Gettysburg

If you have been to a Civil War Battlefield you know the one thing that stands out are the cannons on display. There were 653 Union and Confederate cannon of various types fighting at Gettysburg. Today the Gettysburg National Military Park has about 400 or so cannons on display. For a place that had a battle that only lasted 3 days it is one of the most visited national parks. A great deal of it is falling into disrepair due to age, general vandalism, hit and run drivers, and the lack of money for upkeep.

One area I find interesting is the upkeep on the cannons at the park. Most came to the park toward the end of the 1800's, so they have been sitting outside in the elements for over a hundred years. The Cannon tubes are corroding from the inside out and this is why the park asks people not to climb on cannons - they can break into and you will find yourself on the ground possibly facing a $10,000 to $13,000 charge to replace the broken cannon.

At Gettysburg the National Park Service decided back in the late 1800's early 1900's to replicate the look of the old carriages made of oak with iron fittings that the cannon sit on, with a cast iron copy of the carriage. These cast-iron replica carriages were made to be immobile and anchored to mark significant locations on the field. There were several different sizes of carriages to accommodate each type of cannon. At Gettysburg mostly they were; 12-pounder bronze gun, Model of 1857, 2.9-inch (10-pounder) Parrott Rifle, 3-inch Wrought Iron Gun, and Model 1841 12-pounder Howitzers.

Calvin Hamilton, a Civil War veteran, of The Gilbert Foundry on N. Franklin Street cast the iron cannon carriages for mounting and displaying the Gettysburg National Military Park's collection of civil war artillery tubes between 1895 and 1910. After over a century of exposure they too are corroding away. The park service up until the 1980 or so did maintain these cannons but than the lead paint scare came along and they stopped doing maintenance on them. The park stopped on-field repairs because of warnings about the dangers of the lead paint used on the carriages. For some time the artillery pieces just sat there and rusted and deteriorated.

From an introduction written by Victor Gavin, the specialist in charge on monuments preservation: "The cast iron artillery carriages at Gettysburg National Military Park were purchased by the War Department beginning about the year 1895. Procurement of the carriages was completed about 1910. These carriages have thus been exposed to the elements, vandalism, and the ravages of time for a century. By the 1990s, virtually all of the carriages were in poor condition. Because of the many coats of lead paint, and the resulting health issues, no significant rehabilitation occurred from about 1980 until 1996. In 1996, a program to restore the carriages was initiated. This was the first complete restoration of the carriages in their 100 year history. The work began on a small scale; carriage restoration was essentially a part-time effort. Federal funding, and generous support by the Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg made a full time restoration program a reality when the Artillery Restoration Facility opened in January 1999."

Today, the lead paint is sandblasted off by an outside company at a cost of $1,000 per carriage, and the carriages are returned to the park to be repaired and painted. Eventually the park's 410 cannon carriages will be repaired, at a cost of $4,850 each. The work is done at the the artillery shop at the park and they knock out repairs to about 30 cannons a year.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Thanks for a very informative article concerning the cannons of Gettysburg.