One-hundred years ago this month, June 20, 1916, 78 Grays assembled at the Armory. As the Grays’ band played, and other Grays, friends, and family cheered, the men marched to the railroad station, en route to Dayton. There they were mustered in as Company F, 3rd Ohio Infantry Regiment. From Dayton the regiment would eventually deploy to Ft. Bliss, Texas to serve in the Border Campaign.
Three months earlier, March 9, a band of Mexican revolutionaries led by Francisco “Pancho” Vila had attacked Clovis, New Mexico, and the adjacent Camp Furlong cavalry post. The battle left 10 civilians and 8 soldiers dead, several other civilians and soldiers were wounded. Thirteen of Vila’s men were killed; five were captured, and later hanged for murder. The American public was outraged.
President Woodrow Wilson ordered a force under Brigadier General John J. Pershing into Mexico to search for Vila (who evaded capture), and the National Guard was called into federal service to patrol the U. S. – Mexico border.
Changes in state and federal law in 1903 and 1904 had abolished the independent militias; the Grays were no longer a recognized military unit. But, Grays wanted to serve, and serve together. Largely through the efforts of Grays’ commander Captain Ludwig S. Conelly, a block of Grays was able to join the short-handed 3rd Ohio. In addition to the Grays of Company F, four Cuyahoga County-based National Guard units served in the Border Campaign: 5th Ohio Infantry; Troop A, Ohio Cavalry; Battery A, Ohio Volunteer Light Artillery; and, the Battalion of Engineers.
The Grays endured heat, dust, and, mostly, boredom during the campaign. They did experience innovation: Cleveland-built White Motor Company touring cars were used for scouting and patrol. And, the Ohio units took part in a brief division-strength maneuver, the largest drill of U. S. ground forces since the Civil War.
The Grays and other local Guard troops came home in March 1917; a few weeks after their return, the United States entered World War I.
Continuing the story of the secesh cannon. On July 13, 1861 in Tucker County, Virginia (now West Virginia), Confederate Brigadier General Thomas A. Morris and his force of 4,500 men encountered 20,000 Union soldiers under Major General George B. McClellan. Quickly recognizing the disparity in strength, the Confederates withdrew across the Cheat River at Carrick’s Ford (sometimes called “Corrick’s Ford”). The escape was largely successful: there was only minor skirmishing and few casualties on either side; however, the Confederates were forced to abandon several cannon, which the Union troops divided up as war prizes. The 1st Regiment of Light Artillery, made up of men from Cleveland and Geneva, Ohio, secured the “six pound iron rifled” Napoleon and shipped it to Cleveland. (The 1st Regiment of Light Artillery had historic ties to the Grays; that’s a story for another day.)
The secesh cannon was taken to Camp Cleveland (in what is now the Tremont neighborhood). Each time a new regiment left Cleveland for the war, and with news of each Union victory, a salute was fired with the captured cannon. When word came of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender in April 1865, salutes were fire hourly throughout the day. With war’s end, the cannon was moved to Cleveland’s Public Square.
The secesh cannon stood in various locations in Public Square from the 1860s until the 1960s. It was stolen, recovered, and then unceremoniously moved to a City storage lot. In the 1970s members of the 135th Field Artillery Battalion of the Ohio National Guard tracked it down, acquired it, and paid for restoration. (Much of the restoration was done by long-time Grays member Bill Lentz.) The artillerymen placed the restored cannon in the Grays’ care, where it remains.
Because the first thing to catch a visitor’s eye at Grays’ Armory Museum (other than the Armory itself) is often the cannon in the lobby, that seems a good place to begin our blog.
The “secesh cannon” is a “six pound iron rifled” Napoleon. Let’s break that down. Although popular culture has Union soldiers calling Confederate soldiers “Johnny Reb” or “the Rebs,” during the time just before and after the outbreak of the Civil War, Union supporters used another sobriquet: “damned secessionist,” shortened to “damn secesh.” It was not meant as a compliment. The gun was manufactured at the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Virginia early in 1861 for the North Carolina militia – which soon became part of the damn secesh.
The Napoleon-type cannon was introduced in 1857, classified as a light field-artillery piece. Towed by a six-horse team, it required a firing crew of four (with additional crew to supply ammunition and provide other support). In both armies it was the most widely-used type of cannon during the Civil War. The Napoleon could fire several types of ammunition, the most common being “round shot,” “canister,” and “Shrapnel’s shell.” Round shot was a solid cannonball. A canister round contained gunpowder and lead balls; shortly after leaving the muzzle, the balls separated from the canister and traveled down range in a cluster, much like the blast from a shotgun. Shrapnel’s shell also contained gunpowder and lead balls (large than those in canister); however, the shell remained intact until it reached the target, then exploded sending the balls in all directions.
A six-pound gun fired a projectile of that nominal weight. A rifled weapon has grooves cut into the inside of the barrel to impart a spin on the projectile, improving accuracy.
The secesh cannon is unusual in several respects: most Napoleons are made of bronze, this one is iron; the standard-size Napoleon for both Union and Confederate artillery was twelve-pound, this is six-pound; and, the standard Napoleon was smooth bore (i.e., unrifled), this cannon is rifled.
The next installment will tell how the secesh cannon came to be at Grays’ Armory Museum.