THE STORY OF A CANNON
J. W. Benjamin
The action was hot and heavy in the early morning of Friday, May 23, 1862, in Lewisburg, W. Va.-and both the Confederates and the Union soldiers had trouble enforcing a gun control law. One of Heth's guns, an old 12-pounder, smooth-bore field piece, spoke with authority from what is now the back yard of the General Lewis Motor Inn, corner of Washington and Lee Streets. A gallant Federal regiment from Springfield, Ohio, attacked under the able leadership of Co!. Samuel A. Gilbert, making up the right half of Crook's attacking force.
Gilbert's 44th Ohio Volunteers captured four guns-two rifled and two smooth-bore--and "200 stand of arms." Included among the captured cannon was the gun now at Springfield, Ohio. Newspapermen among the Federals printed a field news paper, "The Yankee," on May 29. The paper reported: "One of the pieces captured by the 44th. . . is an old revolutionary smooth bore ten-pounder. Application will be made to send it to Springfield, Ohio, where the regiment was recruited. When the war is over, the writer hopes to stand on that gun and make a 4th of July speech. The improvement in such arms has been so great since it was cast that it is almost worthless except as a relic."
The Confederate gunners did not give up their piece without a real fight. Col. Gilbert, in his official report, says that when the 44th passed on it left 20 dead and many wounded in and around the artillery emplacement.
The late Randolph Hock, for many years the genial host at The General Lewis, said that an old veteran stopped at the hotel, pointed out exactly where and how the gun had been chained and verified the story about the solid shot hitting a nearby church.
You can still get an argument on the church story, although in Lewisburg it is generally accepted without question. It would take a double ricochet to hit the far corner of the Wesleyan Church from the gun position. But strange things do happen in battle. There is that shot that went down the chim ney of the Carry home, and the girls, belles of the town, ignored the battle raging around them to carry out debris and keep the mansion from burning down.
The 44th Ohio, after capturing the gun, turned it on its original owners. Again we aren't sure just how effective this fire was, or how long this bit of action lasted, for the battle swept on swiftly. If the stories about the fence rails slipping and the gun whirling wildly to send its shell ammunition in an arc to hit the church a block away are true, then it follows the Federals had very little time indeed to get the cranky old 12pounder straightened up, loaded, and aimed to fire at their retreating foes.
The gun is believed to be one of those captured at Yorktown, when Lord Cornwallis surrendered his British army on Oct. 19, 1781. A prized Revolutionary War trophy, the gun was kept as a museum piece in the Norfolk Navy Yard. Immediately after the passage of the ordinance of secession, it was carried away by the Virginians to serve the Confederacy. Only the long barrel was left, but there was pressing need for field pieces. So, instead of melting the metal down for recasting, the Virginians mounted the long barrel on a carriage, applied the proper trial, and put the old weapon back on active duty with the army. It was in action until the 44th Ohio captured it that May morning in 1862.
No doubt the unknown writer of the "Yankee" article did actually have the thrill of standing on the old gun in his home town and making a 4th of July speech. I hope so. I hope they applauded him right handsomely. I have the feeling that, after the war was over and he had time to think, the Ohio volunteer paid tribute to both the Blue and the Grey who had lost their lives beside Henry Heth's old gun in Lewisburg.
The gun has been at Memorial Hall, Springfield, for so long it has become a part of the landscape. The cannon Was presented to the Clark County Historical Society Aug. 8, 1929, by Commander H. T. Titus, who participated in the action in which it was captured. When set up in front of Memorial Hall, it still had its wooden carriage. Later the wheels were removed and it was mounted on concrete supports