A few folks have suggested that I share the story of the Civil War cannon at the front of Point Park. I wrote about this years ago, but it’s a fascinating story worth repeating.
As many of you know, the Battle of Baltimore, fought at Fort McHenry in 1812, was the inspiration for the Star Spangled Banner. You may not know, however, that Fort McHenry also played a vital role at the start of the Civil War. When it appeared that Maryland was going to secede from the Union, government leaders in Washington did not want to lose control of the City of Baltimore, a major communications and rail center. In April of 1861, a major riot broke out in the City, with Union soldiers being attacked by southern sympathizers. As a result of this riot, General Butler ordered two new guns to be installed on the landward side of the Fort, aimed at Baltimore. The guns were 15,000 lb., 10 inch Columbiad cannons that were cast at the Fort Pitt Foundry in Pittsburgh in 1853. They could fire a 10 inch solid cannonball, weighing 125 lbs., up to three miles. They were installed in May of 1861.
In the summer of 1861, General John Adams Dix received at the Fort a visit by several wives of suspected southern sympathizers. According to Scott Sheads, Ranger-Historian for the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Dix gave the ladies a tour of the fort, stopping at Bastion Number 1 where one of the new cannons was mounted. One woman mentioned that it appeared that the cannon was aimed right at their homes. The General replied that this was indeed the case. Furthermore, he made the point that if their husbands did not comply with the federal occupation the gun would be fired on the City.
So, you may be wondering, what significance does this story have to our City? Actually, quite a bit, because the 1,500 lb., 10 inch Columbiad cannon mounted in Bastion Number 1 at Fort McHenry is the same cannon that is now mounted in Downtown Willoughby in Point Park.
By an Act of Congress, May 22, 1896, all surplus cannons or ordinance, being obsolete, were to be transferred to any civic or veterans group who filed a request, providing the organization would pay the transportation cost. With the assistance of Ohio Congressman F.O. Phillips, arrangements were made to acquire the rights to this gun by the civil war veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic. On June 7th, 1900, the commander of Fort McHenry was ordered to transfer “one ten-inch columbiad” to Thomas Cox, GAR Commander of the A. Austin Post at Willoughby, OH. The cannon was presented to the City in a dedication ceremony on August 1st, 1900.
So now you know what Paul Harvey used to call “the rest of the story.” Our cannon is not simply a relic of past battles, but played an interesting and significant role in our nation’s history.