Monday, March 1, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon - 31

Never in Bob Alcumbrack's wildest dreams about the missing Cannonsburg cannons did he ever feel as humiliated when he realized he had made a major mistake at the conclusion of his big dig by not finding a solid clue. He had limited himself to 50 years of oral history by poking and prodding the oldest folks, some vested eyewitnesses. His childhood days were consumed with straining his ears, just hoping he'd catch a slip of someones tongue to tip him off where it might be buried.

John Murray did his level best not to cast suspicion, but his tearful crying at a certain spots is what fooled Bob. Added to Bob's research are 24 years of my own since 1986 as I studied the life histories of individuals that lived in Cannonsburg from 1843-1930. I continue to research the mysteries surrounding the cannon's disappearance. When Bob started his wildest dream conquest he did so without concrete proof what type or size of cannon was given to the township elders in 1848. He used only the general description in the Cannon Township history book and several sentences in the newspaper about the Tompsett tragedy.

Awesome firepower didn't mean it was a 6-pound cannon, but that was the smallest in the US Army at the time, but smaller cannon's had gone out of use in the Great Lakes theatre of military operations. The smallest cannons in the world were awesome in firepower and had been used in previous wars with astounding success. The one-half and two pound English cannons known as swivel or poop deck guns were mighty destructive to men and rigging on upper decks. Two- pounders were fortress and naval guns, too. The Grand River's flat-bottomed steamboat, the Hummingbird, that brought the Cannonsburg cannon up river to Plainfield announced its arrival with a one-half pound cannon that was fired off her bow. It could be heard for miles up and down the Grand River. The Hummingbird's cannon vanished after the death of Rockford historian Homer Burch.

Bob made many mistakes, but over the next two years we learned how to succeed from Bob's failures and we could better understand how to make corrective measures go smoother. To learn all the complexities that confronted us daily and the demise of the Cannonsburg cannon I'm going to take you on another journey as we go "way, way back into history to the beginning" as Poombah said in "The Lion King 2-1/2," because Bob's wildest dream cannon wasn't American made. Bob did discover an important artifact in 1988 and discovered its ancient secret. Did Bob and I find the cannon? We...........find the cannon! The correct answer is buried in the text someplace further on, but this blog isn't just about the local or American history, but it does have a glorious spot in World history, too. It originates from someplace inside English, Irish, Danish, Scottish, Swedish, Dutch, Flemish, French, Italian, Austrian, Spanish and German history, too.

All, but primarily England, France, Spain and Sweden have links to the Cannonsburg cannon. This is what Bob Alcumbrack missed in research concerning 6-pound miliary cannons. Prior to 1860 the army used nothing smaller, except for captured British, French, Spanish and Danish under 6-pounders. Most continental cannons were stolen or captured weapons from the British during the American Revolutionary War. During the War of 1812, the French supplied cannons to America and even provided soldiers to fight the British. James Thomas' father was a freedom fighter from France to America. The War of 1812 produced many ancient or oldest products from Old World countries. Kings and queens kept the best cannons in reserve to protect the homeland or on first class Man of War vessels. Those sailing towards America were 4th to 6th class vessels hauling junk cannons.

England purchased cannons from the Flanders countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Austria up until the early 1830's. England lacked its own gunsmith craftsmen. England's only contribution was plenty of iron for founding cannonballs and shipboard rigging, but not guns. Its vessels were made in England and towed across the North Atlantic. England had tried for years to master gunfounding, but it had lots of dead amateur apprentices, but no master gunfounders. Too many cannons couldn't proof.

America had some French 6-pound iron cannons that we in Michigan near Mackinac Island. Several had the engravements to prove they were captured guns from earlier wars. When the Americans captured Fort Mackinac from the British in 1792 it was fortified with four 6-pound bronze cannons with two on garrison carriages and two on field carriages. The cannons fired single grapeshot canisters (birdshot) and when fired at attacking forces 300 yards distant it was lethal. One shot could kill 8-12 soldiers.

During the early 1800's tension between England and America flared. Posturing began and war was imminent. Fearing hostilites would soon break out the U.S. Army purchased 750 garrison mounted 6-pound cannons from France between 1806-1811 to fortify its 24 coastal forts. To buy anything except 6-pounders was a court-martial offense. 6-pounders were the preferred weapons until the Civil War, however, the English had a habit of having smaller cannons; the swivels and poop deck guns showing up on its fifth rate Great Lakes naval ships that were made in Canada.

When the War of 1812 started the British quickly tried to overrun as many American forts on the Great Lakes. If American commanders felt that losing the fort was immenent they would blow up their own powder magazines and sabotage their own cannons should British artillerymen turn American cannons against them. As American forces retreated the sabotaged guns would explode killing British forces. The British on the American frontier were short on cannon fire aboard their small warships built on Lake Erie and Ontario in 1813. So too, British naval officers knew that Americans had to get the six-pound replacement guns from France and it'd take Americans months to replace lost weapons.

On the opposite, the American knew that the British in Canada had to wait months to replace both guns, ammunition and boat rigging for England. All military equipment was shipped from England across the Atlantic, then down the St. Lawrence River to Quebec, then overland to Montreal for disbursements to waiting troops and sailors as needed. Canadians didn't have any steel mills or cannon manufactories during the War of 1812-1818. The British were solely dependent on England for all military supplies.

Prior to 1790, the building of the first class British Man of Wars; the Vanguard, Victory and Royal Sovereign rendered the Royal Forests of England almost extinct. The Vanguard's construction alone consumed nearly all the 2,000 century old oak trees. That's a quarter of a million cubic feet of hard rock oak. The hull of the ship was 3 feet thick and massive elms provided the keel and giant New England white pines weere used for stout masts. England had an extreme lumber shortage long before the start of the American Revolutionary War.

England said these ships were "unsinkable," but they were "burnable" because of the number of cannons on board. They carried 74-100 guns. The Spanish had a 142-guns warship. The Vanguard carried 363,000 pounds of cannons and that was without the weight of carriages. She had three gun decks and one 68-pound cannon volley firing a 68-pound bcall and a wooden kep of 500 musket balls shot at 200 feet could wipe clean the upper deck of a French ship -- all rigging and deck gun crews.

These were massive ships. By comparison they'd be as tall as the US aircraft carrier the USS Ronald Reagan. The bottoms of all three British vessels were sheathed in copper. England's warships on Lake Ontario and in operation in the Great Lakes theatre never exceeded 156 feet in length and carried only several cannons.

Had England sent its first class Man of Wars to America instead of being used in the Napoleonic War, we in America could have been conceivably under English rule today. Instead England threw its fifth and sixth rate vessels and ancient weapons at American colonists. The best of the best were sent to France. Don't miss the next blog.

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