Monday, March 22, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon - 44

Why would seven Cannonsburg men just shoot off the cannon just to hear it go "BOOM?" Why after it killed Tompsett did the remaining five men bury it so close to town and presumably in the same hole? This is what the ultimate secret society kept hidden from Bob Alcumbrack.

Uncovering secrets left hidden by Cannonsburg's ultimate secret society was a monumental task that stretched our imaginations. Opinions swirled amongst the cannon recovery crew as we acted out different scenes of the Tompsett accident. The only people who like to hear things go "BOOM" are firework pyrotechnicians only today the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms calls them "explosive possessers."

Boom is what gets people at night so excited. The splat across the sky of multi-colored sparks with the occassional earth shaking salutes that sets off car and business security alarms delights the senses. Cannon firings vibrate our ears as the sounds ricochet off metal and stone causing thunderous echoes. The Cannonsburg seven surely wouldn't be rapid firing the cannon just to hear it go boom.

Bob felt they may have shot cannonballs at a distant target because that's the only thing that makes sense. We thought it would be too easy and foolish of them to bury the cannon so close to town. When Bob was digging his first big hole one of my first observations was the fact it couldn't be buried here because the soil being dredged wasn't disturbed soil. Sediment was all the same color. No distortions as if previously disturbed.

The tears in Mr. Murray's eyes at the trail bridge convinced Bob it was close, but Bob never said when Mr. Murray's eyes began to tear, but a least he knew where he stopped sniffling. Had they not dug up the cannon the first time the nightmare wouldn't have happened. When Bob was a junior private detective. His ears strained to hear the oldtimers talking amongst themselves. He'd hope to catch a secret, but many of the original seven were either dead and several moved out of Cannonsburg for fear they couldn't keep silent.

Fred Thomas, the missing man, the one drunk on hard cider within several years married Bertha Tuffle of Ionia and left Cannonsburg. Fred's father was John Thomas and his grandfather's was James Thomas, highway commissioner and reportedly one of the original four town elders that buried the cannon first on July 3, 1885.

Bob said he didn't conduct an exhaustive search for cannonballs on distant hills. He thought they were shooting stones, but stones would be more dangerous to fire at distant targets. Distortions in weight would cause them to alter course and yet we all wondered when did they stop shooting cannonballs and switch to stones? In olden days the stones were encased in lead while they sat in moulds. In Bob's mind he had to find a 3.62" diameter to fit a 6-pound cannon. That's a mighty big cannonball to be rocketing over Cannonsburg, when in reality the cannonball found was almost half that diameter at 1.87", but he didn't know that until two years after his big dig failed to produce bronze, but gold.

The blacksmith shop in Cannonsburg could have made cannonballs for Fourth of July celebrations, but none had been found in the vicinity of this shop. George Inwood, a member of the 1885 firing group was a stone mason. As such he would have had the skill to collect certain round stones earlier. He was the stone mason that built the spring house near the Wabasis Lake boat launch. James Thomas was the blacksmith in 1867, but when he sold that business was a mystery.

Bob said he didn't search any distant hillsides except for the Nesbitt (Schipper) property for iron or lead cannonballs. He thought surely they wouldn't fire cannonballs over the town since area population was expanding. I challenged his mind and body with supposition that why would they fire an old cannon just to hear it go 'boom.' He always said they fired the cannon towards the east, but if so, how was it that townspeople could see the smoke bellow over Cannonsburg? If it didn't why did storefront windows rattle? The crew thought the percussions would be greatest in direction of shot fired. But then again surely the village officials wouldn't let them fire balls over the town to the northwest or north?

Bob didn't explore other hillsides, except for eastward. Charcoal markings on stones would have washed off over a hundred years, but not rifling marks. Rigling marks are the ballistics of discovery and could be used to date the cannon from whence fired. Since Bob hadn't found any cannonballs prior to 1986 how could he know what kind of cannon and what size cannoball or stones it shot? I pointed out because the newspaper and history book said it was a small military cannon didn't mean it was the smallest in U.S. military requirements - a 6-pound cannon. He assumed it was a pre-Civil War 6-pound U.S. military cannon, but these were captured guns before 1850 from England. That's mostly iron with few brass. Bob felt that since the cannon had been repeatedly fired for 38-years without premature incidences it had to be a brass cannon.

Last year some folks over in Lowell, Michigan were seeking information where the cannon that rests in their Oakwood cemetery originates. History about the old piece was lost, but one local man assumed it was made in Boston during the Civil War. Wrong, we in America didn't have the ability to create cannons until the end of the Civil War. What they knew was that it was a nine-pound cannon. I assume it is one of the French guns that came into America with French freedom fighters during the American Revolutionary war. I've only seen the cannon in the newspaper in 2009, but what I've heard is that this cannon has no markings, decorations, seals or crests so it has no historical significance. It might have been an experimental gun or a reproduction, probably because many war cannons were recycled for the Spanish American or World War I, like in World War II and the original history was lost when smelted down. Even American's engraved cannons when captured or made. Most without inscriptions are reproductions.

Bob did find cannonballs, not one or two, but this didn't happen until 1988 during digging operations on his third big dig. We kept this secret from the public. Where found? Well that's a secret you'll learn, not now. I want to provoke you to think like a treasure hunter. That's part of our mystery expedition. I want to show you how important it is in your life and how revelant the history of our lives are in our own communities where historical treasures exist. The secret cannon is shrouded in mystery and intrigue, but it is real history and not fictional junk.

The Cannonburg cannon was made of bronze, a good quality muzzleloader specimen, because it had been repeatedly fired safely for 38 years, while other iron cannons had fallen from grace at 20 years of age and this is why so many lives were being lost firing old post Civil War era cannons. The Twin Sisters' of Texas fall in this group. Average life span for iron cannons is 20 years, but a brass cannon's life expectancy was indefinite. Kings and queens did have problems with bronze cannons, too. Many of the earliest cannons were muzzleloaders, but breechloaders were too expensive and many failed to proof so muzzleloaders were favored most by artillerymen until the 1700's.

Only a handful of breechloaders were availabe before 1850, but again breechloader era originates from c. 1460-70, but only on field carriages. Bronze breechloaders were made in Scotland and Switzerland 1460-70 an known for safe quick rapid fire salvos. With breechloaders the men servicing the cannon never stood in front of the muzzle using a ramrod to nest powder and shot, which was the secret proof of the Cannonsburg cannon's existence.

Prior to 1860 most of the cannons in the U.S. military were muzzleloaders and American breechloaders didn't appear until 1861, but dominated military forces before 1870. England and France made breechloaders before 1850, but weren't reliable and had a tendency to misfire or explode before the 27th firing. They were more detrimental to artillerymen moral than the enemies and defects in casting since 1460. America didn't possess the knowledge or experience to manufacture cannons until 1836 in Cincinnati, Ohio. We were infants. We cut captured guns apart to make moulds, but few proofed, so we used captured or bought guns until the middle of the Civil War.

Muzzleloading cannons had been in use since the late 1300's. It took the British more than 400 years of trial and errors (death) to finally make our own cannons. England found out how much gunpowder to use or not overcharge with the deaths of thousands. Dead men can't speak what went wrong. Why the guns failed to proof and those who died as a result of sloppy workmanship is known only to God.

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