Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon - 77

The discovery of cannonballs energized Bob Alcumbrack in his search for the lost Cannonsburg cannon. Digging and excavation site number two was about to commence only now he knew what to picture in his mind when using his dowsing rods. He made sure he wasn't going expend so much time and money again.

Whatever was buried in the wash where it connected to the wetlands he was going to dig it up more easily using a backhoe bucket. Forget the coffer box. He wouldn't fail and he wasn't interested in how the Texas cannon hunting group was making out seeking information on where the twin cannons were buried. Unfortunately what he missed was the fact that all three cannons mysteriously disappeared in darkness and were never seen again.

The Cannonsburg cannon had a connection between it and the Civil War. Clues found outside the box sometimes frame puzzles. There is a time and place for everything under the sun so I'm going to string you along, but this entire story will end at number 125, the 125th anniversary of the Cannonsburg cannon's mystery. The Texas Twin Sister cannons have yet to be found after 145 years.

When the Civil War ended the Texas Twin Sister cannons were found by a discharged Confederate soldier named Henry North Graves. On a hot afternoon he found both cannons sitting on a flatcar outside the train station in Harrisburg 1865. The war ended April 9th, the southern states surrendering at Appomattox. The decaying iron cannons of former Texas glory were seized by the Federal government and were destined for a northern Yankeee recycler. The brass plates still attached to the carriages. Civil war hostilities had ended and Union soldiers prowled the streets of Houston for souvenirs and spoils of war.

Graves jumped up onto the flatcar and read the inscriptions on the plaques and it made him furious that such honorable cannons of Texan history were going to be destroyed at a northern foundry. Graves summoned help from five other Texans; John Barnett, Ira Pruitt, Jack Taylor, Sol Thomas and a recently freed black servant named Dan. All swore a secrecy pact to save the cannons from destruction for the pride of Texas.

In darkness they gathered as strangers outside the Galveston, Houston and Hendersonville Railway train depot on Brady's Island. Off in the distance they could hear the sounds of people celebrating at saloons. The parties commenced and when the din reached their ears they knew that any noises they made would be muffled by the partygoers. Graves and his comrades slowly pushed the mounted cannon on carriages off the flatcars. "Splat, thump, crash" they broke apart.

The carriages loud fall was concealed by the merryment, the broken carriages separated from the ordnances. Graves men burned the carriages and the six men rolled the 72-inch long 800 pound cannons to the edge of Bray's Bayou and Graves before his death in 1921 said, "We buried them cannons so deep no damned Yankee will find them." Rolling 800 pound cannons was hard work.

Trouble started when Graves and his buddies returned around 1895 to the approximate burial site to reclaim them for Texas pride and couldn't find the burial spot. They lived to regret their hasty angered actions. Being upset the men buried them fast for secrecy, but in their haste they failed to take line of sight references. The entire island was barren. All natural and unnatural features had been removed. The memories of all the men failed and none could find nor restore the cannons to prominence in Texan history ever again.

Graves couldn't remember what side of Brady's Island and Bray's Bayou the men buried the cannon. The train depot location was a guarded Civil War secret and all physical evidence of its existence were removed several weeks after the war ended. The cannons were buried before the removal.

To Graves men it was almost an "impossible mission" feat to bury them deep and fast, but a problem exists here with their recollection of how deep and fast the cannons were buried. The Twin Sister cannons could only be buried fast and deep if above the surrounding water elevation, not below the waterline or at water's edge. Once water is encountered it is a nightmare to dig deep holes. The water caves sand faster than one can dig.

The 1885 Cannonsburg five hid the cannon fast, too. Where could they have buried it in less than one hour? At Bob Alcumbrack's first big dig it took us 21 days of digging to get 10' feet deep. They couldn't have dug the hole fast and deep when they encountered water. Water was the enemy of both cannon groups. Once water is encountered it is an impossible feat, because of soil slippage. For every shovel taken out nearly double slides back into the hole. What happens in beach sand when you encounter water? It's nearly impossible to bury even yourself.

Even with the use of steel coffer boxes slipping soil would prop it up. It was a slow arduous task to get the coffer box to settle. The same held true to Texas' cannon burial by Confederate soldiers. Six Texans dug two holes and buried the cannons fast and deep if above waterline and "not at water's edge," as Graves insisted. How could the Texans do the impossible where Bob and crew couldn't? They weren't gifted with special powers.

Brady's Island is 1.5 miles wide and sits at the highest 50 feet above sea level. The same railroad operates on the same trackage today across the island as it did in 1865. The train depot's carbon footprint has been erased over time. Never have any Confederate military maps bee found showing the depots 's carbon footprint. Without the train depot as a visible marker Graves and nobody else could find the historical cannons burial site and thats still a one million dollar mystery.

Darkness causes a lack of depth of field. No markers prevented Graves from finding the Twin Sisters. No other markers existed. All trees were removed from the island. It is early morning darkness that prevented witnesses in Cannonsburg from seeing where the five men buried the Cannonsburg cannon a second time. How could they return to Cannonsburg in less than one hour? Was Estalla Ward's time frame correct? Were they really gone only forty-five minutes or less?

My brain was puzzled and to Texans I would pose this question. "What was the water elevation on Brady's Island in 1865 as opposed to 1986 levels? What was the estimated distance between the bonfire and depot and water's edge? What happened to the brass carriage plaques. Were the plaques thrown into the bayou or did they simply melt into the soil? Which side of the flatcar were the cannons pushed off? How strange is it that Graves couldn't remember whether he pushed the cannons right or left off the flatcar?" Night darkness and lack of moon does distort distances, duration of time and line of sight compass headings.

Five Confederate veterans Texans and a freed slave and five Cannonsburg men couldn't have buried them cannons so deep and fast at water's edge. That's an impossibility. Both groups would have failed, but at least when the second big dig started, the evidence told Bob what size cannon he had to find. No more guessing.

Hunting for cannons in water or water-laden soil is a cannon or treasure hunters most frustrating challenge. Graves scenery changed over 30 years and we could only imagine what Cannonsburg looked like in Thomas' day. Visualize wheat fields over harvestable lumber by 97% to three. The mightiest evergreens had already been reduced to wood for home construction and shingles for roofs. Then too, it would be easy for just about anyone to find the cannon in disturbed soil in a wheat field or pasture. In a wetland that'd be simple and easy. It'd settle in organic mud. This is why Maggie McCarthy and I first believed that the time constraints on burial were wrong. Time to quit. I'm sleepy! Next time its "If Floors Could Talk."

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