Saturday, May 15, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon - 82

What would the U.S. Marines in Vietnam in the mid to late 1960's have in common with Bob Alcumbrack's 1986 search for the missing Cannonsburg cannon. Both were dowsers, but the U.S. Marines twenty years earlier than Bob's expedition used dowsing rods to locate land mines. More lives were saved than lost. Faint signals on the earphones of electronic metal detectors caused soldiers to push detection wand closer to ground and that downward pressure often set off landmines. Those using metal detectors died and those nearby had their legs blown off or received other life threatening injuries. If you were a soldier which tool would you trust? 99% would take the...

Believe it or not, it has taken me 24 years to finally put all the pieces of the missing Cannonsburg cannon puzzle together. Some I didn't discover until after Bob Alcumbrack had passed away. It has taken 125 years this July 4th to find the missing pieces and uncover the secrets of the ultimate secret societies surrounding Cannonsburg. Between 1986 and his death he didn't want you to know secrets. Cannonsburg residents had secrets they wished to forget like Walter Tompsett's death, but Le Grand Cannon had his share of secrets, too, and Bob never knew anything about Mr. Cannon and James Thomas' fathers or the possible true origins of the cannon.

Both fathers of these men were Frenchmen, who were French soldiers who came across the ocean to help American's fight against the British in the American Revolutionary War. Touting muskets and cannons they helped liberate Americans from English dominance. Le Grand Cannon was born in 1786 some three years after the Treaty of Paris (1783) ended war hostilities.

This treaty recognized that the United States of America was now and independent democracy and no longer part of British rule. The colonists were allies with France and it sent a French military general and statesmen named Marie-Joseph, marquis de LaFayette (1757-1834). He came to America and his men offloaded French cannons for service in the American Revolution War. It is not unreasonable to believe that some French falconets were among the first cannons Americans didn't have to steal. They were rare by this date, but it was a possibility they existed.

LaFayette was not related to Jean Laffite, the contracted U.S. privateer, smuggler, and yes, he was a patriot of America, who during the war of 1812 helped Gen. Andrew Jackson win the battle of New Orleans in 1815. Despite being pardoned by Jackson, Laffite returned to his piratical ways of preying on Spanish commerce on the high seas after 1817. Laffite pirated Spanish vessels along the east coast until 1821 when the U.S. government forced him to flee aboard his own vessel and disappear. Laffite served his purpose, but he wasn't American and hailed from the Republic of Cartenga (present day Columbia). America launched its first schooner warship outfitted with French big guns in 1821. She near the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon after the upriver travels. I mentioned it previously. This ship chased away Laffite.

French Gen. LaFayette helped revolutionists in America (1777-82) win independence and returned to France, a hero and was made commander of the National Guard in two French revolutions (1789-92, 1830). The National Guard shows our French heritage. LaFayette's service helped colonists to discredit King George III in America, but such valor financially weaked France. Our fiasco was the inspiration for the French revolution and it energized the revolution for Spanish colonies in America and the Mexican War ended in 1848, the same year Le Grand Cannon gave Cannonsburg town elders the ancient cannon.

James Thomas' father was of French/Welsh culture and heritage and he came to America with Gen. LaFayette. He fought alongside LaFayette and became an American Revolutionary War veteran who did not return to France. James was born Jan. 1, 1814 during the War of 1812-18 in America.

Believe it or not, American and British forces from 1812-13 had no two pound cannons on Mackinac Island in Lake Huron. Mounted on garrison carriages were iron nine-pound, six-pound and six iron one-half pound cannons. Field carriages had mounted bronze three and six pound cannons and a 5.5 inch howitzers. When the British surrendered the fort contained no two-pound cannons, but bronze cannons made up the bulk of 3, 6, and 9 pound cannons.

The British defenses did mount a 24-pound cannon that hammered American vessels steaming north up Lake Huron some six miles distant. Shells hit the vessels before anyone heard the explosion. American naval vessels were bombarded and couldn't return fire until within one or two miles of the island. When they did return fire all the cannonballs did was "do considerable Damage" to a man's potato patch below the fort. A 32-pound cannon guards the fort today. American cannons had no elevational mechanisms. The balls skipped across the water or dove into waves, but those that made it to shore zipped up the beach cutting furrows and unearthing garden potatoes. Still we managed to seize the Mackinac Island fort from the British in 1814 after American guerillas scaled the highest cliffs on its northern side and attacked from a higher advantage point. The British didn't think we had the capability to accomplish such a sneak attack.

Cannonballs cutting garden furrows remindes me of a scene in a World War II movie about a submarine called the "Sea Tiger" painted pink, because the sailors lacked enough primary coat to make it gray. A rescued curvaceous nurse trips and pushed the launch button of a torpedo that runs up the beach and blows up a Japanese truck. History has a way of repeating itself, but unknown if this is fact or fiction.

When Americans stole British cannons we put them on new carriages, but we didn't pay particular attention to carriage details - the elevation screws and mounts. In our haste to put old cannons on new carriages we were illiterates and didn't pay attention to the hardware that gave the British advanced firing capabilities. We were like Robin Hood thieves and stole from the British, but were lackluster in weapons duplication. Whether the French or British brought any Falconets to America is unknown, but after the War of 1812, the standard cannon, that's the smallest in the U.S. Army was six pound cannons. Nothing smaller, so if Falconets were present they were either returned to countries of origin, destroyed or recycled. Perhaps some falconets were trophy guns or cannons rescued from shipwrecks, but from the description of the cannon when it appeared on the Grand Rapids receiving docks in 1848 it was ancient on arrival, a relic.

Bob's cannonballs were an important find and key to the Cannonsburg cannon's heritage, but what really floored me was its ornate description, the cannon and carriage. Nobody had seen anything like it, but beyond the ornateness no other description described it. This wasn't the standard run of the mill cannon. For strangness it might have been a Culverine, called the "Snake." It was the awe of superstition. The barrel had reinforcement rings every two inches that resemble metal culverts under driveways and roads in America today. It had the funniest little up curved rat tail.

Another strange cannon was the 15th century bobbin' bar barrel cannon, but it was strictly for naval vessels. The barrel was formed of interconnected pieces and because they screw interlocked together, they too, were the most awesome of all cannons. These were wrought iron breech-loaders that belched fire from between its locked and interchangeable barrel parts and not just muzzle and vent. Each assembly part belched fire and smoke. These barrels could be taken apart in one foot sections using ropes and hoist and moved easily, but these were mounted on naval mounts and not field carriages.

Falconets on the other hand had two functions: service for protection on naval and merchant vessels and moveable fortress. They were lethal weapons and used to clear decks of attacking men and rendering rigging useless.

After 1574, these Falconets were on merchant vessels bound for the Indies or America. Few were on naval ships after 1635 and extremely rare on naval vessels by the early 1700's. Those who did have them didn't keep them long when captured or rescued from lost and found shipwrecks. The English, French and Spanish all had 2 pound cannons that shot less than 1.5 pound cannonballs, which helps date the cannon before 1643. It's also the 1.87" diameter size shot from a 2.01 inch muzzle bore. Cannonballs were usually thirteen to twenty-three hundreths of an inch smaller than bore size. Larger than this the cannons exploded killing all servicing it. Looser fit balls didn't go where fired, because too much energy escapes around the ball, often times falling short of target.

Shells larger than maximum bore size when fired sometimes don't spit out the ball, but if ball was lit shell it exploded inside of barrel killing artillerymen and bystanders some distance away. Two pound cannons were charged with up to two pounds of gunpowder, which was awesome firepower. Oversized bores when stuffed with long wadding, hay, sold or oily ropes on top of powder and ball, the cannon shot wide or prematurely exploded killing attendees. These shot bombs with lit fuses and not just solid iron cannonballs like those Bob found at the Thomas residence. Solid balls are for penetration of solid objects and did immense damage to human bodies. Cannons that shot undersized balls wouldn't land where aimed.

Falconets weren't the smallest. Swivel guns like the Robinet shot 1/2 to 1 pound balls, too, but this cannon was generally less than four feet long and some were 6 feet long. These were not ornate, but the decorations were exquisite. The muzzle was heavy flared.

English falcons were ruled out because the bore diameter had increased to 2.50 inches after 1643, yet it was considered a two-pound plus cannon approximately 72 inches long and weighed in at 670-700 pounds (piece). Spanish falcons weighed 600-1200 pounds, were 60-84 inches long and shot weight of 1-2 pounds depending on whether it was made of iron or lead or with a combination of lead covered stones. These cannons were only used until 1550 and uncommon on Spanish galleons and warships after 1575.

A seven-foot Culverine with carriage would weigh approximately 1750 pounds. It was a heavy brute, but if mounted on a carriage it couldn't shoot a ramrod thru man's knee, but strike him chest high. Surely the Cannonsburg five men and two to three horses would have great difficulty dragging and maneuvering it on carriage in thick trail sand. Five men couldn't re-assemble and mount this cannon on carriage without hoists.

The 1885 men couldn't dig such a big hole and bury this heavy cannon in a water laden grave and be back in Cannonsburg for Sunday morning church services at the Methodist Episcopal Church of Cannonsburg in less than one hour. Impossible.

The Tompsett's and Thomas' worshipped here each Sunday morning. Could the cannon be buried on church property? We found... and Bob's did search here and ... oops, my halo is flickering again and anyways I'm sleepy. Next time more secrets are uncovered.

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