Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon - 87

Secrets. Bob Alcumbrack had secrets and he couldn't utter a single word to anyone. That's the only way to keep secrets hidden and Bob Alcumbrack kept his 1988 dig secret. Bob and his crew were looking for a Falconet or Culverin. Rare finds on American soil. It was a deck gun mounted on a specialty made ornate field carriage of Mr. Cannon's design, but a Culverin had a carriage that left many people who saw it mystified. It wasn't the standard cannon carriage.

Bob was searching for a naval deck gun that originated from the poop deck of a British warship, a Merchant Marine vessel protection gun or a naval gun converted to an Army easy to maneuver fort or castle cannon of British or French designs. If a culverin it'd be a rarer find. A Falconet was the only match for the 2 inch caliber cannonballs discovered in the old Thomas residence when it was being remodeled in 1987. Bronze falconets and falcons mostly were muzzleloaders and fired lead or iron balls of up to 2 pounds. These were considered one of England's lightest field cannons that could be mounted on ornate carriages and not naval carriages. Naval carriages rolled in a wood track and steel truck wheels (wide, short and heavy don't roll in trail sand). Naval cannons would twist or flip in sand.

The Falconet was rather ordinary, except for its engravings and the engravements by Mr. Le Grand Cannon that incorporated his name and date given to Cannonsburg town fathers. Even this little poop gun when fired was lethal to anything under 800 feet, but if shot with an upward elevation a cannonball or fused bombshell could travel 5,760 feet in four seconds. It was a silent killer. It struck the target before you heard the explosion. Now that's downrange more than a mile. Surely the Cannonsburg town elders wouldn't let that cannon be live fired over Cannonsburg in 1885, but they would if being fired at a distant target over the countryside.

We found it hard to believe that Tompsett and his six friends would be just loading 1.25 pounds of gunpowder and dry firing the cannon just to hear it go "BOOM!" To see big bellows of ashen white smoke or hear the awesome noise it produced wasn't enough to convince us that they just liked firing the cannon. They had to be shooting at a distant target with iron or lead covered stones at close range, but Bob never checked for lead covered stones to the east or north. We knew the men fired off a celebratory shot because that's how they announced the festivities. The people in town always felt the awesome blast and the windows in town rattled. When live firing ceased was unknown however the cannonballs were put into the Thomas residence ceiling prior to 1885. We felt they could have been shooting stones or leaded stones at a target near the Townsend Park pavilion, which at that time in history didn't exist yet.

In 1885 Cannonsburg didn't have lots of trees like we today, but the decaying remnants of massive trees along streams still dot the landscapes. The terrain was more open countryside planted in wheat and pasture grasses. Bob said he never scoured west or northwestern hillsides for cannonballs. We speculated that since James Thomas had a blacksmith shop he could have made the iron cannonballs when he sold his business in the 1870's and kept them as historical momentos.

Don Kurylowitz, the propietor of the Cannonsburg Market & Deli, the Cannonsburg liquor store and Honey Creek Inn, once asked Bob if he ever gave any thought to the idea that maybe the ancient cannon was spirited out of town and hidden, dismembered and brought back to the blacksmith shop after Tompsett's funeral and smelted-down. "Bob turned as white as a ghost" and shuddered at that thought. Bob had prison palor.

Many English cannons that fell into disrepair from the 15th thru 18th century were recycled, smashed, broken into small pieces and melted down and made into bigger cannons to fight in other battles on His Majesty's ships. We wondered if the Cannonsburg cannon was smelted-down what brass objects hadn't we discovered? Our secret was we looked, but didn't find anything, except for white brass buggy ornaments.

Rena Tompsett and Tompsett's six friends wanted to make sure the ancient cannon disappeared upon Walter's death. The town was grief stricken. Now I ask you, would if you were so grief stricken purchase a remanufactured brass object if you knew that in its former life it killed a friend or neighbor?

If the cannon were wrought iron, the Culverin (snake) would rust and decay in wet soil, but not as fast in cold water. On land if shallow buried it'd rust fast, but not if locked in an ice water grave. Wood carriages would be mush in water and Bob at the first dig didn't know how he was going to preserve the architecture of an ornate carriage if made of wood. He was unsure how he was going to capture the brass plaque if fastened to either a wood or metal carriage. He hadn't thought what he was going to do to save the inscription if direct engraved in a wooden carriage.

Whether brass or iron the cold ground water in the Cannonsburg area of Bear Creek and its many tributary streams would preserve a brass cannon, but an iron cannon would be in a state of rusting decay or encrusted with iron ore deposits filling in engravements in the piece. The English call them iron ore remains and England had lots of iron, but lead for cannonball production was imported.

Oddessey Marine Excavators out of Miami, Florida in 2008 also discovered a vessel south of the English Channel they dubbed the "Meatwagon." Towed sonar and GPS coordinates helped find this vessel when searching for the HMS Victory. It was loaded with lead headed to England when it sank. The lead on the sea bottom for more than 275 years is worth tens of millions of dollars if recovered, but it isn't finder's keeper when its in the world's oceans.

If a Culverin, the field carriages are rather plain, but specialty carriages were manufactured, but rare in existence. The barrel of the piece was the subject of awe and steeped heavily in traditions of Switzerland. It was a wrought iron muzzleloader, too, but the barrel is made with welded strips and hoops similar to a beer-barrel. It resembles the metal corrugated drains under driveways and under road stream crossings today. Iron castings were almost impossible to engrave after manufacturing. Engraving them post facto caused miniscule fractures leading to explosions of the piece over time. This is not the reason why so many cannons were prematurely discharging between 1874-1897. People were being killed because they were ignorant in military artillery training. Too many lost tools and slipshod attitudes were the bane of old town cannons. They were cheaply made after the Civil War and didn't pass the muster of military standards.

The Cannonsburg cannon's piece could be mounted on an ornate field carriage specially made for Le Grand Cannon by a secret foundrymen at Cannon's Troy Rolling Mill Works. Le Grand Cannon was the CEO owner. Very few cannon carriages lasted as long as the cannon. The automobile outlives the tires. Human organs sometimes don't live as long as the human. We are all prone to decay sooner or later. What in life never wears out it usefulness? We all are destined to die, but some will rise again, be repaired, sold as junk or recycled. Dust to dust.

Where Le Grand Cannon had the ornate carriage made is a secret. Search of his archival records showed this was his secret, because nothing shows up in any records that documents the cannon 's existence or its carriage. The secret carriage was made secretly by someone in a private foundry or the Falconet was made in a private foundry in England or France, but not in America. Americans didn't possess the knowledge to make good cannons, but Pittsburg foundries were churning out cheap experimental ordnances of recycled iron.

In my time travel searches I found something quite interesting and unusual. It mystified my imagination of what the Cannonsburg cannon may have looked like when I found how some 16-year old boys in Rockford, Michigan in 1907 knew how to make a Switzerland cannon that resembles a Culverin to replace the post Civil War cannon someone pitched into the depths of Myers Lake. Someone had possibly seen the Cannonsburg cannon and showed its design to the boys so they could make a cannon similar to a Culverin. I couldn't fathom how a few 16-year olds could duplicate a Culverin and build it in Del Tower's Foundry in Rockford in 1907. These boys weren't born until 1891, but their fathers and grandfathers might have remembered the Cannonsburg cannon and made a similar diagram. Where would 16-year olds see pictures or diagrams of a cannon from the 15th thru 16th century?

It is the size and weight of the Thomas' cannonballs that show it to originate from Falconets. Culverin's had to be a minimum of 72-inches in length and quite heavy to keep it from flipping when fired. Bronze falconets manufactured from the 1500's to 1643 were two-pounders weighing 500-800 pounds shooting a lead or iron ball weighing 1.39 to 1.49 pounds from a bore diameter of 2.01 inches. The Cannonsburg iron cannonballs weighed 1.41 pounds and were 1.87 inches in diameter, which predates the cannon being made before 1643.

After 1643, the bore diameter increased to 2.25 inches, then 2.50 inches and 2.75 inches before 1754. Balls are made thirteen to twenty-three hundreths of an inch smaller than bore size. After 1643, the 2.25 inch balls are too big for a 1.87 inch cannonball. Falcons (iron) shot a projectile from 2.5- 3.0 pounds from a 2.75-inch caliber after 1643 and 72-inches in length weighing 700 pounds. Culverin's of equal caliber were 33% longer and heavier (72-84" long), and weighed 800-1750 pounds, which would have made Cannonsburg cannon too big and heavy to be pulled from a grave near a stream by five men. Culverin's were massive brutes and were odd wherever found, if not bizarre looking cannons.

Most culverins, falcons and falconets were manufactured until 1735, which would explain why the Rapidians called the Cannonsbug cannon an ancient and odd-looking relic. John Fuller III made only four small-bore culverins around 1735, but this doesn't mean that other master gun founders didn't stop making them. Fuller made 120 falconets in 1754, but the bore diameter was much larger at 2.75 inches.

Culverine, falcons and falconets were fired from the upper and half decks of 3rd, 4th and 6th class British naval ships that had two decks, especially during the American Revolutionary War and War of 1812 in North America. Her Majesty's Merchant Navy used these small cannons as purely defensive weeapons, but vessels rarely fired them. These were trophy weapons.

Merchant ships in the 18th and 19th centuries were outfitted with small hand-me-down old falcons, falconets, robinets and more ancient culverins from the Royal Navy, who refused to use them any longer. They were too expensive to lose in battles and weren't replaced. By the late 17th century, His Majesty's British naval ships carried no small cannons, however some were salvaged from sunken wrecks or captured ships rendered useless or sold as junk cannons to wealthy individuals. Falconets complete with carriage cost 97 ducats in European and Venice gold and silver coinage.

Falcons and culverins and predominantly all other English bronze cannons were made in Denmark, Hollands, Norway, Switzerland and Sweden until the mid 1700's... Oops, its getting late and I'm hungry and I've got work to do today...

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