June 16, 2008

Final touches to cannon bases precede reinstallation

Just a few finishing touches need to be completed, and Racine's two Civil War cannons will return to Monument Square.

Reinstallation is scheduled for Thursday, but the cannons' official welcoming ceremony will be held on Saturday, heralded by the U.S. Air Force Band of Mid-America, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, fireworks and all the accoutrements. Details of the ceremony are HERE.

Before then, however, Monte Osterman of Osterman Granite and Marble, who designed the bases for the city and ordered them from a quarry in Cold Spring, MN, has a little more work ahead of him. See, the 3,650 lb. cannons don't fit perfectly onto their new 3,300 lb. granite bases. The fit is a tad too tight, so Osterman has directed his crew -- led by master craftsman Asael Torres, assisted by apprentice Kyle Perroni -- to widen the semicircular bed just a hair -- an eighth of an inch here, another eighth there.

"Some CNC work (computerized numerical control) is involved," Osterman said, "but it's mostly hand work."

Osterman and Torres were hunched over the cannons this afternoon, carefully measuring, then transferring those measurements back to the bases, which arrived in Racine last week. At first, the tools involved were no more complicated than squares, rulers, duct tape (Yes!) and a propane torch, but soon would involve the delicate application of gentle cuts from a 12" diamond saw blade, grinders and elbow grease. All to ensure that the two cannon barrels fit perfectly onto the Mesabi black granite bases. The cannons themselves have been given a coat of an epoxy-type black paint, which makes them look far newer than their 1863 origins.

The cannons were originally installed on Monument Square in 1889, about five years after the monument itself. (Inflationary note: The 61-ft. tall monument cost $8,000 in the 1860s; some 140-years later, the two cannon bases cost almost $15,000.) The cannons stood sentinel alongside the monument until 2005, when they were removed during the renovation of Monument Square ... almost to be lost to Kenosha's new Civil War museum, until a public outcry and the deliberations of an Ad Hoc committee brought them back permanently.

I learned more about our cannons from a Civil War buff named Michael Haynes, in Victoria, TX:

Our guns, he says, are 30-pounder Parrott rifles, with a 4.2 inch caliber tube. The initials RPP engraved on the rear end of our cannons "indicate that the ordinance officer who proofed them was none other than the inventor of this cannon design, Robert Parker Parrott." The following item appeared in the April 30,1864, issue of Scientific American:
"Parrott Guns.--A 30-pound Parrott gun, in Fort Putnam, Morris Island (off Charleston S.C.) was recently tested by firing until it burst. The weapon threw 4,615 shells into Charleston, five miles distance, at regular intervals of five minutes, before it burst. Such endurance is unprecedented."
The writer might also have noted that shelling the civilian population of Charleston was illegal, but that would have led to the magazine being shut down by Lincoln's military censors and quite possibly jail time for the publisher

Here is an article about Parrott from the Civil War Artillery website:
One famous U.S. inventor was a former West Point graduate and ordnance officer named Robert Parker Parrott. Robert Parker Parrott In 1836, Parrott resigned his rank of captain and went to work for the West Point Foundry at Cold Spring, New York. This foundry was a civilian operated business and Parrott, as a superintendent, was able to dedicate some forty years perfecting a rifled cannon and a companion projectile. By 1860, he had patented a new method of attaching the reinforcing band on the breech of a gun tube. Although he was not the first to attach a band to a tube, he was the first to use a method of rotating the tube while slipping the band on hot. This rotation, while cooling, caused the band to attach itself in place uniformly rather than in one or two places as was the common method, which allowed the band to sag in place.

What our cannon looked like on the battlefield

The 10-pounder Parrott came out in 1860 and was patented in 1861 and the 20- and 30-pounder guns followed in 1861. He quickly followed up these patents by producing 6.4-, 8-, and 10-inch caliber cannons early in the war. The Army referred to these as 100, 200, and 300-pounder Parrotts respectively. By the end of the conflict the Parrott gun was being used extensively in both armies.

Parrott's name is also associated with the ammunition fired by his cannon. The elongated Parrott projectile employed a sabot made of wrought iron, brass, lead or copper that was attached to the shell base. When the projectile was fired, the sabot expanded into the rifling of the tube. In 1861 Parrott patented his first projectile with the sabot cast on the outside of the projectile.
Our earlier story about the designing of the cannon bases is HERE.


  1. Monty O rocks! Racine should know what a great man he is. Mary O is a fantastic person too.
    None rock more then they!

  2. Winter Witch6/17/2008 4:43 PM

    Monty should get an award of some sort from the city, he has been diligent in this massive undertaking and I find him to be a humble man.

    Thanks for the hard work Monty!