Civil War gun finds new life after 150 years
It’s been nearly 150 years since the Blakely rifled cannon sitting in front of the North Carolina Museum of History has seen military action, but officials believe the gun still has a role to play in supporting the Tarheel State.
Recently, the relic of the War Between the States, used by Confederate forces at Fort Fisher, NC, was given a new location, on a plot in front of the museum entrance.
Where a century-and-a-half ago the cannon was used to fend off invading Yankees, today its purpose is to draw the attention of Yankees, Southerners and anyone else to the Raleigh museum that stands behind it.
“The connection for us is that it’s (a) Confederate cannon that was captured in the Civil War,” museum Director Ken Howard told the Raleigh News and Observer. “Now we’ve brought it back to North Carolina to display.”
The muzzle-loading 18-pound cannon displayed in Raleigh was manufactured in 1862 by Fawcett, Preston and Co. in Liverpool, England, according to markings on its barrel.
The Blakely Cannon was named for its designer, British army officer Captain Theophilus Alexander Blakely (1827-1868). When the British government showed little interest in his weapon, Blakely turned to the South, eventually selling several hundreds to the Confederacy.
Blakely guns were used to fire on Fort Sumter in April 1861 and in the defense of Charleston in 1863, according to Steven Roberts’ recent biography of Alexander Blakely.
There were several batteries of Blakely rifled field guns in both the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of Tennessee, and Blakely cannon protected Vicksburg and Mobile, Roberts added.
The Blakely Cannon now in Raleigh was stationed by the Confederate Army at Fort Fisher to protect blockade runners as they traveled along the shoreline past waiting Union ships, according to the News & Observer.
Blockade runners were fast-moving vessels that often arrived from Bermuda or Nassau, delivering supplies that would make their way to locales throughout the Confederacy.
“The gun was used to defend the crew and supply load of one such vessel, the Hebe, that ran aground. But the USS Minnesota and other Union gunboats overtook the Confederates defending the Hebe, and on Aug. 18, 1863, they captured the cannon and shipped it to Washington, DC, as a trophy,” according to the publication.
The cannon sat in a Navy shipyard for decades, until the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras requested it for a display involving the USS Minnesota.
However, museum staff soon realized that the cannon had not been aboard the ship during the time period on which they were focused, so they contacted the North Carolina Museum of History.
The North Carolina Museum of History secured a five-year, renewable loan on the artifact and sent it to East Carolina University, where a preservation group spent months cleaning and preparing it, according to the News & Observer.
More than 30 Blakely guns still exist in North America, either whole or in parts, according to Roberts.
(Above: North Carolina Museum of History staff members unveil a Blakely Cannon in front of the Raleigh museum last month.)