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The Big Gun

May 2024
1min read

The massive cannon seen in both pictures defended Fort Fisher at Wilmington, North Carolina, until, on January 15, 1865, the fort fell to a day-long bombardment and attack by Union Army and Navy forces led by Adm. David Porter.

The victory meant that Wilmington, the last deep-water port for blockade runners, was now closed to the Confederacy. Not long after, the victorious army brought the gun to the United States Military Academy at West Point, where it was photographed in 1865 in the yard of the old Ordnance Compound. In the picture at the left the two fellows lounging against it—enlisted men from the Ordnance Detachment—seem not at all awed by the power and size of this beast—one of the most formidable guns in the service of the South, the historian William C. Davis has called it, capable of firing its 150-pound projectile over four miles, its barrel reinforced with iron sleeves to protect against the ferocious oressure created bv the powder charge.

Made in Britain and paid for by public subscription there, this is just one of many seacoast guns England provided for the Confederate cause. It is the work of Sir W. G. Armstrong and Company of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England’s major heavy-engineering center.

Soon after the end of the Civil War the gun was moved from the Ordnance Compound to a prominent place on Trophy Point, high above a shining sweep of the Hudson River. Here a collection of cannon captured in many American wars circles the point of land as if preparing for some final grand defense. The Armstrong crouched on its promontory for one hundred years until the wind and the weather damaged its wooden carriage beyond repair and it was sent into storage.

As the photograph at the right shows, however, the gun is now back in place, supported by a re-creation of the original carriage, thanks to the donations of the Military Academy’s Class of 1932, who were to grow all too familiar with the roar of cannon fire in their own stormy season.

One of the most powerful weapons in the service of the South, it could fire its hundredand-fifty-pound shells a distance of four miles.

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