As I attended a graveside service at Johnson Grove Cemetery for an old childhood friend from Waterman recently, I got a close-up look at a Civil War cannon nearby. Examining it closer, I realized it was a near twin to the one in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Sandwich.
So I contacted two local historians to find out how the artillery pieces got there. Former sexton of Johnson Grove (and North Clinton) Cemetery Craig Rice obliged. So did Sandwich historian Joan Hardekopf.
The one at Johnson Grove on Shabbona Grove Road was obtained from the Rock Island Arsenal in 1905, Rice said. It is a heavy iron, 8-inch, 4-ton columbiad siege cannon, used mainly as a “seacoast defense weapon,” located in fortifications along rivers and coastal waterways. According to military records, this model was manufactured in 1844. The earlier models were built for the War of 1812 and lobbed a 50-pound ball. I can’t imagine soldiers under fire hefting that giant “shot put” after loading a heavy powder charge and standing nearby as it was aimed and set off. I wonder whether they had ear protection in those days.
There are no records of where this particular gun was used or whether it even saw action during the Civil War. Pranksters and thieves have stolen the cannonballs over the years,
so they had to be replaced and cemented together. The same is true for the cannonballs in Sandwich.
Rice gave me a fascinating account of a Clinton Township Board of Trustees meeting in 2000. The Museum of the Union and Confederacy in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, identified it as a rare Confederate gun and offered to buy the piece for $20,000 and replace it with a replica. Nearby farmers Louis and Emily Hardy and other residents spoke in favor of keeping the monument for the Civil War dead, so it was not sold.
The township supervisor at the time, Ken Moeller, told me this week that a private collector had upped the offer to $50,000, plus would give them a similar replacement cannon he owned, but they still turned it down. Later, it was learned that the Illinois Legislature had passed a law prohibiting the sale of cemetery monuments such as this.
The cannon had fallen into disrepair, and a coat of rust contributed to its deterioration. The E.F. Dutton Camp No. 49 of the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War in Sycamore came to the rescue, giving it a thorough scrubbing and several coats of black paint in 2015. Jim Lyon of Camp No. 49 said they also added a flagpole and intend to rededicate the monument next spring. In case anyone wonders, there are 37 veterans of the Civil War buried there.
Over in Sandwich, that columbiad was obtained a year earlier by the local Women’s Relief Corps Auxiliary, according to Hardekopf and newspaper clippings she shared. No mention was made of it being used in battle. It was a memorial to the Grand Old Army of the Republic Post 510 veterans. There are 137 of them buried at Oak Ridge.
According to Post 510 records, this instrument supposedly weighed 8 tons, twice the weight that the Johnson Grove weapon reportedly weighed. I wonder who will take the challenge of determining which figure is correct? Please let me know.
An article from the Sandwich Free Press on March 2, 1905, gave a lengthy description of the dedication ceremony. Mrs. J.M. Hummer of the Relief Corps gave the main address and presented the memorial to Dr. Charles Winne of the GAR post.
I quote from a small portion of the 1,500 word news account: “… Winne accepted the priceless gift with one of his characteristic happy speeches. ... The program was interspersed with selections appropriate to the occasion by the male quartet. … ‘The Second Review of the Grand Army’ was beautifully and impressively given by Esther Sweeney. … William Deacon was toastmaster, and an elegant supper was served. …” I wish writers today could use such lavish, descriptive language.