The Cannons

There are a couple of cannons that are noteworthy in Ashland. The first one is the one our boys allegedly stole from Hopkinton, and the other sits prominently in front of the Ashland Public Library.

The Hopkinton acquisition was a Revolutionary War era cannon, and was taken in retaliation for the Magunco Tub Fire engine dispute between Ashland and Hopkinton in 1846. The cannon made frequent trips back and forth between the two towns until Ashland sunk it in one of our ponds. It would make an annual appearance on the 4th of July to antagonize our good neighbors to the west until one year the cannon exploded killing one man. The present whereabouts of the cannon is uncertain, although I suspect it probably ended up in Ashland’s version of Davey Jones’ Locker.

The second cannon is visible today and fortunately has a more honorable history. It is located in front of the library’s original building, directly to the right. Ed Maguire of the Ashland Historical Society is our resident expert on military history in Ashland and spent countless hours researching the origins of this cannon. Ed wrote a two part piece for Ashland Directions in 1993, and his research is my source for today’s visit.

A quick glance tells us that the cannon was of Civil War vintage. The inscription reads:

POST 18, G.A.R.

The abbreviations refer to the Grand Army of the Republic, Colonel Prescott, Commander Fiske, and Adjutant Ezra Morse. The G.A.R. was a veteran’s organization formed in 1866 after the Civil War.

Identifying the cannon’s markings proved to be a challenge for Ed. Many years of black paint obscured the stamping, but the face of the muzzle was clear enough to identify the manufacturer and year of manufacture. The cannon was cast at the foundry of Seyfert, McManus & Co. of Reading, Pennsylvania in 1865. The weight was stamped at 8565 lbs., or a little over 4 tons. Ed’s research also showed that the cannon was an eight inch model 1861 Rodman gun. It was common practice for cannon and gun manufacturers to use the introductory date as the model number. The cannon fired either a 7.88 inch solid ball weighing 65 pounds or a 49.75 pound explosive charge, and the range of fire was 1.8 miles. This was the standard for the gun, but with proper elevation it could send a cannon ball up to 2.2 miles. All this with a 10 pound charge of black powder. What a noise maker! I guess that’s why all the pictures of soldiers firing cannons during the Civil War had their fingers in their ears.

Post 18 of the G.A.R. was an active organization headquartered at the corner of Main and Front streets. We have pictures of the members standing in front of their building in our archives at the Historical Society along with the original minutes of their meetings. Ed was able to trace the history of the cannon from those minutes. Early in 1908, Post 18 was looking for the Army to donate a “condemned cannon.” It wasn’t until late 1910 that further action was taken by the Post. Army red tape I guess. Documents from the National Archives indicated that an eight inch Rodman gun was donated to Post 18 under the Act of 5/22/96. The gun was transported from the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts and delivered to Ashland in May of 1910.

Now, for the interesting part of today’s story. At the time of dedication, there was a three tier pile of twenty cannon balls in front of the cannon. If you see the cannon today, they are gone. Picture post cards of that era show the cannon balls as late as 1913, but the photo may have been taken earlier. Ed’s article in 1993 mentioned that he had a conversation with Harry Marchetti. Harry worked as custodian at the library in 1957 and didn’t recall the cannon balls being there. He did say that he did remember seeing them at the end of WWII which would have been as late as 1945. During the war there was an effort to collect metals from communities to supply material to support the manufacture of guns, tanks, transport vehicles, and the like. In late 1942 the Framingham News reported that the library trustees offered the cannon and cannon balls to the Salvage Committee. That would have contributed four tons to the war effort, but there was no mention of it in subsequent Salvage Committee reports in 1944 and 1945. Obviously the cannon is still here, but the cannon balls are gone. If Harry Marchetti remembers seeing them as late as 1945, neither one of them were salvaged during the war. I guess that will become one of Ashland’s History Mysteries.

What happened to the cannon balls?

Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions
March 2012