Mortar From the Wrong War

As a resident and craftsman at Colonial Williamsburg, I was naturally interested in your April 2013 news brief on the cannonball discovered atop the Bruton Parish Church—since I was able to examine it firsthand! Fellow blacksmith Chris Henkels and I noticed the round cast-iron finial at the base of the original 1769 vane. Cast iron was rarely used during the Colonial Period for such a purpose, and we noticed the cast “ears” and concluded that this was a repurposed piece. A day or so later, Chris saw an early mortar shell in an antique shop. The hole for the fuse, and also the ears, were a close enough match to conclude that the Bruton finial was actually an artillery round, but I don’t think it is from the Civil War. Several days later, I discovered a nearly identical image in the 1809 Artillerist’s Companion, by Louis De Tousard. There is no mistaking the origin of Bruton’s finial.

My conclusion is that the original 1769 Bruton vane had a wood finial at the top of the kingpost. At some point in the 19th century, the wood finial had deteriorated, and during maintenance on the steeple it was replaced with the cast-iron mortar round. The fuse hole was used to receive the vane spindle, and a hole was drilled through the bottom of the shell to allow the spindle to pass through. Additional iron strapping was added to attach the cast-iron shell to the wooden steeple, to support the vane.

Kenneth Schwarz

Blacksmith, master of the shop Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Was War Inevitable?

 Regarding Jamie Malanowski’s article in the April issue, it may be time for the Civil War community to debate a distasteful possibility. We’d like to believe the war was fought over lofty ideals such as the Union, abolition or states’ rights. But it’s possible that the war was fought simply for power and control, the reasons that most wars are fought. When the powerful seek to extend their control through war, they need a rallying cry. There have been many: religion, national insult, imminent danger, etc.

Howell Cobb gives us a glimpse into genuine motivation. Why settle for being a member of a cabinet when you can be president of a new country? Would Southerners go to war to make Cobb president? Never. Would they rally around states’ rights and self-determination? Much more likely.

There is no reason to believe Northern leaders were any different. There were industrial and commercial reasons to exercise greater control over Southern states. Would the Northerners go to war for this? No. But if the message is preserving the Union, securing the work of the Founding Fathers or abolition, starting a war is much easier. It is heartbreaking to think that so many young, promising lives could have been sacrificed in the pursuit of raw power. But it just might be true.

 Philip M. West

Glenview, Ill.

Far From Dixie

Craig Swain’s interesting article on Island No. 10 [in the April issue] described the fate of Island No. 10, but not its defenders. The captured Confederates, mostly from Alabama and Tennessee, were sent by train to Camp Randall in Madison, Wis. More than 1,000 were there by June. Most were sent south, then paroled and exchanged near Vicksburg later that summer. About 145, however, remained in Madison forever. These men are buried in the well-tended Confederate plot in Forrest Hill Cemetery. Note that you can no longer visit Camp Randall. The site is now home to the University of Wisconsin’s 80,321-seat football stadium.

Gordon Berg

Greenbelt, Md.

His Own Treasure

I was very interested in the “Smithsonian Treasures” segment of “Past&Present” in the April issue, on the Model 1863 musket that belonged to Private Elisha Stockwell Jr. of the 14th Wisconsin.

I have the original .54-caliber musket issued to my great-grandfather, Henry Krenninger (Greninger), of the 57th Pennsylvania. He was awarded the Kearny Cross at Chancellorsville, captured at Fredericksburg, and paroled and returned to duty. When Henry was discharged in 1865, he— like Stockwell—purchased his gun for $6. I also have some of his live cartridges in their box of issue.

I have received Civil War Times since the beginning, and I just donated my collection to the local library. I have read and enjoyed every issue. Keep up the good work.

Carleton Weidemeyer

Clearwater, Fla.


Originally published in the June 2013 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.