by Jordan Rushing, Assistant Director/Curator of the Old Court House Museum
Recently the Old Court House Museum acquired a 3-inch bronze rifled cannon that was made right here in Vicksburg in March of 1862. This cannon marked Number 3 is one of three of these guns to still exist today.
Abraham Breech Reading and his brother C. A. Reading were the owners and operators of A. B. R. and Bro. on the corner of Washington and First Street. Manufacturing steam gauges, circular saws, water and gas pipes, and boilers was their primary venture, but when the talks of session and war became the headlines of the era, the brothers shifted their focus to cannons and shells.
This particular cannon is believed to have been sent to the Columbus, Mississippi arsenal after its production, and from there sent to Petersburg, Virginia where it remained long after the end of the Civil War. Historian Terry Winschel rediscovered the cannon during his time working for the National Park Service and made arrangements to have it brought home to Vicksburg where it has been at the Vicksburg Convention Center until now. The Vicksburg National Military Park agreed to loan the cannon to the Old Court House Museum where it is now on display.
The South was not known for having large foundries to manufacture weapons during the Civil War. The Confederate government encouraged smaller manufacturers to transition their aims to weapons, as they believed it was a better strategy to spread their foundries across many smaller operations. This prevented them from losing the bulk of their manufacturing power in the event that one was captured. These foundries were being scouted by the Union forces as potential targets to weaken the Southern military. Reading’s was an obvious target.
Union intelligence during the early period of the war was aware of his shift to arms manufacturing and mentioned it as “a large iron foundry – casting guns and shot – on the banks of the river in the lower part of town, carried on by one A. B. Reading, probably a traitor by force or circumstance.” A. B. R. and Bros. foundry is believed to have been destroyed by Union shelling from the river. Records indicate that the Northeast corner of Washington and First Street received the “hottest bombardment of Vicksburg.”
One-of-a-kind artifacts like this cannon give us insight to the earlier days in Vicksburg. Even more so are the one-of-a-kind people that lived here before us. It is always interesting to connect the people of Vicksburg to the artifacts in our museum, and Abram Breech Reading is one of those interesting stories. Before his foundry days, Reading was connected to another piece of Vicksburg history that had a significant impact on our city. Almost everyone is familiar with Vicksburg’s City Hospital, Kuhn Memorial. Before Kuhn was a hospital it was Reading’s home.
In August of 1836, Reading purchased the property on Openwood Street and built an incredible mansion. He was heavily invested in the growing banking businesses in Vicksburg, and most likely would have succeeded in his capitalistic venture had he not risked everything so suddenly. When a financial bubble burst it left him bankrupt only a couple of months after sinking so much into his new mansion now dubbed Reading’s Folly. All of his property was handed over to a trustee and in 1842 it was purchased to be used as a private hospital by Dr. George K. Birchett.
In 1846 fires destroyed the City Hospital and patients were moved to private homes. Dr. Birchett seeing the need for a new facility offered Reading’s Folly to the City for $1,200 and it became the new City Hospital. The hospital eventually was taken over by the State just before the yellow fever epidemic in 1876, and it served as the first line of defense against the disease.
What a fascinating history our city has in that the bankruptcy of an entrepreneur in the 1830s connects to one of our City’s most prominent hospitals that was in use until 1956. This same bankruptcy leading Reading into establishing the foundry that served to manufacture Confederate cannons, and one of those cannons surviving all this time to make its way back to Vicksburg to be displayed at our most historic museum.
If you enjoyed this story about A. B. Reading, his foundry, and the Kuhn Hospital please consider visiting the Old Court House Museum here in Vicksburg, MS. We’ve been a museum for 74 years now, and most of the items on display were donated by families from this area. We also have a vast archive in our McCardle Research Library that is accessible by appointment. Members of the Historical Society have free admission to the museum, so please also consider becoming a member. All proceeds raised through membership go directly to the preservation of the museum and its contents. For more information visit the Old Court House website or call 601-636-0741. You never know what you’ll find at the Old Court House!See a typo? Report it here.