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“Storied” and priceless cannon began in Vicksburg



Photo: Wikimedia stock photo of a civil war cannon by Yinan Chen
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A cannon made in Vicksburg in 1861 and called “the wave of the future” has rested for over a century in a small Iowa town, and how it got there is indeed an interesting “Story”.

The story begins with a man named Abram Breech Reading. He owned a large plantation in Vicksburg in the early 1830’s, as well as a foundry, a brick-making company, and he was half-owner of a saw mill. 

The cannon in this tale is a Civil War Bronze-Rifled Cannon stamped “Abr and Bro. V.Burg 1861 1”, identifying it as having been manufactured by the  A. B. Reading & Brother factory in Vicksburg. The number one indicates it was the very first of its pattern and series. 

Vicksburg’s newspaper at the time, The Whig, reported the Reading facility was geared to produce smoothbore and rifled cannons at the rate of eight to ten per week, however production was likely far below that report. 

It is documented though that during the Civil War, Vicksburg had two cannon foundries in operation. A. B. Reading and Brother was the most prolific. From April 1861 to April 1865, AB. Reading & Brother manufactured between 45 and 57 field cannons for the Confederate Army. 

M. Paxton, a fellow Vicksburg resident and business rival, produced at least fourteen Federal model 1841 bronze six-pounder guns for the Confederacy in his own works. 

A.B. Reading & Brother factory, the manufacturer of the subject of this story, was located near the waterfront at Washington and First Streets downtown. The pre-war factory made steam gauges, circular saw mills, gas pipes and boilers before being converted to war work.

The Vicksburg Whig reported that the Reading factory was eventually destroyed by a “Yankee” attack because records show that, “The hottest bombardment of Vicksburg to be the northeast corner of Washington and First Streets.”

The town’s siege and eventual fall to Grant on 4 July 1863 did of course shutter both factories.

Records indicate that the rifled cannon, now in Story County, Iowa, was one of several that were delivered to the Confederate Army in Memphis, Tennessee in December 1861. Only two other cannons of this series have been identified as still existing and they are numbered “3” and “24”.

Of importance is that these cannons, originating in Vicksburg, were incredibly innovative because of their rifling. All cannons in the early 1800’s were smoothbore and fired round balls. In the mid-1850’s, designers and manufacturers succeeded in developing a cannon with much better range, accuracy, and penetrating power than the smoothbores and therefore could be deployed further back in the lines, relatively free from capture and harassing fire.

They are referred to as”rifled cannons” because the barrels are rifled with six sawtooth grooves of left-hand twist. They didn’t fire standard cannonballs, but instead used elongated projectiles. The projectiles weighed around 1 1/4 lbs and used 1 1/4 lb powder charges. The approximate range was just 180 feet short of a mile.

The Story County cannon, which is a 3-inch rand rifle, weighs approximately 775 pounds and was considered to be extremely light. It is made of bronze, because there were no factories in the south that could cast steel guns for the Confederacy.

Bronze cannons are a relatively rare find as bronze was found to be unsuitable for rifled cannons. It was considered to be too soft and allowed the rifling to wear away too rapidly in service. Therefore, this makes the Story County cannon even more remarkable.

So how did an innovative cannon from Vicksburg, Mississippi make its way to Story County, Iowa?

Well, it was first sent to the Confederates in Memphis, Tennessee, in late 1861. From there, it was to have been shipped along the Mississippi River to Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois.

In 1901, in honor of a brave Story County, Iowa, soldier named Jason Ferguson who belonged to the 12th Iowa Infantry and was killed at the Battle of Shiloh, the cannon was sent to a town called Nevada in Iowa. The Watchman, a newspaper printed in Nevada in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, ran a story on Friday, February 8, 1901, that the cannon had arrived the day before. After that date, there is no mention of the cannon that can be found.

It is believed to have been stored in the basement of the Story County Courthouse for decades and only moved to the Courthouse lawn because of the need for space.

On August 3, 1979, some vandals hooked onto the cannon and tried to steal it, causing damage to the carriage and wheels.  Through the years, various citizens and Story County employees have spent a great deal of time keeping the cannon as close to its original condition as possible.

For over 100 years, Story County has been home to this significant piece of American history, even if it was “lost” in a basement for many years. Many historians have called the cannon one of the most important and priceless Civil War artifacts.

I’m sure Mr. Reading from Vicksburg, Mississippi would be quite proud.


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