Tuesday, June 23, 2015

University of Alabama to preserve, display cannonballs found on campus

Gorgas House is pre-Civil War (Jeffrey Reed, Wikipedia)

Just how did they get there? We may never know for sure.

Ten Civil War-era cannonballs found below a sidewalk on the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa will be preserved and made available for display, campus officials told the Picket on Monday.

The university, while not giving the precise location, said the cache was found Friday afternoon by crews repairing walkways. Al.com reported the discovery was made north of Gorgas Library in the center of campus.

The university, in effect a military school during the Civil War (dubbed the “West Point of the South”), and Tuscaloosa were spared direct effects until the closing days, when Federal cavalry destroyed most of the campus on April 4, 1865.

The artillery rounds were removed after EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) technicians were called in, said Chris Bryant, assistant director of media relations. He said he did not know how far below the surface they were buried. “We’ve swept the area where they were found, and we do not believe there to be any more in the area.”

“The cannonballs are no longer on campus,” he said. “Once the cannonballs are rendered safe, we expect they will be turned over to UA Museums. There, they will be preserved within our collections and, in time, we expect they will be made visible for periodic public display.”

Union Brig. Gen. John Croxton 

Dr. Harold Selesky, an associate professor of American and military history at UA, said he believes the cannonballs were likely inert solid shot rather than shells, which are hollow and filled with powder and would have suffered water damage if stored underground. Selesky, who has not seen the ordnance, describes shells as potentially unstable before rendered safe.

But Dr. Robert Mellown, an UA art history associate professor emeritus, said he has seen photos of two of the cannonballs, which he said are 6-pound and 12-pound shells with inset fuses.

Selesky doubts they were left by Union cavalry raiders led by Brig. Gen. John T. Croxton, whose brigade took part in the Atlanta Campaign and moved through Alabama cities during the war’s final months. The Federals weren’t in Tuscaloosa long and would have kept a close eye on their artillery supply, Selesky said.

Rather, the cannonballs probably belonged to an older muzzle-loading, smoothbore Confederate gun, he said. It was probably pretty small, he added.

“It (the artillery) was likely produced during the war, and at end of the war thrown in a hole because they didn’t need it any more or wanted to try to preserve it for the future,” Selesky told the Picket.

The cannonballs may have been training rounds for cadets on the University of Alabama campus. He said there would have been no reason to bury them during the war -- perhaps they were used to fill in soil or someone buried them in case some kind of trouble returned.

According to historical sources, Mellown said, the university had at least four pieces of artillery.

“One was on loan to the Tuscaloosa home guard to protect the covered bridge across the Warrior River. The other three were presumably on campus under a shed where they were captured by Gen. Croxton,” he said. “They were probably associated with the extensive rifle pits and earthworks that had been created on the western side of campus. Judging from the location of the cannonballs I think they were probably associated with these cannons.  The fact that they were buried is not unusual.  After the burning of the campus much of the debris of the burned buildings was pushed down into nearby ravines and used to fill eroded areas on campus.”

Round House on campus survived burning (Library of Congress)

Only about a half dozen campus buildings survived its burning. Among them was the 1829 
Gorgas Housewhich now houses a museum. The house has on display several cannonballs that were uncovered during street paving in the 1960s.

Mellown, writing for the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society, said the city was known for its hospital, supplies and manpower. It was not considered a major manufacturing area.

But Croxton wanted to destroy some factories and he took his 1,500 troopers to eliminate what “may be of benefit to the rebel cause.”

He pushed away the home guard, resulting in one Confederate death, and had a brief engagement with the outmatched and outgunned 300-member cadet corps, which beat a hasty retreat. The university was set ablaze the next day.

The significance of Croxton's raid is that it demonstrated that even secondary sites were not beyond the reach of Union cavalry, all a part of the slice-and-dice strategy that is the ultimate reason the CSA lost,” said Selesky. “Not lack of will, not even bad generalship. But rather the inability to move men and material where it mattered.”

No comments:

Post a Comment