Cannon fire rings out during South Mountain State Battlefield's Thunder on the Mountain weekend

August 19, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE |
  • A demonstration of loading and firing a 12 pound Napoleon cannon takes place during Thunder on the Mountain at South Mountain State Battlefield Sunday.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

BURKITTSVILLE, Md. — A flame shot out the end of the replica Napoleon cannon, followed by a white plume of smoke as the cannon’s wheels rolled back from the recoil.

“There’s a tremendous concussion. There’s no question about it,” said Charles Cain, watching the Sunday morning cannon demonstration at Gathland State Park, on the county line southeast of Rohrersville.

It gives you an idea how loud the concussion would be, though demonstrators used a half charge, Cain said.

“So it gives you a real idea as to the ferocity of the battle,” Cain said.

Randy McElwee, 62, of Hagerstown, said he wouldn’t have wanted to be a soldier during the Civil War and experience the cannon fire.

“It’s just unbelievable,” McElwee said.

“It was very loud,” said McElwee’s wife, Jan.

Re-enactors fired two, 1-pound blanks, or half charges, one at the beginning of the demonstration and one at the end, said historical interpreter John Miller with the Maryland Park Service. The half charges were fired instead of full charges for safety standards, he said.

During the Civil War, the typical ammunition for a Napoleon cannon would have been a 2.5-pound gunpowder sack, said Miller, of Waynesboro, Pa.

The cannon demonstration, one of two Sunday, wrapped up South Mountain State Battlefield’s Thunder on the Mountain weekend.

About 10 people watched the morning demonstration.

The 150th anniversary of the Battle of South Mountain, which led up to the Battle of Antietam, will be commemorated Sept. 14 and 15 with battlefield hikes, a speaker series, and more living-history interpretive programs, according to the Friends of South Mountain’s website at

The 150th anniversary of local Civil War battles, including South Mountain and Antietam, is expected to draw lots of tourists to the area.

“We were traveling in the area, seeing Civil War battlefields for the sesquicentennial,” said Cain, 57, of Cincinnati. He, his wife, Linda, and son, Nathan, were staying in Hagerstown during their visit to battlefields in Maryland and Virginia.

McElwee said he was drawn to the cannon demonstration because he’s a Civil War buff, an interest that has “been in the family since I was a kid.”

After the cannon-firing demonstration, visitors had the chance to get a close-up look at the replica cannon and talk to the re-enactors, who were employees or volunteers with South Mountain State Battlefield and represented the Union’s Maryland Light Artillery.

States Edwards, 49, of New Market, Md., asked the re-enactors about the adjustments they made to line up the cannon’s target.

In addition to a turning screw to raise or lower the cannon, the cannon can be moved to the right or left by grabbing the trail spike, a long handle that juts up from the cannon’s base, said re-enactor Jeff Hayes, of Hagerstown.

A quarter-inch to a half-inch move to the right or left could shift the cannon’s aim about a half-mile, a re-enactor told Edwards.

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