Effort under way to bring Civil War cannons back to Williamsport

January 13, 2013|By DAVE McMILLION |
  • Scott Bragunier talks about the cannon tubes he hopes will be returned this spring to Doubleday Hill in Williamsport.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

WILLIAMSPORT — If Scott Bragunier has his way, cannon tubes that sat for more than a century on Doubleday Hill, a spot in Riverview Cemetery named for Union Gen. Abner Doubleday, will be returned to the same spot by spring.

The cannon tubes — the barrels of a cannon — were procured for the town in 1896 to honor local men who fought and died in the Civil War. They were dedicated on Doubleday Hill on July 4, 1897, said Bragunier, a Williamsport native and local firefighter who has spent a lot of time studying local Civil War history.

“There was a parade, and there was a big to-do in town for it,” Bragunier said.

Three brick supports were built for the cannon tubes, and for more than 100 years, they served as a popular remembrance of the Civil War and the Williamsport men who died in it.

“As a child, I went to Doubleday Hill and played on the cannons. I sat on top of them and pretended I fired them. My dad and mom did the same thing,” Bragunier said.

The spot chosen for the tubes related to Doubleday’s military duty.

History has it that Doubleday was assigned the duty of setting up a western defense for the Union army at the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, Bragunier said.

Doubleday was in charge of setting up a defense over a broad area that stretched to Washington, D.C., but Williamsport became a “collection point” because it was a major crossing point along the Potomac River, according to Bragunier.

At Williamsport, he said, there was a ferry across the river and two fords for making the crossing. 

On a hill above Salisbury Street, three 32-pound siege cannons were set, pointing across the Potomac River.

The Union army eventually moved into Virginia and it is not known whether the cannons on what today is known as Doubleday Hill were ever fired, Bragunier said.

But it has been a lasting memorial to the men in Williamsport who fought and died in the Civil War.

After the war ended, cannon tubes that survived the fighting often were donated to towns in honor of war dead from their communities. Three cannon tubes were donated to Williamsport in honor of local war dead, Bragunier said.

Over the years, however, they fell victim to vandalism and the steel became pitted from exposure to the weather, Bragunier said.

“People would stuff all kinds of stuff down the tubes,” he said.

In about 2000, a collector offered the town money for the tubes, Bragunier said.

It was at that point, Bragunier said, that the town began to realize their value and former Mayor John Slayman had the tubes moved to the basement in town hall. They were replaced by plastic replicas that were set on the brick mounts on Doubleday Hill.

Bragunier worked on an effort to have the cannon tubes refurbished. In July, the town was awarded a $23,000 grant for the work through the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, Bragunier said.

In August, the tubes were loaded on a flatbed truck and sent to the Steen Cannon & Ordnance Works in Ashland, Ky., to be refurbished, Bragunier said. There, the company smoothed out the rough finish on the tubes and made aluminum cannon carriages for them, he said. The insides of the tubes were coated with oil to preserve them and the ends were plugged so no one could shove items inside, he said.

Bragunier said it is his hope that by the beginning of May, the cannons will be rolled back onto the exact spot where cannons stood during the Civil War.

As the town did 116 years ago, Bragunier said he hopes to have the cannons dedicated July 4 in a ceremony with local elected officials.

Bragunier said he would like to have a split-rail fence erected around the site, stairs leading up to the site from Salisbury Street and interpretive signs.

Williamsport Town Council member Joan Knode said she is looking forward to the cannon tubes being returned.

“I think it’s going to be a great day for Williamsport,” Knode said.

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