Bronze cannon can help Perryville Battlefield show importance of Civil War history

Published 6:06 pm Monday, April 8, 2019

Saturday was a special day for Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site — it accepted the donation of a cannon worth about $40,000, and dozens of volunteers used their brawn to help get the park ready for tourism season.

American Battlefield Trust Day at Perryville was Saturday. Nearly 100 volunteers of all ages converged at the park early in the morning and were ready to get their “marching orders” of where work was needed to be done.

Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site manager Joni House describes the 1842 replica of a 6-pound bronze gun, also called a cannon, that was being donated to the park by Dr. Peter Worthy of Carrollton, Georgia on Saturday. Photo by Robin Hart.

But prior to heading out, they witnessed a special presentation when park manager Joni House talked about the large bronze cannon (called a gun) that had just been rolled off a trailer and was sitting across from the park’s museum.

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The gun is a handcrafted, functioning, exact replica of an 1842 bronze Civil War cannon, House said. It had just been delivered and donated to Perryville Battlefield by Dr. Peter Worthy of Carrollton, Georgia, in memory of Col. Charles McDaniel, of Bowdon, Georgia, who was killed during the Battle of Perryville.

“It’s a super big deal,” House said. “… It’s a fitting tribute to a brave soldier. It also opens up opportunities for education. We will be able to do living history programs with this gun and really give the public a close up view of an artillery piece. This is something the park could never afford to purchase.”

She said she was looking forward to teaching park visitors, especially kids, “how important the Civil War was and what it means to our country. And now I have the ability to demonstrate to these kids this really is important history.”

House plans on having a trained, seven-person crew fire the cannon at least one Saturday a month for the public to watch and learn how difficult it was for Civil War soldiers to operate the gun.

Accompanying Worthy were also Col. McDaniel’s great-great- and great-great-great-grandsons, George and Kaleb Chambers, who are also from Bowdon and long-time friends of Dr. Worthy.

As House read the inscription to be placed on the canon — “Given in memory of Col. Charles McDaniel from Bowdon, Georgia. Emory College graduate, man of letters, educator, college founder, leader of men, and a man of great faith. Perished with his troops at Perryville on Oct. 8, 1862,” George Chambers was brought to tears.

“I’m proud of this,” George Chambers said later. “These are happy tears. This was a great man. This is family. I love it.”

Worthy said he and George Chambers have been friends for years. And his best friend was George’s late father. Their hometowns of Carrollton and Bowdon are only 10 miles apart. He said he’s a Civil War enthusiast and wanted a gun since he was about 14.

When he turned 50 several years ago, Worthy said he had a company build an exact replica of a solid bronze gun that would shoot 6-pound balls. However, the elevating screw which raises and lowers the barrel is from a cannon that was actually used during the Civil War, Worthy said.

Chambers said, “Family history has always been very important in my family, especially Civil War history.” He said he had two great-great grandfathers who fought and died in the Civil War, Capt. John T. Chambers and Col. McDaniel.

Through research, Worthy and Chambers learned that Col. McDaniel was killed in Perryville and was buried in a Masonic area of a Harrodsburg cemetery. Ten years later, Col. McDaniel’s brother had the body exhumed and taken to Bowdon, where it was buried at Bowdon College, a school McDaniel had earlier co-founded.

“It’s quite a story, really,” Worthy said.

George Chambers and his son Kaleb, stand next to a bronze cannon donated to Perryville Battlefield in memory of their great-great, and great-great-great grandfather Col Charles McDaniels who was killed in the Battle of Perryville during the Civil War. Photo by Robin Hart.

Worthy said he has traveled all over the country with a Civil War group — not as re-enactors, but as historians wanting to learn more about the war. Paraphrasing words written on McDaniel’s tombstone, Worthy said McDaniel’s last words were, “I’ve been calm in the trials of life. I’ve been calm as I led my men in battle. And I will be calm when I meet my God in peace.”

“It changed my life a little bit,” Worthy said. “He was a man of faith. He didn’t send them into battle. He led them. He was quite a guy.”

“My whole goal was to find a good home for it (the cannon) and I found it,” Worthy said.

“The Friends of Perryville are in the process of installing a new artillery exhibit. This will be a major donation to the park’s museum. It has been in the works for some years now and they raised the money to install the ‘Guns of the West’ as part of our permanent exhibit.”

“It is a weird coincidence that Dr. Worthy decided to give us the gun. We had no idea when we started designing the exhibit for the artillery,” House said.

“I get choked up because that man sacrificed 150-something years ago. And here’s his great-great-grandson. Then to see all these people standing around to do something today, it touches my heart because people still care. … As long as people care about it, then this place is safe. That’s my worry — that somebody will forget it.”

After pictures were taken with the cannon and crews divided into working groups, House said in the springtime, the park has a lot of projects to get done. “And to have this workforce, it’s just amazing.”

This year, several people planted trees to help reestablish the wood line that was used by Confederate troops to mask their advance upon the Union flanks, House said.

And a big project was to clear a fence row from the Western High Water Mark of the Civil War, House said.

“That is the farthest north in the Western Theater that any organized Confederate army made it. So you hear about Gettysburg — that’s the high water mark of the east. The western high water mark is here in Perryville. It’s on the stone fence of property we recently acquired,” House said.

The property had been a cattle farm for many years and the rock wall had collapsed while trees and brush took over the ridge.

“We’re trying to get the vista back open for people to be able to see that,” House said. “… That fight right there was intense. This is the first time that we’ve really been able to walk on it.”