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When Fort Sumter was fired on, April 15, 1861, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to serve for three (3) months and to “put down” down the rebellion and restore the Union. Beloit responded by a rally held in Hanchett Hall on April 19, 1861, calling for volunteers and pledging support to the Union.
Beloit’s home guard, the Beloit City Guard, offered its services, and a telegram was sent to Madison stating that they were ready and willing to serve.
On April 20, 1861, Wisconsin’s Governor, William Randall, accepted the Beloit City Rifles as Company F of the 1st Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and ordered the unit to report to Milwaukee, with no uniforms or weapons. Beloit gave them a huge sent off, with bands, a parade and speeches from local dignitaries.
Company F served its three (3) months in the fledgling Union Army as it slowly organized, but saw no combat, nor suffered any casualties, and after its enlistment ended, returned to Beloit in the first week of August, 1861, and was disbanded. Elected 1st Sgt. of Company F was John Vallee, a Beloit printer. On his return to Beloit he, along with several other men of Company F, began to recruit men for companies of volunteers to join regiments being then organized in Wisconsin. Vallee recruited 145 men, the majority from Beloit, to form an artillery battery and was elected its Captain. The unit was accepted into Federal service as the 4th Wisconsin Battery of Light Artillery, a unit with six (6) smooth-bore guns, which later received large Nine Pound rifled guns, and served for three (3) years in Washington D.C., Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
Beloit, however, was starting an unfortunate history involving cannons. It started in 1863, when the Beloit Journal & Courier reported an accident at the city Fourth of July Celebration:
Accident on the Fourth
On the morning of the 4th, while the salute was being fired, a man named Mr. Tieman was badly injured by the premature discharge of the cannon. He was ramming down the cartridge when the accident took place, the charge tearing his left arm horribly and filling his face, breast and right arm with powder. Amputation of the arm was instantly performed and hopes are entertained of his life. His sufferings have been terrible. He is a German by birth, and a poor man.
The accident was the result of insufficient swabbery of the gun. Too much care cannot be exercised at such times, and we trust that the explosion of our cannon and the mutualization of a fellow creature will learn those who have charge of the new gun to exercise the utmost caution."
Who was "Mr. Tieman," the poor German? He's not listed in the 1860 Beloit Census, nor does the newspaper report on his condition (or survival) in any future issues. The reference to "our cannon" and hopes for better training for "those who have charge of the new gun," indicate that Beloit not only had a cannon in 1863, and when it was destroyed in this accident, got itself a new cannon. The irony of the story was that on that 4th of July, 1863, while Beloiters were using its cannon for a salute, thousands of men lay on the fields at Gettysburg awaiting burial, many killed by cannon that had been fired in real for that very purpose.
It would be some years after the Civil War, but Beloit would again demonstrate its inability to handle artillery.
An article in The Beloit News, July 7, 1923, by Robert Edwards, tells us about the replacement cannon, which would be used until 1884. which was obviously a relic from the Mexican War of 1848, somehow obtained by Beloit:
“Every city of any importance had a gun placed in the city park for use on festive occasions. Beloit had such a gun. The barrel was made of brass, and in its day it was the pride of the country side. Its uses were many, but the crowning event of the year was the firing of the giant piece on July 4.”
“The gun originally came form Spain. The markings on it indicated that it had been cast in the Spanish arsenal at Seville, the date of casting was may 24, 1792. Guns in those days were like persons, they all had names. The name attached to the Beloit artillery piece was “Silio.”
“The Spanish crown insignia was engraved below the name. The following inscription appeared on the trunnions of the piece, “Corbresle, Mexico, Rio Tinto.”
Following the Civil War our cannon, Silio, continued to be used extensively for various celebrations, but always on the 4th of July, where the veterans of the 4th Wisconsin Battery, of Beloit, would exercise the gun, and, according to news articles, hold contests to see how many rounds could be fired in a set period of time. On one 4th of July celebration the gun was placed at Grand and State Street, a veteran of the 4th Wisconsin Battery, Hugh Riley (who had served the battery as a veterinarian, not an artilleryman) was in charge of Silio, and it went off prematurely with the ram rod still in the muzzle. Mr. Riley was the only one injured, losing an arm and the sight in one eye, the ram rod flew across the Rock River, and through a sign on the Thompson Plow Works, on 3rd Street. The gun itself was not damaged.
“Silio” served Beloit until 1884. The presidential election of that year, Grover Cleveland, Democrat, vs. James G. Blain, Republican, had generated a great deal of spirited campaigning. When the results of the election of Cleveland were announced, local Democrats took Silio by railroad to Clinton, where a county-wide Democrat celebration was to be held. At the celebration a charge was rammed into the muzzle for a shot that the Democrats hoped would be heard in Beloit. Hugh Riley, yes, the same Hugh Riley who had already lost an arm and eye misfiring Silo, was selected to supervise the firing of the gun.
Instead of firing as she should, Silio blew up - nobody, including Mr. Riley, was injured, but Silio was in pieces. The remnants of the gun were collected and sold to a junk dealer, and thus endeth the history of Silio.
It would be 26 years before Beloit got another cannon. In 1910 there was a revival of Civil War memories, this being the dedication of a Civil War Cannon donated to the Community. On August 9, 1910, the Beloit Daily News announced:
"Old "Boys" Will Ride on Cannon: Fourth Battery Men to Have Prominent Part in Parade Tomorrow - Many Visitors Expected."
The occasion was the receipt from the War Department of a Civil War cannon. The weapon has been identified as a Model 1841 six Pounder, the barrel forged in 1855 at the Ames Armory in Chicopee, Massachusetts, a standard light artillery piece during the Civil War. Although this cannon was not identified by any of the "boys" of the 4th Battery as one of "their guns" it was the type of cannon used by the 4th Battery in the early part of its Civil War service.
The cannon was placed in Horace White Park, as a Civil War Memorial. The dedication ceremonies, held on August 10, 1910, were attended by 1,000 Beloiters. The cannon was pulled by a three-team hitch, as it would have been pulled in action, down East Grand Avenue to Park, North on Park to Bushnell, and West on Bushnell (pausing before the First Congregational Church for prayers, and photographs), before turning into the center of Horace White Park. The cannon was then "permanently" placed near the west edge of Horace White (the site being southeast of the approximate place where Public Avenue dead-ends into Horace White Park). Photographs of the day show the crew of seven old veterans of the 4th Battery, proudly crewing the gun, as riders, and gunners, as they did similar guns during the Civil War. Accompanying and riding in front of the cannon was the original bugler of the 4th Battery, still remembering, after 45 years, his bugle calls, and blowing them as he did during the War. As the average age of the "boys" would have been well into their 60's, and their average life expectancy at that time was in the 50's, they were "senior citizens" under any description. The Beloit Daily News, made the following promise for Beloit:
"The old cannon will stand from today henceforth in the city park as Beloit's reminder of the heroic service rendered her and the whole nation by the Fourth battery in the great civil war. When in future years we view that relic of the days of strife, we shall sometimes, perhaps, be moved to contemplate the sacrifices the men of the 60's made in our behalf, in behalf of freedom and a united country.
It is fitting that we should join the old soldiers today in dedicating this cannon to the battery. While we should give those who participated in the mighty conflict the chief seats in the exercises, we should all join with them in spirit as they set apart this ancient piece of ordnance whose active work has been long since completed. And we should see to it in future years that the old cannon is property reverenced and protected from harm. It should be treasured as one of the sacred possessions of the city, a reminder of the price of blood paid by our boys fifty years ago for the heritage we now enjoy and shall enjoy countless generations to come." (Underlining supplied by author.)
Nice words, nice thoughts, but a challenge to the future that was betrayed by Beloit in 1969!
For 60 years this Civil War Memorial stood there, and generations of young Beloit boys played on the Cannon, aimed imaginary cannon balls into Illinois, and read the following message on a brass plate placed on the barrel of the Cannon:
"Dedicated to the Fourth Wisconsin Battery, Light Artillery, Recruited in Beloit, Wisconsin, Sept., 1861. Mustered into United States Service at Racine, Wis., October 1, 1861. Mustered out of Service at Richmond, VA., July 5, 1865."
The Civil War cannon was used in parades, but received with its “touch hole” sealed, intending to preventing its firing, and no records exist that show that it was ever again fired, even though a veteran artilleryman could have corrected this easily. There would be no more accidents, like those with Silio.
During the 1965 Civil War Centennial, the cannon was “borrowed” by the Rock County Historical Society, and used during a celebration and parade in Janesville. While in Janesville the carriage and wheels, which by then had endured 50 years of Wisconsin weather, collapsed because of dry rot. The cannon barrel was then returned to Beloit, and was placed at the Department of Public Works barns (then located on 4th Street) in an outbuilding, and later moved "outside" to rest (and rust) in the work yard.
In August, 1969, the cannon was "found" (having never been lost in the first place) by James Enking, a local newspaper reporter, who accused the City of wanting to junk the cannon, and who proposed to the Beloit City Council that he be "given" the cannon, and he would then "refurbish" the gun, have it mounted on a permanent concrete slab at the Beloit Historical Society Bartlett Museum on St. Lawrence, and make it available to any patriotic or civic group upon written notice of ten days. What a deal!
A file in the Beloit City Clerk's office, and Beloit Daily News articles, tell that in November, 1969, there were filed objections of the Beloit Historical Society, Beloit veteran organizations, prominent veterans such as Lt.Col.Theodore Florey, and a petition signed by 145 citizens, all expressing serious concern over the giving of the cannon to a private individual, and fears as to the possible loss to the community of its Civil War Memorial by such an irresponsible act of giving away a heritage of the Community. All protested the proposal of Mr. Enking. But, despite the public demands that the cannon be given to the Beloit Historical Society for its preservation, the members of the Beloit City Council, in their collective wisdom, entered into a "trust agreement" with Mr. Enking - the "trust agreement" being found in the City files and records - was signed by the Council President, but not signed by Mr. Enking. The "trust agreement" provided that Mr. Enking was awarded the trusteeship of the cannon, he could never sell it, it would revert back to the City on his death, and that the "agreement" could be terminated by the City upon a 90 day notice. With this bit of statesmanship, the members of the Beloit City Council saluted the memory of the Civil War veterans of Beloit, not in the customary manner, but with an extended middle finger. The unsigned "trust agreement" found in the City Clerk's records, is the last record of the cannon.
In a particularly juvenile bit of journalism, a reporter of the Beloit Daily News of November 4, 1969, proclaimed: "Boom Boom Finds Home." It got worse with the first sentence of the story reading:
"When Johnny comes marching home again, Ta..ra..ta..ra. The cannon has found a home again, ta..ra..ta..ra. The bands will play and the girls will shout, the crowds they will all come out now that the cannon has found a home."
The article then advised the Citizens that...
"It (the cannon) will now be taken to his (Enking's) home where restoration will commence. And the cannon has found a home Ta..ra."
BUT, THE CANNON THEN DISAPPEARS! 884 pounds and gone! In the years since 1969, the government of the City of Beloit has put the cannon out of mind. But, during the following years several citizens, this writer included, inquired of Mr. Enking about the cannon, primarily asking where it was. Mr. Enking never acknowledged that he had ever received the cannon, much less where it was, or what happened to it. The so-called trust agreement enacted by the City Council in 1969, is found in the records of the Beloit City Clerk's office - unsigned by Mr. Enking - and Mr. Enking, as the years passed, denied even having "accepted" or having "received" the cannon. His death, in 1994, seals the mystery, and his next-of-kin have assured this writer that there's no cannon lying around at Mr. Enking's former residence, and no family member has any recollection of ever even seeing a cannon laying around the house. They kindly permitted the author of this article to go to the residence and search the garage and out-buildings, no cannon was found.
So much for the "trust agreement."
Where did the cannon go? What happened to it? We will probably never know. One of the reasons stated by Mr. Enking for his petition to the City Council for the cannon, was fear that it was going to be sold by the City as junk, a claim flatly denied by the then Director of Public Works. The "scrap value" of the cannon, in 1969, was stated to be $240. Today, in 1996, its scrap value would be approximately $663. Inquiry to a salvage business, large enough to handle the melting down, or cutting up of a cannon of this size, results in assurance that no legitimate business would think of purchasing a cannon barrel of this type, without absolute proof of ownership - and then would donate such an item to an organization such as a historical society. One comment by a representative of the industry was that if no organization wanted the cannon - he would put it in his own backyard before destroying it. The thought of someone cutting it up in a barn or backyard for sale as scrap metal, resulted in a laugh, as the problems involved, and the labor required, would make such an effort financially worthless.
The desire of the Beloit Historical Society to protect and preserve the cannon, and citizens expressed fears and objections to the "trusteeship" of the cannon by a private individual, and its removal from public ownership - objections ignored by the City Council - came true. It's probably not a surprise to the reader to hear that nobody at City Hall today knows anything, or can remember anything about the fate of the cannon. All that we, today, can hope for is that the old cannon found a home with some Civil War reenactment group or local museum; or sits in the park or cemetery of some other small town in America - in the care of someone or some place that will take better care of it than we did in Beloit.
W. A. Bolgrien - 1996
Beloit Historical Society