The Civil War cannon

A Civil War veteran stated, “The farther I get from that war, the more terrible it seems. I tremble sometimes when I think of the hardships and dangers we went through. We are keeping up the organization, but realize we cannot do so long, so we have left as a monument one of the cannons, the like of which was used with such deadly effect in the struggle we went through.”

In 1898. the few remaining members of the Rochelle Post 546 G.A.R.(Grand Army of the Republic) donated a cannon to Flagg Township. Their only request was that we remember the sacrifice that was made to protect the country. The cannon sits today in the yard of the Flagg-Rochelle Museum on 4th Avenue in Rochelle.

The cannon is an eight-inch smooth bore Columbiad, No. 25, cast in 1863 at Fort Pitt, Pennsylvania. At 8,445 pounds and 10 feet and four inches in length, the cannon creates an imposing presence.

It was Nov. 1898 that the cannon and 20 cannon balls arrived in Rochelle. Horse teams were utilized to move the cannon from the Chicago & North Western Railroad to the Township and City Hall building at 518 4th Ave.

The cannon was mounted on a stone foundation designed to resemble a wooden cannon carriage. A local tombstone cutter engraved G.A.R. on one side and 1861-1865 on the other. The cost of the cannon was $113.99. That included freight, lumber, stone, and labor.

It could not include the sacrifice of those who fought in our nation’s deadliest war. One would think that the cannon would be fairly secure, but there have been times when the fate of the cannon was pretty dicey.

In 1942, the city donated cannons from Memorial Park and Lawnridge Cemetery to a World War II scrap metal drive. The 20 cannon balls were donated and even the Civil War cannon was on its way to the scrap yard.

Fortunately, Flagg Township intervened. The cannon was not solely the property of the City of Rochelle, it had been donated to both the city and the township. The township refused to allow the cannon to be destroyed.

The cannon saw its last combat in 1952. It was a quiet Saturday night. The city jail was located in the city hall. Officers Floyd Daub and Kenneth O’Brien were delivering a prisoner (Marvin) to the jail when he broke free and fled.

Marvin had a lead on the officers and though still handcuffed must have thought that freedom was on the horizon. As fate would have it, an 8,445-pound cannon sat in the dark. When the officers collected the unconscious prisoner, the cannon stood silent vigil.

The Last of our Civil War veterans has long since passed. It is up to us if the memory of their sacrifice passes with them. So often we say we will never forget, then we let go of the past. In the dedication speech, the G.A.R. had one request.

“We are here to present it to the people of this township for them to keep, and defend, if need be. We want them to look after it, and when, perhaps, in the distant future, when the last veteran has gone to his long reward, some boy shall pass the relic and ask its meaning, he will be told that it is a relic of that terrible struggle when 600,000 brave men laid down their lives in defense of their country and its principles. I am here today in behalf of the Post to present it to the township, and we have no doubt it will be well taken care of.” 

Help us keep history alive.

Tom McDermott is a Flagg Township Museum Historian and Rochelle city councilman.


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