Battle lines being drawn over recovered Civil War cannon

ATLANTA (AP) – When a 5-foot-long Civil War cannon turned up during a search for stolen goods at a Spalding County house, that was just the beginning of a mystery. Now investigators have to sort through multiple claims and determine who owns it.

There is no shortage of would-be takers.

Georgia officials say the antique artillery piece belongs to them. Atlanta representatives say it’s the city’s. Federal officials say it could be the U.S. Army’s. And then there is Arkansas, where the cannon was once used to train cadets.

Spalding County Sheriff’s Investigator Josh Pitts says he’s waiting on the proper paperwork to determine the owner. And he knows, “I’ll probably never discover another cannon in my career.”

The 26-year-old lawman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the 780-pound cannon was discovered when officers searched a home Feb. 8.

First, they found a stolen pickup and a 53-foot trailer full of fireworks. Inside the house was a wooden box. Tucked away in the box was the bronze cannon barrel adorned with an eagle.

“I was never a history enthusiast in school,” Pitts said. “But I’ve learned a lot in the last month.”

The cannon’s trip to Georgia began more than 150 years ago in Boston, where the Cyrus Alger Co. produced 12-pound howitzers. Records show that it next went to the Arkansas Military Institute, The Atlanta newspaper reported Saturday. About 10 years later, the institute’s cadets used it in the Civil War.

Steve McAteer, director of the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History in Little Rock, said the museum’s records trace the cannon to Virginia, where it was lost in battle.

It turned up in 1887 when Georgia officials delivered four cannons, including one with an eagle on the barrel, to the city of Atlanta for display.

Michael Hitt, a Roswell police officer and Civil War enthusiast, said he helped restore the cannons in 1984 in Atlanta’s Grant Park, and recorded their characteristics. One, he noted, bore an eagle. It had lost the knob at the barrel’s base, like the one recovered in Spalding County.

In the late 1980s, the city moved the cannons, with two going to the Cyclorama at Grant Park and one into storage.

Camille Love, who heads the cultural affairs division of Atlanta’s parks department, asserted that the recovered barrel is definitely from Grant Park. She said thieves either stole it from a monument in the park or swiped it while it was in transit to a city storage facility.

McAteer doesn’t know how the cannon got to Georgia, but he said he would like to have it in Arkansas – at least on an extended loan to mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War in 1861.

The U.S. Army Donations Office in Warren, Mich., also has made contact about the cannon.

David Carmichael, who heads the Georgia Archives, has spoken to Spalding County investigators and wants the cannon to stay in Georgia.

Love said she plans to file a police report and take steps to return the cannon to Atlanta.

Pitts said his message about ownership has never varied: “You bring me the paperwork, and it’s yours.”


Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,

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AP-ES-03-13-10 1745EST