About Me

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Clinton, Kentucky, United States
I am the curator of the Hickman County Museum in Clinton, KY. I am also an amateur historian who focuses on the Civil War period in Columbus, KY, and the Jackson Purchase region of Kentucky. For my Civil War articles please see my COLUMBUS, KY: GIBRALTAR OF THE WEST blog at http://www.rosswar.blogspot.com. I also write articles for various local newspapers and magazines and give talks on local history and beginner’s genealogy. From time to time I write little essays which I share with friends. For my essays see my blog MEMORIES AND MUSINGS at http://www.rossessays.blogspot.com. Most of my essays are humorous but some are memorial tributes. I might gild the lily just a little on the humorous ones but my essays are all based on true events.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Gibraltar consists of less than three square miles of territory on a small peninsula jutting out of southern Spain. Much of the land is taken up by the 1400 feet high mountain popularly called the Rock of Gibraltar. After its capture from Spain in 1714 Gibraltar was transformed into a heavily fortified and armed military base.

Perfectly placed at the narrow western entrance to the Mediterranean Sea this British overseas territory controls all access to and from the Atlantic Ocean. After surviving numerous efforts by Spain and other powers to take it, Gibraltar became the ultimate symbol of an unconquerable fort.

The Confederates were so proud of their defenses at Columbus, KY, that they boasted this Mississippi River fortification was their Gibraltar of the West.


Since 1991 I have written over 250 Columbus Scrapbook articles for the Hickman County Gazette. About 80% of these articles concern the Civil War period in Columbus, Kentucky. This small Mississippi River port and terminal of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad played an important role during the Civil War.

Columbus was occupied for six months by the Confederacy during which it became their most heavily fortified and armed fortress on the Mississippi River during the entire war.

After Columbus was abandoned by the Confederates the town was occupied by the Union military for six years. During this occupation Columbus was a major supply depot, river fleet port, and railroad transportation junction for the Union.

Columbus also became a major refugee center for runaway slaves and as well as a major recruiting center for Black soldiers. The 4th United States Colored Heavy Artillery Regiment was organized at Columbus and spent most of the war as part of its garrison.

Being on a flat plain surround by bluffs the little town of Columbus was subject to major floods. After the Great Flood of 1927 the remains of the town were moved by the Red Cross to on top of a bluff. The river today now covers over half of the site of old Columbus.

I became fascinated by the history of Columbus while working four summers at the Columbus Belmont Kentucky State Park. I did maintenance for two summers and was camp ground attendant the other two.

In 1968 working maintenance at the Columbus Belmont KY State Park meant we boys picked up the garbage first thing each morning. We hitched a two wheel cart to an old Ford tractor and made the rounds of the camp & picnic grounds.

One boy drove the tractor and two rode in the cart. We two riders would jump out, empty a trash can into the cart (a messy job since we did not use plastic trash bags to line the cans), put the trash can back on the ground, then climb into the cart to ride to the next one.

I would guess we would empty thirty or forty full garbage cans on a morning after a big weekend. Each time the cart filled up we took it to a bulldozed spot in the woods near the park museum, soak the dumped garbage in diesel oil, and burn it.

After marinating in humid heat from Friday morning to Monday morning the discarded weekend food remains were rather fragrant & teaming with happy little fly babies. We didn't really mind all that much. We were teenage boys after all.

I remember one Monday especially. The mosquitoes were a plague that year. A few days before I had been stung by a wasp on the back of one hand. And I had discovered that summer I was allergic to a certain very common plant in the park.

There I was riding in that two wheeled cart on a hot & humid morning, dressed in my sweat soaked gray cotton park uniform (which were actually Eddyville State Prison uniforms!), standing ankle deep in maggot infested stinking garbage, covered in mosquito bites & poison ivy rash, and forced to work mostly one handed because my wasp stung swollen hand hurt so much.

That was the morning I first realized that I loved my job at the park. And that I was truly captivated by its beauty & history.

So I swore to myself then I would someday learn everything I could about the history of Columbus & the park.

And I am very happy to say that after writing several hundred articles I have still barely scratched the surface of the mostly forgotten history of this fascinating place!


For six months Columbus, Kentucky, was one of the most strategically important places in the new Confederate States of America. On the third of September, 1861, Episcopal Bishop and Confederate Major General Leonidas Polk ordered the occupation of the small Mississippi River port of Columbus. This terminus of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad was perfectly placed to become the western anchor of General Albert S. Johnston's defense of the upper Mississippi River valley.

Columbus sat on a level plain barely above high water mark in front of a semicircular chain of large bluffs. The 180 foot Iron Banks bluff north of the town was the focus of six months hard work by soldiers and hired slaves. A large earthwork (Fort DeRussy) and two smaller detached forts on the bluff were surrounded by infantry trenches and protected by abatis (rows of felled trees with sharpened branches). Two additional small forts on the plain south of the town protected the railroad depot.

Over 17,000 men defended these trenches with 140 cannon and electrically fired land mines. The largest cannon were placed inside Fort DeRussy and on three shelves cut into the bluff's river side below this earthwork. Other cannon were placed along the town's river bank. The largest and most famous cannon at Columbus was named the "Lady Polk" in honor of the general's wife.

A mile long chain supported on flat boats was stretched across the Mississippi River and river mines were placed in front of the chain.

A small detachment of infantry and six field cannon at Camp Johnston guarded the tiny village of Belmont opposite Columbus.

Flag-Officer George N. Hollins arrived from New Orleans in late November, 1861, with a half dozen wooden gunboats of the Confederate States Navy. The Confederate Navy iron clad ram Manassas was also stationed for a while at Columbus. In December the 20 gun floating artillery battery New Orleans was towed up river to complete the defenses of the "Gibraltar of the West."

But of all these defenses only the entrenched cannon were present on November 7, 1861, during the Battle of Belmont. The then unknown General Ulysses S. Grant brought his men and wooden gunboats down river from Cairo, Illinois, to raid Belmont and test the defenses of Columbus. This raid became a hard fought battle between equal numbers of inexperienced soldiers.

Grant took Belmont but was forced to retreat back to his boats by heavy fire from Columbus' artillery and by fresh infantry sent across the river by Polk. Enthusiastic newspapers and artillery officers later boasted the "Lady Polk" cannon had driven Grant out of the captured Belmont camp.

Small probing raids by Union gunboats and the Battle of Belmont convinced Grant that Columbus was too strong to be taken directly. Instead, in February, 1862, he sent his army and new ironclad gunboats to seize the much weaker Forts Henry and Donelson. These each had only a dozen large cannon in their river batteries. Flooding on both rivers permitted Grant's boats to pass over any mines or obstructions.

Outflanked and cut off from Johnston at Bowling Green, Polk was ordered to evacuate Columbus. Supplies, ammunition, heavy cannon, and gun crews were sent down river to Island #10 just below the Kentucky border. Polk then marched his infantry and field cannon south to join Johnston in the preparations for the Battle of Shiloh.

Jubilant occupying Federals found less than a dozen disabled cannon among the broken gun carriages and burnt winter huts at Columbus. Only the sea anchor and broken chain along with a pile of mines and anchors remained of the river barricade. Northern reporters described with indignation those "infernal machines, called torpedoes" and the land mines.

Columbus became an important Union railroad and river fleet supply depot, a refuge for runaway slaves, and a recruiting center for Black soldiers. By 1864 most of the thousand man garrison were members of the 4th. U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery Regiment.


Most modern historians write about Columbus, Kentucky, only because General Ulysses S. Grant fought his first Civil War battle across the river at Belmont, Missouri.

Southerners in their regimental histories, memoirs, and articles in veteran publications also remembered Columbus for another reason. They never forgot the bursting of the "Lady Polk" cannon and the resulting bloody slaughter of her gun crew.

The NEW ORLEANS PICAYUNE newspaper of November 14, 1861, wrote this article about the bursting of the “Lady Polk” cannon at Columbus:

"A most shocking and unfortunate accident happened just now, which has cast a depressing gloom over the whole army at this point. The 128 pounder rifled gun, mounted on a pivot inside of a circle elevation, exploded with a terrible crash, which could be heard for many miles. A great loss of life was sustained, and many persons mangled and wounded in the most tragic manner .... I counted five dead bodies on the spot, horribly mangled, while several were badly, and others but slightly, wounded. Limbs, pieces of skull oozing brains, were scattered all about, and presented a never-to-be-forgotten sight. Gen. Polk was close by the gun, but was not hurt, which is certainly providential. The General was terribly shocked, and had his clothes torn in shreds, and his face burned somewhat, but without injuring him externally or internally .... Several of the gunners must have been buried inside of the elevation, under the fragments and ruins of the once beautiful and valuable gun. There is no doubt but that some must have been thrown into the river, as the gun was mounted almost at the edge of the bluff, where from its highest elevation, it commanded the opposite Missouri shore for several miles. This gun was the pride of the army, and the terror of the gunboats, and its value was tested in the late battle [Battle of Belmont], when it played at the gunboats, and dispersed the advancing column of the enemy. The loss of this gun cannot be so easily replaced, and it will be greatly missed in the defense of Columbus .... The amount of the killed may be ten, while a great many are wounded."

The Yankees also remembered the "Lady Polk." The CAIRO CITY WEEKLY GAZETTE of February 13, 1862, summarized an article taken from the Columbus DAILY CONFEDERATE NEWS newspaper about some recent test firings of Confederate artillery. The cannon were named Soul-searcher, Snorter, Yankee Smolluxer (sic), Rib Smasher, and the Cunning Cuss.

The GAZETTE added,

"If their ‘Snorter’ and ‘Soul-searcher’ are no safer institutions than their ‘big rebel’ that exploded sometime since, killing eight and wounding twenty-seven, the Rebels will be a pack of fools if they don't apply slow matches, and run like quarter horses themselves. The reputation of some the Columbus cannon is such that a person would be likely to consider himself as safe at one end as the other."

But after the war even the former Confederates seem to have forgotten about the once well known cannon that had replaced the "Lady Polk" rifle at Columbus.

All except, I am sure, the surviving men of Keiter's Tennessee Light Artillery Battery.

They would have remembered both cannon beyond all question. Little is now known about these unfortunate men. I have found neither a unit history nor a postwar article by any member of this artillery company.

Keiter's Battery was raised in 1861 at Nashville, Tennessee, as a light artillery company of about 100 men. They would have expected to have been given six small, horse drawn, field cannon.

But instead they were sent to man the much larger siege cannon mounted in the earthwork forts at Columbus. Part of this battery was given the most important cannon in Fort DeRussy, the huge "Lady Polk" rifled columbiad.

Four days after the Battle of Belmont, General Leonidas Polk and his staff visited the "Lady Polk" to thank Captain William Keiter and her gun crew for their excellent work during the fight. Polk also asked to see how far the rifle could shoot.

The "Lady Polk" was fired, burst, and set off a powder magazine foolishly built next to her.

Keiter and the entire gun crew (Corporal Hottinger and Privates Bohannon, McCluskey, Calaban, Finegan, Naughton, and Donaho) were instantly killed. Also dead were Lieutenant Snowden of Polk's staff, a Major Ford, and a Columbus civilian named John Dublin who had been visiting his soldier son that day. Many others were injured.

But the bad luck of Keiter's Battery did not end there.

The cannon later sent to Columbus to replace the "Lady Polk" repeated her history in every way but one. Named in honor of the battle, the "Belmont" was the twin sister of the "Lady Polk" cannon.

Both were experimental 6.4-inch Anderson Rifles made at the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Virginia.

Both were cast solid in the molds of huge Model 1861 10-inch smoothbore columbiad cannons but bored and rifled as 6.4-inchers. The extra thickness of the walls was suppose to make them safe to fire.

Both were a little over ten feet long, two feet and eight inches wide at the rear, and weighed almost 15,000 pounds. Their solid iron rifle shot were often described as weighing about 128 pounds each.

Both of their gun crews came from Keiter's Tennessee Battery.

Both exploded either during or just after their first battle.

Both were later offered to the Sisters of the Holy Cross to be recast into a statue of peace as a reward for their excellent service as nurses in the Union hospitals at Cairo, Illinois.

Both ended up in 1869 as arm chairs in an outdoor park in the Mound City, Illinois, U.S. Navy Yard.

Both were finally sent in the 1870s to St. Mary’s College in Indiana where the Sisters of the Holy Cross ran a private women’s college. Generations of nuns and students had their photos taken sitting on or posing next to the remains of those two famous Confederate cannons.

Both the “Lady Polk” and the “Belmont” were finally sent off in 1942 to be melted down during a WWII scrap drive. At least this time they were on the winning side!

Just after the Battle of Belmont, a Memphis newspaper article had called the "Lady Polk" the "Lady Davis" by mistake. After the Yankees learned that a cannon named the "Lady Polk" had burst, they wrongly decided Polk must have had two big rifled cannon during the battle. The confused Yankees always called the "Belmont" the "Lady Davis" in their official reports.

After the "Lady Polk" burst, Lieutenant W.Y.C. Humes of Bankhead's Tennessee Light Artillery Battery was promoted to Captain and given command of Keiter's Battery.

All the heavy artillery was later shipped down river to Island #10 when Columbus was abandoned. By then Keiter's Battery had been renamed the Belmont Battery in honor of the twin sister of the "Lady Polk" rifle.

The 6.4-inch "Belmont" and three smaller 5.82-inch Andersons (also evacuated from Columbus) were the largest rifled cannon at Island #10. Humes was placed in charge of all the heavy batteries on the island.

Only a few days after the Federal Navy began to bombard Island #10, the "Belmont" burst while firing on the Yankee iron clad gunboats. And here is where the story of the two sisters finally differed. The "Belmont" did not kill any of her gun crew.

The Belmont Battery surrendered at Island #10 in April 1862. Confederate prisoners told Northern newspapers that one of the three smaller Anderson cannon also on the island exploded a few days after the "Belmont" blew up. I suspect the gun crews did not mind giving their two remaining Anderson Rifles to the Yankees.

After Humes' men were exchanged for captured Yankees, the name Belmont Battery was dropped. This hard luck artillery company was finally given the small field cannon promised them at the beginning of the war. They were often split up to serve with different regiments and did not take part in any important battles after Island #10 was surrendered.

The exploding twin sisters were their only claim to fame.


The two most famous and by far the largest Confederate cannon at Columbus were the "Lady Polk" and the "Belmont" 6.4 inch Anderson rifled columbiads.

The "Lady Polk" blew up four days after the Battle of Belmont and killed eleven men. Her replacement the "Belmont" was evacuated from Columbus to Island #10 where she also exploded. Fortunately the "Belmont" did not kill her gun crew.

What happened to the remains of those two famous cannon?

Commodore C. H. Davis of the Union Navy had an idea. In an Official Records of the Navy report (Vol. 23, page 364) dated September 1862 Davis ordered,

"I wish you to stop at Island No. 10 and take on board the fragments of a gun known as the Lady Davis [sic, the confused Yankees gave this name to the "Belmont"], which burst in the hands of the rebels. I wish you to stop again at Columbus and to take on board the fragments of a gun known as the Lady Polk, which also burst in the hands of the rebels; the fragments of this gun are lying on the bank near Mr. Davis' house.

You will exhibit the enclosed letter from General Quinby to myself to the military commanders at Island No. 10 and Columbus, who will have the goodness to allow you to take away the fragments above designated. Please explain to them that they are to be placed at the disposal of Sister Angela, superior of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, who are the principal nurses in our military hospitals, and that they are to be recast into a statue of peace for one of the religious establishments of which Sister Angela is the superior. You will carry these fragments of guns to Cairo and deliver them to the care of Captain Pennock."

Mother Angela Gillespie was in charge of the nuns in several local Union military hospitals. General U. S. Grant described her as "A woman of rare charm of manner, unusual ability and exceptional executive talents." Sister Angela was also very close to General William T. Sherman. They had been childhood friends and Sister Angela was also a cousin of his wife.

Well, I am sure that the good sisters were quite bewildered with their unexpected present of 30,000 pounds of scrap iron. For a few years after the war the remains of these two cannon were used as benches in a locus grove park at the Mound City Navy Yard in Illinois.

Sometime after the Mound City Navy Yard was closed in the 1870s, the Sisters of the Holy Cross finally took possession of their two broken cannons. They arranged the fragments into an outdoor display at their St. Mary’s College for girls in Notre Dame, Indiana. Several generations of nuns and college girls took great delight in being photographed while standing beside the remains of the two cannons.

The “Lady Polk” and the “Belmont” were not fated to ever be cast into a statue of peace. Instead the two Confederate cannons went back to war. During a 1942 scrap drive both cannons were donated to be melted down for the war effort.

But who were the Sisters of the Holy Cross? The Order of the Holy Cross consisted of priests, brothers, and sisters who had their headquarters at Notre Dame in Indiana. They were strong supporters of the Union and contributed at least six priests to serve as chaplains and forty nuns to work as nurses in military hospitals. The sisters quickly gained a reputation as excellent nurses. And such good nurses were prized.

During the Civil War civilian volunteer nurses tended to be superior to military nurses. Military nurses were very rarely trained medical people. Most were ordinary soldiers temporally detached from their regiments. The men chosen were often those too weak to march because of minor wounds or chronic illness.

Unfortunately many officers also saw an order to detach men for nurses as an opportunity to get rid of their laziest and/or most incompetent soldiers. Such men made very poor nurses. At least almost all women had experience in either caring for children or nursing sick relatives.

In fact the death rate at military hospitals with untrained military male nurses was often twice as high as those with untrained volunteer civilian female nurses!


In 1839 this nearly 10 ½ feet long, 7545 pounds, U.S. Army Model 1829 32 pounder smoothbore cannon No. 209 was cast at Fort Pitt Foundry in Pennsylvania. It fired a round solid iron ball 6.4 inches in diameter that weighed 32 pounds.

A majority of the large Confederate cannon used at Columbus, Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, Island #10, and Fort Pillow were 32 pounders. Hundreds had been captured in 1861 when the Confederates seized the U.S. Navy Yard in Norfolk, Virginia.

Confederate Major General Leonidas Polk had at least 56 of these 32 pounders among his 140 cannon at Columbus. This 32 pounder cannon No. 209 and a huge 15,000 pound Confederate made 128 pounder smoothbore cannon were found at Columbus after the war ended. During the great 1927 flood the 128 pounder cannon fell into the Mississippi River and is still there.

In the 1930s cannon No. 209 was mounted inside Columbus Belmont Ky State Park on a reproduction wooden carriage by CCC workers. On June 25, 1943, a strip of land 120 feet by 60 feet at the edge of the bluff collapsed and carried it away.

In 1984 Eddie Roberts began his efforts to determine the most likely location of the buried cannon No. 209 by using maps and surveys of the area. In 1998 Roberts found the cannon buried 42 feet deep. The cannon was then mounted on a metal reproduction siege carriage and placed near the Anchor & Chain in the Park.


General U.S. Grant at Cairo, Illinois, wrote in January 1862 that a Union spy at Columbus, Ky, had reported, "The rebels have a chain across the river about one mile above Columbus. It is sustained by flats, at intervals, chain passing through steeples placed about the water's edge, the chain passing under the boats."

Confederate General Leonidas Polk had stretched this mile long chain across the Mississippi River from his Fort DeRussy on the Iron Banks Bluff north of Columbus to a capstan on the Belmont, Missouri, shore.

Polk hoped that any Union ships coming down the Mississippi River would be stopped by this chain long enough for his cannon to sink them. Most of the chain was removed after the Union occupation of Columbus in March 1862.

In December 1925 a two acre landslide at the edge of the Iron Banks Bluff exposed 60 feet of Polk's chain. Each link is eleven inches long, six inches wide, and weighs twenty pounds and five ounces.

Digging at the end of the chain revealed a 15 feet 9 1/2 inches long anchor with flukes 9 feet from tip to tip. The anchor had been buried eleven feet deep with the flukes in a vertical position and fixed in place with twelve foot oak logs. The anchor has been described as weighing from two to six tons.

The Anchor and Chain are now on display at the Columbus Belmont KY State Park.


Early in the Civil War it was not unusual for a wealthy civilian to organize a company of infantry, cavalry, or artillery and equipment them himself. He would buy their uniforms, shoes, muskets, pistols, cartridge pouches, ammunition, horses, saddles, swords, cannons, and what ever else they needed. Often the men he raised would in turn elect him as their commanding officer.

Thus the state or national government would get a fully equipped volunteer unit without having to pay a penny to raise it.

A week after the Battle of Belmont the NEW ORLEANS BEE newspaper printed the following account of the origin of Watson's Louisiana Artillery Battery which had taken part in the fight:

Mr. A. C. Watson, a planter of the parish of Tensas, whose disinterested patriotism and liberality can never be forgotten by our people, determined to raise and equip a company of flying artillery not to be excelled by any in this country and gloriously has succeeded thus far.

The battery consisting of four rifled two-pounders and two twelve-pounder howitzers, all splendid bronze pieces, with carriages, caissons and appointments complete, was made to order ... in the most superior style and elegantly finished, without regard to cost .... Mr. Watson has collected the finest horses suited to the work to be found in the state. Equipment and everything needed ... have been obtained by Mr. Watson at his private expense ... he has expended nearly fifty thousand dollars.

His patriotic efforts have been seconded ... by the prompt response of ninety gallant spirits, all young gentlemen ... representing the very flower of our chivalrous creole population .... Mr. Watson himself has entered the ranks, desiring no office, no honor, nothing but the satisfaction of seeing the corps he has created do efficient service in the cause of the South.

That $50,000 in 1860 would be an incredible $1,140,000 in today’s money. Yes, over a million dollars! That was quite a donation to the Confederate cause. Watson also chose to join the horse drawn artillery battery as a private instead of as the unit’s captain.

The newspaper reporter was confused when he called four of the muzzle loading cannon "rifled two-pounders." Watson's Battery actually had four smoothbore bronze 6-pounder guns and two bronze 12-pounder howitzers manufactured by John Clark & Company of New Orleans, Louisiana.

Since Clark sold his weapons by private contract only, his cannon did not have the usual official military markings stamped on them. Markings were added by special order only. Almost all his surviving very rare cannon today are completely unmarked.

The Clark guns were high quality imitations of the standard prewar bronze 3.67 inch bore U.S. Model 1841 smoothbore 6-pounders. They fired a round solid iron ball that weighed six pounds. Although close copies, they differed enough that even unmarked examples are easily identified today.

The Clark 12-pounder howitzers were not cast in the standard pre war howitzer molds. They were slightly larger bronze copies of his own 6-pounders with a howitzer's 4.62 inch chambered bore. A 12-pounder howitzer of this type at Shiloh National Military Park is stamped "John Clark / Maker / N. O." All other known surviving Clark howitzers are unmarked.

What was the difference between a gun cannon and a howitzer cannon?

A very simple explanation is that the pre war gun cannon usually fired a solid iron ball in a nearly straight line.

The shorter ranged howitzer cannon fired a larger exploding powder filled hollow iron ball in a high arc into the air so that the shell could land behind the walls of a trench or a fort.

As the war progressed these old types were gradually replaced with new cannons that could do both jobs.

The small village of Belmont, Missouri, was across the Mississippi River from the fortified bluffs of Columbus, Kentucky. On November 7, 1861, in his first Civil war battle General Ulysses S. Grant attacked the small Confederate Camp Johnston that guarded Belmont.

Five Confederate regiments of infantry, a small detachment of cavalry, and the six small field cannon of Watson's Louisiana Artillery Battery were waiting at Belmont for Grant.

After several hours of fighting, Watson's Battery ran out of ammunition and was ordered back to Camp Johnston. Only five cannon could be withdrawn because so many artillery horses had been lost. All of these cannon were later captured when Grant took the camp. The battery had two men killed and eight wounded during the Battle of Belmont. Forty five of their horses were killed.

A bronze 6-pounder gun and a bronze 12-pounder howitzer from Watson's Battery were carried off by Grant's men after the Battle of Belmont. According to a newspaper report the 6-pounder had "Lee, John Clark, maker, New Orleans, La." ENGRAVED on the breech. Grant sent them both to Fort Holt, Kentucky, a few miles below Cairo.

The other four cannon of Watson's Battery were recaptured by the Confederate reinforcements that drove Grant's men back to their boats. A Southern report specifically named the "Jeff Davis" as one of the recovered cannons.

Two John Clark 6-pounders are in the West Point collection of trophies today. They are ENGRAVED "Jeff Davis" or "Johnson" in fancy flourishes on their base rings and "John Clark / Maker / New Orleans / La." on their breeches. Almost certainly the "Johnson" was with the "Jeff Davis" and "Lee" in Watson's Battery during the Battle of Belmont.

According to incomplete West Point records, the "Jeff Davis" and the "Johnson" were captured somewhere along the Mississippi River in 1863. That July Watson's Battery surrendered at Port Hudson, Louisiana. The loss of Port Hudson gave the Yankees full control of the Mississippi River.

These two cannons were almost certainly still part of Watson's Battery. So they and their battery took part in both the first, Belmont, and the last, Port Hudson, of the battles fought by the Confederacy to defend the Mississippi River.


The museum at Columbus Belmont KY State Park has on display the badly damaged front half of an iron field cannon. Horse drawn field cannons were small enough that they could accompany marching troops into battle.

Only half a barrel? Yes, because the "Lady Polk" was not the only type of rifled cannon to explode at Columbus. At least two Memphis made Confederate copies of the Union Parrott rifles blew up there. This fragment may even have been from one of those two cannons.

The October 24, 1861, first issue of the Columbus, KY, DAILY CONFEDERATE NEWS reported: “CANNONS EXPLODE -- One of the Parrot 6 pounders in Capt. Bankhead's battery, during an experimental firing yesterday, accidentally burst and wounded one of the men. This gun was manufactured in Memphis, and was supposed to have been sufficiently tested.”

During the November 7th Battle of Belmont, Stewart's Artillery Battery raced two miles up the bluff to fire on the Yankee gunboats. One of their Memphis made Parrotts exploded and killed two gunners the first time it was fired.

I sent to cannon expert Wayne E. Stark photographs and measurements of the 3 inch bore, 43 inches long, iron cannon fragment, in the museum.

Stark wrote me back, "Three specific features indicate this is the chase and muzzle of a Confederate 3-inch Parrott rifle. The straight taper of the chase, the shape of the muzzle swell and flat muzzle face, and the 12-groove, left-hand rifling are consistent with other survivors of that type.”

Parrott type rifles have an iron band over the rear end to help contain the dangerously high pressures of fired rifled cannons.

Apparently the Confederate iron foundry that made this Confederate copy of a Parrott still had a lot to learn about making safe rifled cannon!


Land mines are a very common part of warfare today. But in 1862 such weapons were controversial and considered by many to be as unfair and immoral as the poisoning of food and water supplies. Torpedoes, as mines were called then, were literally the work of the Devil and thus "infernal machines."

An indignant HARPER'S WEEKLY of March 29, 1862, printed the following story about the electrically fired land mines found by the Yankees after Episcopal Bishop and Confederate Major General Leonidas Polk abandoned Columbus, Kentucky:

"After two day's exploration for infernal machines ... [we] discovered ridges of new earth ... and traced them to a cavern .... [we] found a strong, rude wooden frame [building], covered by earth .... [and] found implements similar to those used in a telegraph office [electric batteries], with wires running in a dozen different directions. Following the raised rows of earth ... [we found] a spot where something had evidently been buried. Digging down some five feet ... [we] came to a large iron cask, about three feet high, and a foot and a half through, in shape ... [like] a well-formed pear, with an iron cap fastened by eight screws. Taking off the cap we found grape, canister, and four eight-pound shell, surrounded by about two bushels of coarse powder. On the bottom of the cask there was a wooden box containing several batteries, with hollow wires attached to two larger wires ... connecting with the cavern before spoken of. A dozen of these iron pots or casks were thus united with this cavern .... Whole regiments could thus be blown up and sent to eternity, without even a chance of escape ...."


General Leonidas Polk was obsessed with keeping the Federal army and navy from coming down the Mississippi River and cutting the Confederacy in half. Polk stretched a very large chain, secured on the Columbus side by a huge sea anchor, across the river. Water mines, then called torpedoes, were placed in front of the chain barrier.

Any Yankee gunboats or troop transports that tried to pass Columbus would have been first attacked by the long range rifled cannon inside Fort DeRussy on the Iron Banks bluff. Then the boats would have run into river mines as they approached the chain barrier. Finally, trapped against the chain by the powerful river current, the crippled ships would have been finished off by short range but powerful smoothbore cannon.

Two basic types of river torpedoes were used during the Civil War. Mechanical mines were detonated when a boat touched a lever or pulled a wire attached to a mine. Usually these types were anchored to the river bed and floated just under the surface. Any ship that came near this type was in great danger.

Electrically fired mines were often placed on the river bed itself. An electric line ran from the mine to a set of telegraph batteries on the river bank. When an enemy ship passed over the torpedo, an observer ashore would set the mine off. This type of mine did not endanger friendly ships. Both types were used at Columbus.

Polk placed Lieutenant Isaac N. Brown of the Confederate Navy in charge of the torpedoes at Columbus. Brown later became famous as the captain of the ironclad C. S. S. ARKANSAS.

Lieutenant Beverly Kennon of the Confederate Navy sent 150 electrically fired "submarine batteries" to Polk from New Orleans. Kennon described them as "large iron shells" connected with a gutta purcha covered copper wire to "the usual galvanic battery."

When the Yankees occupied Columbus they found dozens of similar land mines planted in front of the trenches. HARPER'S ILLUSTRATED WEEKLY printed a woodcut of one of these. I suspect these were the same mines Kennon had planned to use in the river.

The Memphis Ordnance Office ordered the manufacture there of at least 50 of Dr. A. L. Saunders' mechanically fired torpedoes. Saunders wrote to Polk, "The cases are to be charged with powder ... when ready for submerging. The levers are only to be screwed in after the anchor and weight are properly deposited in the bed of the river with the cordage attached to the cases." HARPER'S ILLUSTRATED WEEKLY printed a woodcut of very similar torpedoes found at Columbus still packed in their shipping boxes. I put that woodcut at the beginning of this article.

An 1862 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN magazine described a Saunders type mine found in the Tennessee River as, "a stout sheet iron cylinder, pointed at both ends, about five and a half feet long and one foot in diameter. In the interior is a canvas bag containing seventy pounds of powder. Connected with the upper end is an iron lever, three and a half feet long, armed with prongs, designed to catch in the bottom of the boat .... [this lever works an] iron rod on the inside of the cylinder, acting upon the trigger of a lock, which is to explode a percussion cap and fire the powder."
Except to act as deterrents, none of the river torpedoes at Columbus ever harmed the North. The record Spring flooding of 1862 let the Yankee fleet pass safely over the anchored mechanical mines. Even the electrically fired river mines at Columbus were no danger by then.

Why? None of the river mines at Columbus remained watertight very long. Wet gunpowder will not explode!


The view of the Mississippi River from the bluffs of Columbus Belmont KY State Park has delighted visitors since the 1930s. Those who walk from the Park Museum to the small shelter house near the edge of the bluff will pass by a large, irregularly shaped, piece of iron mounted next to the sidewalk.

Stop for a minute and look at it closely. This is one of the most historically important relics in the Park.

Among the numbers and letters stamped on this fragment are PF (proof tested) in a style used only by the U. S. Navy many years before the Civil War. These letters and the 6.4 inch bore diameter prove that this cannon was originally an U. S. Navy 32-pounder smoothbore.

She would have fired round iron balls 6.4 inches in diameter that weighed 32 pounds each. Thus these cannons were called 32-pounders.

Hundreds of old obsolete 32-pounder cannon of various models were captured by the Confederates at the U. S. Gosport Navy Yard at Norfolk, Virginia. General Leonidas Polk had at least 62 of these old smoothbores from the Navy Yard shipped to him before he occupied Columbus.

A majority of the large Confederate cannon used at Columbus, Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, Island #10, and Fort Pillow were those captured smoothbore 32-pounders.

These cannon were the backbone of the Confederate defense of the upper Mississippi River valley.

Polk later converted some of his captured 32-pounders smoothbores into rifled cannons. He sent them to Memphis, TN, to have spiral grooves cut into the inside of their barrels. These rifled cannon could now throw their new 64 pound cone shaped iron shot three times as far as their old 32 pound round balls.

Polk had at least thirteen of these converted rifled 32-pounders mounted in his land batteries at Columbus. The fragment in the Park had those one inch grooves cut into the bore to convert her into a rifle.

Before abandoning a fort any cannons that could not be removed were damaged to prevent or delay their use by the enemy. When there was enough time some cannons were deliberately overloaded with extra gun powder and filled with wedged in cannon balls. Wood was then piled around them and set afire. When it got hot enough the cannons would explode into worthless pieces. That is what happened to this particular 32-pounder cannon.

The Yankees shipped many captured Confederate cannons, broken pieces of cannons, and cannon balls to Columbus for storage during the war. After the war the Yankees did not bother to take this fragment with them when they left Columbus.

In 2000 I exchanged letters with one of the coauthors of THE BIG GUNS: CIVIL WAR SIEGE, SEACOAST, AND NAVAL CANNON by Edwin Olmstead, Wayne E. Stark, and Spencer C. Tucker. I sent him photos and measurements of the cannon fragment and described the markings.

Mr. Stark wrote me back, "Your determination that the bore is 6.4-inch ... definitely ties down the identification of that tube to a specific Navy 32-pounder Gradual Increase gun. The visible markings establish it as No. 192, cast at John Mason's Columbia Foundry [in Georgetown, D.C.], having a marked weight in the Navy records of 59-2-0, and inferred to have been made in either 1820 or 1821.

Columbia No. 192, with several others, is listed as on the main deck of the 78-gun razee frigate USS INDEPENDENCE in a circa 1849 Navy cannon inventory. Prior to her being decommissioned as an active fighting ship in 1853, her guns were probably off-loaded at Norfolk where they were among 1,198 heavy guns available to the Confederacy when they captured Gosport Navy Yard on 21 April 1861.

In the case of these Gradual Increase 32-pdrs, the Navy designed them as ‘32-pounder Cannon, Gradual Increase, Length 9 ft. 2 in.'"

More than 600 of these Gradual Increase 32-pounders had been made for the navy between 1817 and 1828. Today only 19 of these cannon are known to have survived. None are in Kentucky. Two can been seen today at Fort Donelson, Tennessee.

The "Gradual Increase" name sounds odd, doesn't it? There was a good reason for it. In 1814 the British burned Washington, D.C., during the War of 1812. A shocked Congress in 1816 passed special appropriations "for the gradual increase" of the Navy to better protect the nation. Cannon bought with these special additional funds were marked "GI" for "Gradual Increase" by the navy.

And what did the cannon's weight of "59-2-0" mean? These numbers were the old fashion British "hundredweights" of 112 pounds, "quarters" of 28 pounds, plus any left over pounds. Thus "59-2-0" was 59 X 112 + 2 X 28 + 0 = 6664 pounds.

This 32-pounder cannon had originally been aboard the 78-gun razee frigate USS INDEPENDENCE. "Razee" ships were old fashion wooden sailing ships cut down from three decks to two decks to make them faster and more modern.

The USS INDEPENDENCE began as a "ship of the line" built 1813-14 in Boston by Hart & Barker and was commissioned in 1815. She was 188 feet long, 51 1/2 feet wide, drew 24 feet of water, and displaced 1,891 tons after being cut down to frigate size in 1837. In the 1850s the USS INDEPENDENCE carried ten 64-pounder and forty six 32-pounder cannons. After retirement she served as a floating navy warehouse until sold for scrap in 1913.

There are some other very interesting connections between this cannon fragment and Columbus, KY.

A popular local legend claims, incorrectly, that Columbus, KY, was founded to become our new national capital after the British burned Washington, D. C. during the War of 1812. Being in the middle of North America would supposedly keep the new capital safe from the British! The Columbus Park fragment is from a "Gradual Increase" cannon made in response to that same burning of our national capital.

And this particular cannon had been made in 1820 or 1821 at a foundry named Columbia in the District of Columbia. Hickman County was formed in 1821 with Columbus as its county seat.

Is it not amazing that so much history can be found in such an ordinary looking piece of scrap iron mounted next to a sidewalk in Columbus Belmont KY State Park?


Research done in the National Archives and the Library of Congress for the new exhibits at the renovated Columbus-Belmont State Park museum has turned up many interesting new documents from the period of the Union occupation.

Among the exhibits in the Park museum is a reproduction of a handwritten page from a Union Army record book listing the cannons at Columbus, Cairo, and Paducah in September 1863. I will summarize this most interesting document:

Columbus, KY -- mounted in Fort Halleck: seven 32 pounders / one 42 pdr / one 8-inch sea coast howitzer / two 12 pdr bronze howitzers / one 3-inch rifled gun; mounted in Fort Quinby: one 64 pdr / two 24 pdrs / one 10-inch columbiad; mounted elsewhere: one 8-inch columbiad / one 10-inch columbiad / one 6 pdr field bronze / one 6 pdr field iron; unmounted cannons: three 10-inch columbiads / one 8-inch gun 64 pdr / nine 32 pdrs / five 32 pdr carronades / one 12 pdr carronade / one 42 pdr rifled / one 42 pdr smoothbore / one "100 pdr rifled (Rebel, iron)" = total of 42 guns.

Cairo, IL -- one 24 pdr / three 32 pdr / two 8-inch columbiads / one 8-inch siege mortar = total 7 guns.

Paducah, KY -- mounted: two 24 pdr siege / one 24 pdr brass howitzer / one 24 pdr siege iron howitzer / one 6 pdr field brass gun / one 3 pdr iron gun; unmounted: six 32 pdr / three 6 pdr iron field guns, spiked = total 15 guns.

Fort Halleck, known as Fort DeRussy when the Confederates built it, was the largest earthwork fort at Columbus. Today its remains are known as the "Arrowhead Point" in Columbus Belmont KY State Park.

The remains of Fort Quinby, its original Confederate name is unknown, are today the trenches in the Park camping ground.

Several things struck me from this list. Note the large number of cannons in storage that were not made usable by mounting them on carriages. Out of 64 cannons listed, 31 of them were not mounted. These included three out of five of the largest cannon available at Columbus, the 10-inch columbiads (128 pounders). This was an embarrassment of riches.

By the way, the term "pounder" or "pdr" refers to the weight of the solid round iron cannon ball fired. Thus the largest cannon, a 10-inch columbiad, had a round cannon ball ten inches in diameter that weighed 128 pounds.

By contrast the small, horse drawn, 6 pdr field cannons only had a 3.67 inches in diameter ball that weighed six pounds.

Many of these cannons were certainly Confederate made. In addition to the "100 pdr rifled (Rebel, iron)" listed above we know that one large CSA 10-inch columbiad was left at Columbus by the Union Army after the war. This often photographed 128 pdr smoothbore was lost in the 1927 flood. It is still in the river today.

And those "6 pdr iron field guns, spiked" at Paducah certainly had to be Confederate. The Union only made its 6 pounder cannon from brass during the Civil War.

Spiking was the driving of an iron rat tail file into the vent of a cannon before abandoning it. The vent was a small hole at the rear of the cannon in which a friction primer attached to a line was inserted. Your might think of a friction primer as a metal kitchen match. Pulling the cord lit the friction primer and that set off the black powder charge inside the cannon.

Plugging this vent prevented a captured cannon from being used until the rat tail file was drilled out. Why bother to drill out the vents of captured enemy made cannons of uncertain quality and non standard design when you already had more cannons than you needed?

It is possible that the "100 pdr rifled (Rebel, iron)" in storage at Columbus was another Confederate 6.4-inch Anderson rifled columbiad like the "Lady Polk" and "Belmont" cannons. This may even have been the "Lady Bell" from Fort Donelson. All of the Fort Donelson cannons were ordered shipped to Columbus soon after they were captured.

The rifled 42 pounder on the list was most likely a large pre war smoothbore converted into a rifle by the Union Army. The first Union ironclad gunboats were armed with these. The rifled 42 pdrs were not popular with their gun crews because several exploded while being fired. These converted smoothbores were discarded after superior Union rifled cannon of new designs were produced.

Some of the captured cannons on this list were also very old. Many would have been among the hundreds of pre war obsolete cannons taken by the Confederates at the beginning of the war from southern forts and navy yards.

The carronades on the list were surplus from the War of 1812. These were useless except when defending trenches by firing canister at short range against attacking infantry. Canister was a can filled with hundreds of iron or lead balls. When CSA General Leonidas Polk abandoned Columbus he left behind several carronades as not worth the trouble of saving.

The Union authorities obviously saw no need to mount many the latest and best cannons in western Kentucky and southern Illinois. No Confederate Navy warships remained on the Mississippi River after the surrender of Vicksburg in the summer of 1863. And by then the main Confederate armies had been driven far away from the Jackson Purchase and were not expected to ever return.

The Union Army thought these mostly captured or obsolete cannons would be good enough for dealing with guerilla raiders like General Nathan B. Forrest. The Union Army would soon learn the hard way that Forrest was trouble enough for anybody!
I had ancestors who fought on both sides during the Civil War. Alas, their military records were less than impressive. Here are my Scrapbook articles about two of them.


Many people in this area have ancestors who served in the Confederate Army that occupied Columbus, Kentucky. One of those soldiers was my great great grandfather Joseph E. Caldwell of Obion County, Tennessee.

By using his two Tennessee Confederate pension applications, a summery of his service in the National Archives, and several histories of his regiment, I was able to reconstruct much of his military career.

Although he was present at several famous battles, Joseph did not fight in any of them. My great great grandfather drove an army supply wagon.

Joseph E. Caldwell and his brother Dudley W. Caldwell joined an Obion County raised Confederate company (nicknamed "The Forest Rovers") in September 1861. That October the "The Forest Rovers" became Company D of Colonel Alex W. Campbell's 33rd Tennessee Infantry Regiment.

The 33rd Tennessee trained at the Union City Camp of Instruction until ordered to Columbus in January 1862. They stayed at Columbus until the Confederate Army left two months later.

Only a few of the companies of the 33rd Tennessee were armed while they were stationed at Union City and Columbus. And those guns were mostly civilian hunting rifles and shotguns. Not until a few weeks before the Battle of Shiloh could the regiment borrow enough flintlock smoothbore muskets to give everyone a weapon.

The 33rd Tennessee fought their first battle at Shiloh in April 1862. They were part of the final assault on the famous Hornet's Nest. After the Hornet's Nest surrendered, the 33rd Tennessee rearmed themselves with captured Union rifled muskets.

Joseph would later write that he had served with his regiment at the battles of Shiloh, Perryville, Murfreesboro, and Chickamauga. Service records show that Joseph's brother Dudley W. Caldwell was seriously wounded and captured by the Unions during the January 1863 Battle of Murfreesboro. Dudley died three weeks later.

The following is from a sworn statement attached to Joseph's 1909 Tennessee Confederate pension application:

"I, the undersigned Joe E. Caldwell ... was [a private] in Company D 33d Tenn Volunteer Infantry for about two years and three months; that I was during said time for the most part connected with the commissary department and engaged in driving a team ... during my service in the army my eyes got sore, have never yet gotten well; that my eyes were naturally weak and they got worse from time to time from cold and exposure; that about Nov. 20, 1863, I was captured [near Chickamauga battlefield and taken to] ... Trenton, Tenn, where I was turned loose and permitted to go home; that at that time I was afflicted pretty severely with rheumatism and my eyes were sore and I went on to my home in Obion County, Tenn, expecting to recuperate and go back to my command, but my condition never did improve .... I sent word to the Captain and the men that I was at home, and that I was unable to get back to the command on account of my physical condition."

Not all prisoners of war were put into prison camps. Some were paroled and released. A parole was a sworn statement that the soldier would not fight again until his own side had released a captured enemy soldier in exchange. If a paroled but not yet exchanged prisoner was later captured on a battlefield, he would be hanged.

Paroled Confederates were supposed to return to their own army and wait for exchange in special parole camps. Some were allowed to go home on leave. My great great grandfather Joseph E. Caldwell did go home. But he had neglected to first return to the Confederate Army to receive permission for either sick leave or a medical discharge.

The 33rd Tennessee declared him a deserter in 1864. Joseph did not get his Tennessee Confederate soldier pension because of this.

Well, Joseph was no great military hero. But that is OK with me. With such poor health, Joseph might have died if he had returned to duty. The Unions even might have killed him.

Then Joseph's daughter Zadie would not have been born in 1872. Since she was my great grandmother, I apparently only exist because Joseph E. Caldwell had sore eyes and rheumatism!

Lieutenant Colonel Isaac R. Hawkins' 7th Cavalry was one of many Tennessee regiments stationed at Columbus, Ky, during the Civil War. My great great great grandfather John Pugh of Carroll County, Tennessee, joined Company "F" of the 7th Tennessee Cavalry in 1862. He was 64 years old.

Today his regiment is best remembered for their frequent role in equipping Confederate General Nathan B. Forrest's soldiers. My ancestor's Tennessee regiment gave Forrest enough sets of cavalry equipment, horses, uniforms, sabers, pistols, carbines, and ammunition to supply several hundred men.

But John Pugh probably did not boast about this after the war. After all, John had served in the Union 7th Tennessee Cavalry USA!

Although a majority of Tennesseans had voted for succession in 1861, Carroll County voted to stay in the Union. Hawkins and about half of the 7th Tennessee Cavalry USA were from this western Tennessee county. Many Carroll County men also joined the Confederate army.
Feelings were bitter and each group considered the other to be traitors and renegades.

The Union 7th Tennessee Cavalry had the misfortune to spend most of the war on occupation duty in Tennessee and Kentucky. Dealing successfully with guerillas and a hostile civilian population would have been difficult for even the best trained soldiers. But their regimental officers were notoriously incompetent and their men were poorly trained and disciplined.

Even worse, the Union 7th Tennessee Cavalry had to face raids by the best cavalry leader of the war, General Forrest. Often separated for occupation duty, the ten companies of this regiment were easy targets individually. Whenever word came that Forrest was approaching, as many as possible of the scattered companies would hastily come together. Even so, twice this partially reunited regiment surrendered to Forrest's men.

In December 1862 Hawkins and 300 men of his men surrendered to Forrest at Trenton, Tennessee. Among them was my ancestor John Pugh. His regiment was first stripped of all equipment and then paroled by Forrest.

The Union Army sent them to a parole camp at Camp Chase, Ohio. A few months later they were exchanged for paroled Confederates and returned to duty. By October 1863 John Pugh's one year enlistment was over and he was sent home.

In March 1864 Forrest sent a few hundred men to take Union City, Tennessee. Union City was then defended by Hawkins and his Unionist Tennessee Cavalry.

The Confederate raiders sent a note to Hawkins claiming that Forrest himself was with them, that they heavily outnumbered the southern Unionists, and that their cannon would soon blast apart the small earthwork fort that Hawkins' men had taken shelter in.

Only after they had surrendered did the horrified Union 7th Tennessee Cavalry learn that Forrest himself was not at Union City, that the 450 southern Unionists actually outnumbered the Confederates, and that the only Confederate cannon was a black log mounted on a pair of wagon wheels.

Ironically, the Confederate 7th Tennessee Cavalry CSA took part in the capture of Union City. Some of the men in this regiment were even from the Carroll County area. They sarcastically thanked their Unionist former neighbors for so helpfully marking all their equipment "7th Tennessee Cavalry" before surrendering.

Unfortunately Hawkins' men were not paroled this time. They were sent to the notorious Andersonville Prison in Georgia. Two out of three of them died there.

A smaller Union 7th Tennessee Cavalry was soon reorganized from men who had not been at Union City, prisoners who had been exchanged or had escaped, and new recruits. They were stationed at Columbus and Paducah, Ky, for the rest of the war.

The surviving Carroll County Unionists returned home after the war. For years the former Confederate and Union soldiers tended to live in different parts of the county, to marry among themselves, and to attend different churches.

I have been told that present day Carroll County Democratic and Republican voting patterns still reflect this post war separation.