Re-enactor trying to preserve cannon for Salem

SALEM – A local resident seeking to preserve a 3-inch ordnance rifle used in the Civil War and now used for battle re-enactments, education and ceremonial firings asked for city council’s support Tuesday night.

John Gilbert, a 25-year member of the Phillip Trien Camp 43 Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, based in Salem, addressed city council about his concerns for the fate of the cannon which at one time was displayed at Grandview Cemetery in Salem.

He said the gun belongs in Salem and expressed concerns that it could end up in state hands, saying he’s working with the Salem Historical Society in an effort to get the valuable historical piece back in Salem.

Gilbert was critical of his fellow camp members, accusing them of being derelict and not following proper protocol regarding the cannon which is currently used by the 19th Ohio Light Artillery group which includes camp members.

Phillip Trien Camp 43 Sons of Union Veterans Commander Richard Fonner, who was contacted by phone after the council meeting, also said the gun belongs in Salem, but defended its use by the 19th Ohio Light Artillery group and said the issue with the state had already been resolved. He’s a member of the 19th Ohio Light Artillery group.

“We have a tremendous regard for Salem and the Salem Historical Society. That gun represents us and the veterans of the Salem area,” Fonner said.

Fonner actually resides in New Martinsville, W. Va., but had a great uncle who served as a mailman in Salem. He said the camp has five members, including Gilbert, but they’re in a rebuilding phase and he’s expecting to add seven additional members by the fall.

Both he and Gilbert said the cannon had been at Grandview Cemetery, with Gilbert estimating it was removed sometime in the early 1960s for re-enactment purposes after falling into disrepair.

Fonner said it was his understanding that the cannon had been part of a memorial for the Grand Army of the Republic and when the memorial fell into disrepair, the cannon piece known as the tube was about to be scrapped. That’s when the artillery group formed by members of the camp rescued the tube and restored it and started using it for re-enactments.

“We feel we have ownership,” he said.

Thousands of dollars have been spent over the years preserving the cannon, building a carriage to carry it and hauling it on a special trailer to events. The 19th Ohio Light Artillery, a private group which promotes Civil War history through re-enactments and appearances, recovered the gun and invested a lot of money into it, but he said if the 19th Ohio disbanded for some reason, the gun would not be going anywhere and would remain with the Phillip Trean Camp 43 in Salem.

He said the difference is using the cannon for education where a lot of people can see it or having it sit stationary where fewer people will have contact with it. He said the group has actually sought to preserve their artifacts and keep them in Salem, entrusting them to the Salem Historical Society.

He said they use the cannon in about 10 events a year, most recently participating in the ceremonial first shot at Seminary Ridge at Gettysburg and firing the ceremonial shot to open a new museum there. He said when they talk to people about the gun they explain how it came from Grandview Cemetery. It travels to major battlefields every year.

“The fact that we can display an original gun is quite impressive,” he said.

He also said they take special care of the gun and have great pride in it.

Gilbert said he’s concerned about something happening to the gun, which is being stored in Ellwood City, Pa., noting how some of these cannons are being stolen for scrap. He said the cannon was involved in an automobile accident and indicated it was being used for too much activity.

Council President Mickey Cope Weaver told Gilbert what he’s doing is a worthwhile cause, but that working through the historical society and state was the way to go because council and the city would have no control over the issue.

Councilman Brian Whitehill questioned whether there was more to the story and asked if there were other artifacts where ownership would come into question.

Gilbert said he’s going to speak with the Columbiana County Commissioners, also, and speak again with officials of the state Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.