Replica cannons restore Civil War presence at Capitol
— Symbols of Michigan’s involvement in the Civil War again have a prominent place at the state Capitol, flanking the central walkway that leads to the historic building’s main entrance.
The two cannons are replicas of guns displayed at the Capitol for more than 60 years. The originals were used in the war’s second-bloodiest battle behind Gettysburg and are thought to have been recycled in a World War II scrap metal drive.
“It really is important that we remember,” said Sen. Steve Bieda, a Warren Democrat who two years ago partnered with Sen. Mike Kowall to raise private funds to buy the cannons marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. “We hope people that see the cannons will be inspired to learn a little about the battles (they) were in but also the sacrifices of Michiganders not only in that war but all the other wars.”
The two cannons, 10-pound Parrott guns, were among six used by a highly regarded unit known as “Loomis’ Battery” or the “Coldwater Artillery.” The pre-war militia unit was mustered for the war in Coldwater in 1861 and had troops from across southern Michigan, including many from Branch County.
The battery fought in the 1863 Battle of Chickamauga in Georgia, in which more than 34,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed, wounded, captured or deemed missing.
“It’s amazing the horrors these brave men went through. Michigan made a commitment to remember them, and it’s time we honor them by restoring their history,” said Kowall, a Republican from Oakland County’s White Lake Township.
The cannons are not the only reminder of the Civil War at the Capitol, where the dome is undergoing a months-long restoration — the 136-year-old building’s most significant work since it was restored in the early 1990s.
In front of the Capitol is an 1898 bronze statue of Austin Blair, Michigan’s Civil War governor. Nearby stand monuments to the First Michigan Sharpshooters and First Regiment of Michigan Engineers, which were erected in the 1910s after the Legislature authorized survivors to raise money to put them on the grounds. A boulder dedicated in 1924 memorializes Union Civil War veterans.
Inside, in the rotunda, replica battle flags are on display. The originals are being preserved at the Michigan Historical Center.
Bieda, a self-described history enthusiast, said he and Kowall, also a history buff, sat next to each other for four years in the Senate, and Kowall once gave him a War of 1812 cannonball. They began talking about how to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War during “idle conversation” while waiting to vote on legislation, Bieda said.
They initially looked into buying an original cannon, but it was too expensive. So they turned to a Kentucky business that makes historic replicas for the National Park Service.
The fundraisers have collected around $70,000 and hope to take in a little more to hand out commemorative medals to Capitol visitors later this year.