First Public Firing of the Chester 10 Lb Parrott Rifled Field Cannon Nov 8, 1999

In January of 1986, the Elders of Calvary Baptist Church signed a contract with a local construction company for an addition to the existing building.  Odell Williams and crew began work on the addition and on February 7, 1986, and while clearing dirt and digging the footers for the new construction, they unearthed something unusual.  Construction was halted when Williams came upon a large, metallic mass.  It was only 18" below the ground.  He and the crew carefully began to clear the dirt away, fearing they had unearthed some type of underground utility pipe.

 

It was revealed that four, very old cannon barrels were buried side by side and only a few feet away from the existing structure.  Word soon traveled to members of the Chester County Historical Society.  When the guns were taken to the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology's lab in Columbia, S.C., it was discovered that the barrels appeared to be loaded!  The work to remove them stopped until the conservators from the SC State Museum and personnel from the University of South Carolina, were able to come to the site to determine how to remove the obstructions. Three guns were purchased by the Chester County Historical Society and one by the South Carolina State Museum from the Calvary Baptist Church.

 

The guns were reburied, for a time, in the yard of Williams'  home where they remained until tanks could be constructed by the State to treat the guns in a special chemical solution to remove the rust and stabilize the metal.   The guns were then moved to the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology  in Columbia, S.C. where it was found that each gun tube’s trunnions and casable had been removed , plus each cannon contained shells, debris, and black powder, making them somewhat dangerous to handle.  The guns remained in the solution for over two years.

Four years later, Scott Coleman, on behalf of the Chester County Historical Society, began to push for the preservation of the guns.  For the next five years, through a series of contacts, dead ends, and hard work, Coleman managed to find the right combination of people to complete the mission.

 

In 1994, on behalf of the Chester County Historical Society, volunteer and South Carolina Artillery Historian, Jack Marlar of Fountain Inn, S.C., made the necessary contacts for the guns to be transported from Columbia to Laurens, S.C. to be x-rayed (radio graphed) at B.F. Shaw, Inc.  This was the only facility with a machine powerful enough to penetrate the thick iron.  Only two of the tubes were x-rayed.

Deputy State Archaeologist, Dr. Jonathan Leader with the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, accompanied the guns on their trip from Columbia to Laurens.  They were transported by the 1052nd Transport Company, of the South Carolina National Guard. Upon their return to Columbia, disarmament began in earnest.  A special apparatus was made by Tollison Machinery of Hickory Tavern, S.C.  Using the apparatus, Coleman, Leader, Marlar, along with James “Son” Noland and his two sons, Wade Noland and Jan Noland,  plus volunteer Rod Hollis of Great Falls, S.C., were all instrumental in disarming the guns along with the assistance of numerous compatriots of the S.C. Division Sons of Confederate Veterans. Throughout the process Robert “Bobby” Lee of Chester, provided the necessary transportation of the heavy gun tubes which were estimated to weigh over a thousand pounds each.

In 1995, Civil War Artillery historian Wayne Stark of Baden, Pa. traveled to Chester and Columbia to positively identify the four cannon tubes. He identified them as four of only 77 of its type and size produced by Tredegar Iron Works at Richmond, Va. during the period of November 18, 1861 to February 20, 1865.  Identified as 10 lb. Confederate Parrott rifles each weighing approximately 1150 pounds.  Also, of the 77 rifles of this type made by Tredegar, only 24 are known to survive today. Four of the 24 survivors are those unearthed in Chester in 1986. Stark further noted that two of the cannon tubes had a bore (opening) of 2.9 inches, making them early war manufacture, while the other two had a bore of 3 inches making them late war manufacture. 

 

Once all four tubes were disarmed the Chester County Historical Society set about obtaining reproduction metal display carriages for outdoor, static display.  With the assistance of Senator Strom Thurmond, one used metal carriage was obtained from the National Park Service.  Noland Machinery of Great Falls, S.C., restored this carriage using replacement parts.  A second display carriage was purchased by the Society.  The guns were repaired so that new machined trunnions and cascabels could be machine-bored, tapped and screwed into place so that they would appear to be part of the original casting.  This work was completed on the three guns owned by the Chester County Historical Society by Billy Bane of Bayne Machinery, Simpsonville, South Carolina.  The State Museum chose to leave their gun just as it was found, that gun is on display at the South Carolina State Museum, located in Columbia.  http://www.museum.state.sc.us/

The Chester County Historical Society restored their three guns and placed two of the 10lb, Confederate-made, Parrott Rifles in downtown Chester.  One is on the “top of the hill,” and the other is in front of the Chester County Courthouse.  Dexter Noland of D & D Foundry, Great Falls, S.C. cast reproduction cannon shells to display in front of the two guns located in Chester. The Historical Society placed these two guns on public display in order to provide access to these rare and significant Chester County artifacts. 

The third gun, which came to be known as the Chester Gun, was re-bored and sleeved to make it safe to fire!  The Chester County Historical Society then purchased a reproduction wooden carriage along with a wheeled limber.  The Chester Gun was used exclusively by the Chester County Historical Society from 1995 until 2008.  In 2008, the Chester Gun was placed on temporary year-long, renewable loan to the 6th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  The regiment took good care of the gun and used it in a number of “local” and national re-enactments and living history events.  It was always the star attraction.  It is, after all, the only firing, 10lb, Confederate-made, cast iron gun in the world!

The Chester Gun traveled back to Fort Sumter and was showcased at the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh.  It also traveled up to Gettysburg, Pa. where it “pleased re-enactors and spectators alike.”   The Historical Society took control and possession the Chester Gun in January of 2014. 

The Chester County Historical Society is pleased to own and present the Chester Gun at living history events and re-enactments throughout the State of South Carolina and nationally when possible.   This gun is a source of pride for the people of Chester County, S.C. and the Historical Society is dedicated to presenting the gun, within the county, as often as possible. 

NEWS FLASH:  While repainting our 10lbers on static display (in front of Courthouse and one downtown Chester) it was found that the one downtown had had its vent hole resleeved in the 1860's.  It was previously thought that these guns were never used in the war...the resleeving of the vent hole means at least that one was used enough to require repair.  She was used, but where we do not know.

For more information on having the Chester Gun at an event, please contact the CCHS at (803) 385-2332 or by email at ccmuseum@truvista.net