DENISON, Iowa — A cannon deployed in the Civil War will be used Saturday to help dedicate the gravesites of several Crawford County citizens with connections to the war.
Glen Kelley of Carter Lake will fire his U.S. model 3-inch ordnance rifle, one of just 70 left in existence, during gravesite dedications at the Charter Oak Cemetery and the Oakland Cemetery in Denison.
The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, along with the American Legion, will conduct two gravesite dedication ceremonies.
At 11 a.m., the Sons of Union Veterans will dedicate the headstone of Henry Mesenbrink and honor Civil War veterans buried in the Charter Oak area cemeteries. They are E.P. Brown, Theo Drake, Ferdinard Dubois, Samuel Eyer, G.W. Holmes, Lyman Jones, Fred Mesenbrink, Louie Mesenbrink, John H. Pithan, George Sciford and H.H. Yeager.
In Denison, the ceremonial team will dedicate the gravesite of John Lewis “Lew” McClellan and Georgia Wade McClellan at 3 p.m. at the Oakland Cemetery.
Kelley's cannon has been refurbished and used in Civil War re-enactments and ceremonies, but it toured the battlefields of the Civil War well before the memorials and museums were constructed.
“It was used in battle,” Kelley said of the cannon. “It was at Shiloh and was three days short of being at Gettysburg.”
The rifle, constructed in 1862, was retired with the end of the Civil War.
Later it was displayed at Abraham Lincoln High School in Council Bluffs. The graduating class of 1910 donated the cannon and carriage to the school as the class gift. Nearly 16 years ago, Kelley heard that the school had an authentic Civil War cannon.
“I thought, 'No, it can't actually be from the Civil War,'” he recalled. His research confirmed that it was.
“I did the paperwork on it, and, sure enough, it was a Civil War cannon,” he said. “I was ecstatic. I did everything in my power to get that gun.”
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He negotiated with the school system and eventually obtained the cannon, of which just the barrel remained at the time. With the help of woodworkers and fabricators in Iowa and Nebraska, he soon had a carriage and wheels to accompany the relic.
He heated up the tube to straighten it and added a stainless steel sleeve to allow the cannon to fire safely.
He said he has a 99-year lease for the cannon with the school.
He has taken it to Gettysburg for re-enactments, where it fires as one of just a few original Civil War cannons used.
“Out of the 200 or 300 cannons used, there are always just one or two originals. That's what really puts the feather in your cap,” he said.
Out of all the re-enactments, ceremonies and demonstrations at schools, one instance is forever engraved in Kelley's mind.
Two years ago, Kelley and the cannon were invited to participate in a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh.
“We put the cannon on a flatbed and took a steam engine all the way down to Shiloh and sat the cannon on the exact same spot where it was fired,” he explained. “That was the ultimate.”
Kelley's wife and two sons have participated with him in re-enactments, and his grandchildren now are joining in as well.
Besides his re-enactment involvement with the K Battery 4th U.S. Light Artillery, Kelley is also a member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, which will conduct Saturday's ceremonies.
Kelley's great-great-grandfather served in the Maryland Infantry during the Civil War and was killed in battle. He said attending gravesite dedication ceremonies allows him to pay tribute to his fallen family member as well as all those who have died serving the United States.
“I think it's an honor to be asked to come here,” he said. “It's important to pay homage to those people that died back then. I think everyone should pay homage to all the veterans and people who served the United States.”