In Saint Joseph, MI, near the intersection of Lake and Broad Streets sits a civili war monument consisting of an Eleven Inch Dahlgren and some stacked shot. The gun is pointing out to the lake and there is a simple sign for curious folks to read.
I’ve read this sign and looked at the cannon many times over the years and realized it was time to write a post about it.
The following is a gallery of photos of the 11-inch (XI) Dahlgren. If you clck on one, then you can see it full size and navigate around:
St. Joseph’s 11-inch Dahlgren gun was built in 1864 at Hinkley, Williams & Co. in Boston, Massachusetts, for service in the Civil War. It and other guns of its type were designed by Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren who wanted to use more more modern design methods to create a safer and more powerful gun. His designs were known as “Soda Bottles” because of their characteristic rounded shapes with additional steel at the rear to strengthen the breach.
In total, 465 of the XI (Eleven) inch guns were made at five different foundaries between 1856-1864. That means the Saint Joseph gun was built during the last production year.
The smoothbore gun was cast hollow, bored out and lathed to a finished weight of 15,890 pounds which is marked on the gun. The sign and the reference table from Wikipedia are close but not exact:
The sign says the gun used a 15 pound charge and could hurdle either a 130 pound exploding shell or 200 pound solid shot a distance of over two miles.
Wikipedia cites a reference book on Civil war artillery that the gun used a 20 pound charge to launch either a 133.5 pound exploding shell or 166 pound solid shot a distance of 3,650 yards (2.07 miles) at a 15 degree elevation.
There is an interesting 12 year gap here. The gun was made in 1864 and the sign says it was removed from the USS Marion in 1876 and it’s previous use was uncertain. Was it on the Marion the whole time? Let’s try and look at that.
From Wikipedia, here’s a quick timeline of the USS Marion:
- April 24, 1839 – Launched as a sloop-of-war – 25 years before the St. Joseph gun was made in 1864
- 1856-1857 in ordinary – this means it was in a reserve fleet. It might have needed repairs or overhauling.
- June 21, 1861 – recommissioned after the Civil War broke out
- July 14, 1861 – set sail
- May 1862 – ordered to Boston for repairs
- July 24, 1862 – ordered to Annapolis for use as a practice ship until 1870
- 1864 – The St. Joseph gun was made in Boston (according to the sign)
- 1871 – Rebuilt as a third-class steamer
- January 12, 1876 – Recommisioned
- 1876 – The gun was removed from the Marion (according to the sign in St. Joseph)
- July 5, 1897 – gun dedicated in Saint Joseph – it had to travel there, be installed, etc. (according to the sign)
So, not much we can glean from what I can find. Odds are the 11-inch Dahlgren was getting dated by that time.
Today, kids climb around on the XI-Dahlgren gun and families take photos but they don’t know much about it. I suppose the Civil War is becoming just a few days, if even that, in history classes. Regardless, it is a memorial for men who served from the area. It’s well maintained by the city and gracefully stands guard looking out at the lake.
- Information on Dahlgren guns and historic photos of Rear Admiral Dahlgren and the USS Kearsarge are from the Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dahlgren_gun
- Information about the USS Marion and photos of it are from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Marion
- USNI article on Dahlgren and his guns https://www.usni.org/magazines/naval-history-magazine/2013/may/armaments-and-innovations-soda-bottle-shaped-shell-guns
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