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Guard group aims to fix 'Old Sam'
Guard group, city, looking to restore historic cannon

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Date published: 1/28/2013


Through its history, Fredericksburg has seen its share of cannons come and go--most notably the ones the Union Army fired across the Rappahannock River in its December 1862 bombardment of the city.

But one obscure cannon--sitting across from the post office downtown and known as "Old Sam"--is again getting some long-overdue attention.

With a nod from the Fredericksburg City Council, the Fredericksburg Guard Association has launched an effort to restore the gun, believed to be a Model 1841 six-pounder.

Headed by retiring Virginia Army National Guard Lt. Col. David James, the association is raising money to refurbish the unusual cast-iron artillery piece and buy a new carriage to replace the deteriorating, homemade carriage that supports it.

While much is known about the gun, some of its history has been lost. It may have been a ceremonial gun used on special occasions, and to train local militia--the precursor to the National Guard.

James and at-large City Councilman Matt Kelly want to see the cannon refurbished and repaired, though they differ on some of the weapon's lineage.

Last December, the city agreed to loan the gun to the association for restoration and display at the Fredericksburg Armory.

James estimates it will cost about $10,000 for a wooden carriage replacement and about $14,000 for a long-lasting metal one.

The last time the carriage was replaced was in the 1970s, when the gun sat outside the former Fredericksburg Information Center at the intersection of U.S. 1 and Princess Anne Street.

James says association members are pitching in half their dues toward the project. He hopes other military organizations, local history buffs and the public will chip in as well.

"Old Sam" refers to 1876 presidential candidate Samuel Tilden, who lost a contentious election to Rutherford B. Hayes. Tilden, a Democrat, won the popular vote, but lost the contest in the Electoral College. Local legend has it that the gun was forged in anticipation of Tilden's election.

One thing is likely, James said: "That particular gun was never fired in anger, apparently."


James first saw the cannon as a boy walking along Princess Anne Street.

"I wondered, 'Why in the heck would they put a cannon next to the fire department?'"

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The Fredericksburg Guard Association wants to raise up to $14,000 to repair and restore the historic "six-pounder" cannon across from the Post Office downtown. Mail checks made out to the Fredericksburg Guard Association, to: Armory OIC, 1700 Jefferson Davis Highway, Fredericksburg, Va., 22401.

See the association's website at fredericksburgguard.com.

For more information, contact David James at david.k.james@us.army.mil, or 540/373-0089.

The artillery piece, believed to be an unusual cast-iron Model 1841 six-pounder, has been in Fredericksburg since the mid-19th century. It was apparently fired in years past during ceremonies, on July Fourth, and used to train city militia, a precursor to the National Guard.