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Guard group aims to fix 'Old Sam' page 2
Guard group, city, looking to restore historic cannon

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Date published: 1/28/2013


It again came to his attention as he was gathering material for a history of the National Guard in Fredericksburg. James noticed the cannon was deteriorating and wanted to know more about it and what could be done.

He scoured back issues of The Free Lance-Star and historical records for clues about its origin.

"It sounds to me like it was most likely made for [Samuel] Tilden's election," James said. Hayes went into the history books in 1877 as the nation's 19th president; Tilden, a Democrat, quietly faded into history, "but his cannon continues on."

It appears "Old Sam" was fired on special occasions.

It was used for the opening of the Falmouth Bridge in March 1886, James said.

This note about it appeared in The Free Lance: "Sam Tilden, borrowed by Mr. Honey for use on occasion of opening the bridge, got his axle broke and otherwise busted up when returning from Falmouth last Monday."


A brief 1891 article said the cannon was owned by the Democratic Party of Fredericksburg and was fired to herald Democrats' victories.

The cannon, also referred to occasionally as "Old Sam Tilden," was shot to celebrate President Grover Cleveland's first-term win in 1885. During a 21-gun salute, the gun fired prematurely. The explosion badly injured a member of the local militia, the Fredericksburg Grays. The ramrod was shot clear to Falmouth, nearly one mile away, according to an article in the October 1886 Free Lance.

Historical accounts say the cannon boomed on July 4 celebrations.

"What I am most attached to is that it was used by the local militia," said James. "It was their piece of armament that they used to train on."

By the 1880s, the gun was kept in the market lot (now Market Square).

"It was used as a hitching post for horses, it was in such bad shape," James said.

After that, James believes, it was stored in the city's former jail downtown, where it sat through World War I and World War II.

Had it not been out of sight, James said, it might have been melted down for scrap.

"A German cannon that used to be around Maury School was melted down in World War II. Somehow, this cannon survived," he said.

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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.