The cannon on Zion’s Hill

The latest cannon to rest on the grounds of the Historic Washington County Courthouse sits under wraps prior to its unveiling in 2008. (Gazette file photo)
The latest cannon to rest on the grounds of the Historic Washington County Courthouse sits under wraps prior to its unveiling in 2008. (Gazette file photo)

In many communities around the Nation there is a cannon near the area’s courthouse. These serve as reminders for the service their citizens did during the wars against oppression and even the war against ourselves.

When you drive up on South Third Street and pass the Historic Washington County Courthouse, you will notice the Civil War cannon perched on the lawn. This was not the first, or even the second cannon that was there, but each time it was replaced so citizens will remember those from this area who served and died for their country.

The first cannon, or howitzer, was delivered in 1901 through the efforts of the Muller Post NO. 1, G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic). William M. May, post commander at that time along with U.S. Rep. F.C. Stevens, secured this gun through the war department.

Major Blunt of the ordnance department of the Rock Island Arsenal, wrote to Commander May in June 1901 that the gun was at the arsenal and subject to receiving the order, would be sent to Stillwater. However, the government would not pay the shipping charges — that would have to be borne by the Post.

In the Nov. 20, 1901, Stillwater Gazette, an article about the cannon said that “when the ground freezes the gun will be moved around to the corner of the court house lot at the intersection of Pine and Third Streets, that being the permanent location selected.”

The Milwaukee railroad picked up and delivered the cannon to Stillwater, “free of freight charges.” It was thought that the cannon was a field piece used in the Civil War, but the exact history of the piece was as of then unknown.

The cannon was dedicated May 30, 1902. According to the Stillwater Messenger, “The grim old monster cannon, that has been placed on the Court house lot in memory of the soldiers of the Civil war from Washington county, has quite a history, and is the first and only monument erected to those who went at their country’s call, in this county. It is a constant reminder to those who suffered in those troublesome times and no wonder it reminds some people of their lack of patriotism.”

It was thought the cannon would stay on the courthouse lawn forever as a memorial to those men, and later women, who served in the military of the United States. The cannon didn’t last 20 years on the courthouse lawn. It is believed the cannon was taken away and used as scrap metal for World War I.

After World War I ended, the courthouse lawn remained empty of a cannon until 1932, when the American Legion Post No. 48 secured from the Secretary of War a 105mm German field artillery cannon captured during World War I. It was at first thought that this cannon would be placed at Mulberry Point in Lowell Park.

Ceremonies were to have the dedication of this cannon on Memorial Day, but delays pushed back the dedication to Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, 1932. The ceremony was held near the Lowell Inn and after, the veterans that gathered, along with other citizens, rolled the cannon to a concrete slab on the courthouse grounds. It was placed there “so generations in the future could view the weapon used in the World War, and be reminded of the sacrifices made for freedom.”

Ten years later the United States found itself in World War II. Scrap drives for many different materials were held nationwide as well as in Stillwater. In August 1942, the Stillwater Elks Club took over the scrap metal drive. Sometime in October, the cannon at the courthouse was taken off its concrete slab and rolled down to Main Street as a symbol of the drive. It was hauled off with the rest of the scrap that was collected and used in the war effort.

Now another cannon rests on the lawn of the Washington County Historic Courthouse. It is not a symbol of war but rather a symbol for those who fought then, and now, for the freedom that we all enjoy today.

Brent Peterson is executive director of the Washington County Historical Society.