Monday, September 07, 2015

Civil War cannons join World War II effort (as scrap)

This is the only known image of Lucas County's Civil War memorial with the cannons that flanked it from 1919 until 1942 still in place.

Chariton was stoutly defended until the outbreak of World War II. Should forces from adjoining county seats have considered invasion, they would have been advised to think twice.

Two bronze Civil War-era cannons guarded the courthouse --- flanking the Civil War Memorial at the southwest corner of the courtyard. These magnificent beasts weighed a total of 2,485 pounds. Stacked nearby (albeit embedded in concrete) were 40 cannon balls, two stacks of 20 each. The cannons --- and we don't know if they were guns or Howitzers --- rested on cut-stone plinths donated during 1916 by Harding & Viers, Chariton monument dealers.

A block east, two World War I-era artillery pieces guarded the east entrance to the square, mounted on concrete pads (still in place) that flanked the original main entrance to what now is Yocom Park, along Highway 14.

One of those weapons was a Maxim Nordenfelt gun, Mark I, Serial No. 3, rapid-fire automatic one-pounder. It was on a cone-type mount intended for naval use and weighed 894 pounds.

The other was a Vickers Maxim gun, Mark II, Serial No. 37, rapid-fire automatic one-pounder, also on a cone-type mount. It weighed 914 pounds.

All of that weaponry was carted away, however, exactly 73 years ago today --- Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 7, 1942 --- in the granddaddy of all scrap metal drives to aid the Allied cause during World War II. If you had been in Chariton that day, chances are you'd have been helping out.


Acquiring the courthouse  cannons was a project of Daniel Iseminger Post No. 18, Grand Army of the Republic, but until early 1916, the comrades had been unsuccessful. Then James M. Harrison began a correspondence with Iowa's U.S. Sen William S. Kenyon (R-Fort Dodge) that paid off. Kenyon contacted the U.S. Department of War and was able to secure a promise that two cannons would be shipped to Chariton from the U.S. Army Arsenal at Watervleit, New York.

These arrived via train during June, but for some reason were not installed near the towering Civil War memorial, put into place southeast of the courthouse during May of that year. Instead, footings were dug, cement pads poured, stone plinths moved into place and the cannons were mounted just off Braden Avenue flanking the main sidewalk leading to the north courthouse door.

This was a strategic error. Chariton males of various ages, including some who were quite hefty, took to "riding" the cannons, shifting them in their cradles, moving plinths and creating hazards to themselves and others.

As a result, during August of 1919, the guns were moved to the monument site, mounted more securely on either side of its granite shaft and the cannon balls stacked in concrete beside them. Here they remained until September, 1942.


Development of what now is Yocom Park began during 1922 at the site of what once had been "Lake Como," a pond built to provide water to the city's electrical generating plant that had, when drained and abandoned, become an unauthorized dump. It 1931, city engineer William L. Perkins and others acquired the two World War I-era guns, again as surplus from the War Department, and had them mounted on concrete bases flanking what then was the main park entrance, just off Highway 14 at the east end of Braden Avenue.

Donations were collected to cover shipping costs --- the cannons had arrived at government expense --- and the weapons were installed. They had been in place little more than 10 years when sacrificed to the World War II effort.


The event in Chariton on Labor Day, 1942, was part of a great national scrap metal drive launched during the fall of that year by the national War Production Board, named the previous January by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to oversee the shift of the nation's manufacturers into full-out war mode.

The reason for the drive was the belief that an extraordinary amount of scrap metal would be needed during the upcoming winter to be remilled into the raw metal needed to manufacture ships, guns, tanks, ammunition and other war-related products.

Post-war analysis tends to discount the importance of the scrap collected, but to emphasize that the drive and others like it were of extreme importance in building national morale and rallying the civilian population behind the war effort.

The downside, in Chariton and elsewhere, was that historic artifacts that should not have been sacrificed were added to the scrap heap. That would include the two Civil War cannons, which the Lucas County Board of Supervisors had agreed to donate. Today, these weapons would have great historic and considerable financial value. The East Park guns, donated by City Council, were of less significance.

Elsewhere, fire and church bells, decorative ironwork and many other historic items were sacrificed --- with the best of patriotic motives.


Lucas County's scrap metal quota had been set at 1,000 tons and it was in competition with Monroe County to see which could collect the most. Each incorporated town in the county  held its own scrap drive. Township committees were organized to contact every farmer and arrange for rural scrap to be collected.

The collected scrap, donated in most instances, was sold to scrap dealers who sorted it by metal type, did initial processing and then resold the result forward on the route to remilling. Cash paid by the scrap dealers went into special local funds to be distributed to the USO, Red Cross, American Legion and other agencies serving men and women involved in the war effort.

Labor Day was set as the principal drive day in Chariton. Extensive publicity during the weeks preceding urged all residents and businesses to scour their properties for scrap and haul it to the curb. Businesses had planned to be open as usual that Monday, despite the fact it was a holiday --- but elected to close instead so that all attention could be focused on the drive.

At 9 a.m. on Labor Day, a "scrap army" of some 100 men and 15 trucks set out to collect the result before 5 p.m. with the square as the rallying point. It was messy work, in part because heavy rains had fallen the night before and there were afternoon showers, too.

When all was said and done, 41 tons of scrap was collected, more than double the goal. This total did not include five dump trucks weighing in at 4 tons each and donated by Peterson Construction Co. of Omaha (these had been used in a railroad-related project and were obsolete), the East Park guns and an old road grader, also donated by the county, displayed on the square to inspire other donors.

Some alive today most likely remember the drive, but have forgotten its details. But it's a fairly good bet that if an historic piece of metal in your family or in your city vanished about 1942 --- it ended up as part of the drive toward victory during World War II,

1 comment:

Morgan Masters said...

Great article...really enjoy the history of Chariton and surrounding area! Thanks for your continued postings!