Colorado State Capitol Virtual Tour
On either side of the civil war memorial on the west lawn of the capitol are two Napoleon howitzer cannons from the Civil War Era. Built in 1862 and 1863 by the Revere Copper Company, these cannons weigh 1,250 pounds each and were designed to fire canisters filled with twenty-seven pieces of golf ball sized lead shot. There is quite a bit of speculation surrounding the history of these cannons, but perhaps the most plausable explanation is that these cannons were first used in 1862 to defend the Union against the Confederate advance at La Glorieta Pass in New Mexico. One of the cannons bears the number 121 which means that it was most likely used by the Ninth Massachusetts Battery at the Battle of Gettysburg before its service in Colorado. In 1878 President Ulysses S. Grant donated the guns to a militia group named the Chaffee Light Artillery, which was later incorporated into the First Brigade of the Colorado National Guard. When this unit was equipped with more modern weaponry in 1907, the First Brigade sent the cannons to the scrap heap seemingly unaware of their historical significance. Immediately, Colonel Ferguson, the curator of the war relics department, and David Moffat raised the $800 needed to return the cannons to Colorado from a foundry in New York. The cannons now stand guard at the west lawn of the capitol having been recently restored with money from gaming revenue. During the restoration process it was learned that the axles and ironwork were original.
According to another story, the cannons were part of Confederate General Sibley's forces. On his retreat from New Mexico he supposedly buried six cannons so that Union forces could not use them. The cannons remained buried for thirty years until a war veteran found them. The federal government supposedly donated two of these cannons to Colorado and four to New Mexico. This account is apparently inaccurate, however, since General Sibley's advance on the American West occurred in 1861, and the cannons were made in 1862 and 1863. Of the six cannons found in the New Mexican desert, two have been placed in the custody of the State Historical Society.
Still another report places the cannons at the 1898 Battle of Manila, however evidence shows that General Irving Hale was specifically told not to return with any war relics. Furthermore, the cannons were made more than thirty year previous to this military engagement.
The guns were fired for the last time on August 1, 1935 in celebration of Colorado Day. When the acting curator's clothes caught on fire from the twenty one gun salute, the decision was made to cap the cannons.
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last modified June 20, 2003