Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson site recreates Civil War cannon emplacement

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By Brian Slattery

WINNABOW — A new version of a historic piece of the Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site is in the works, replicating an 1864 cannon emplacement in the sand fortifications.

Jim McKee, the landmark’s historian and site manager, said 3,600 cubic feet of dirt was removed from part of the earthen fort to recreate gun emplacement No. 2 in the Southern Battery, also known as Battery B.

“It is one of the most historically accurate gun emplacements in the country,” he said.

The gun emplacement includes a wood plank platform built wide enough for a cannon to fire 180 degrees using a pintel plate in the center of the platform for the gun carriage to sit on, providing the pivot point for aiming the canon. It also includes a traverse circle, a piece or pieces of curved metal that made a half moon track, the rear wheels of the gun carriage would move along.

The pintel plate used in the gun emplacement is an original piece of a gun emplacement that was donated to Fort Anderson from Fort Caswell.

“It’s great to continue the relationship between Fort Anderson and Fort Caswell because all the guns that were at Fort Anderson came from Fort Caswell,” McKee said.

“And 160 years later we were able to put in an original pintel plate.”

McKee said they were able to design the platform using wood planks found from excavating other gun emplacements at Fort Anderson, so they knew the width of the wood planks to use.

While excavating the gun emplacement No. 2, McKee said, they found the original wooden deck of the emplacement but it had been completely burned.

“Probably in 1866 or 1867, salvagers came to get all the iron they could use for scrap,” he said. “So they burned the platform and took the iron, including the pintel and traverse circle.”

A part of a traverse circle from a canon emplacement from Fort Anderson’s Northern Battery, or Battery A, is on display in the Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson welcome center.

A new traverse circle has not yet been installed at the new gun emplacement.

The Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson site has had a historically accurate Civil War era working replica of a 32-pound cannon at the entrance of the state historic site, in between the welcome center and the ruins of St. Philips Church, since 2015. It will eventually be moved into the gun emplacement to provide visitors an accurate demonstration how Civil War forts like Fort Anderson set up their defenses.

McKee said his goal is to have the cannon and gun carriage as well as the traverse circle in place so the cannon will be able to fire by February, which will be the 154th anniversary of the fall of Fort Anderson.

“It will (definitely) be here for February 2020, for the 155th anniversary,” he said.

Once the gun emplacement is complete and the cannon is installed, McKee said, it will be incorporated into the historic interpretation at the Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson historic site. Visitors will be able to see how the cannon was positioned, where it was positioned and how it was aimed, loaded and fired.

From researching the gun emplacements, they estimated they would find the original platform at 21.7 feet above sea level.

It turns out they were wrong, as it was actually found at 21.33 feet.

McKee said their ultimate goal is to get the new gun emplacement to look almost exactly like it would have during the Civil War.

“Fort Anderson is the best preserved seacoast fortification on the East Coast. It’s 90 percent original,” he said. “At its peak, Fort Anderson had 11 32-pound guns mounted, meaning each could fire a 32-pound cannonball.”

Fort Anderson included five gun emplacements in the Northern Battery, or Battery A, five cannons in the Southern Battery, Battery B, and one at St. Phillip’s Battery, near the site of the old church.

Once the gun emplacement is completely installed, McKee said he would love to rebuild the bombproof magazine where cannonballs and gunpowder were stored, which is next to the new gun emplacement.

“There is still ordnance in it,” McKee said. “We will have to dig out and get the Marine Corps Explosive Ordnance Removal team to come in.”

The fortifications around the gun emplacements would have been as manicured as a golf course. From reading the original maintenance requirements, McKee said, there would have been no weeds or bare spots in the surrounding area and the cannon emplacements would have been covered in sod to avoid erosion.

McKee said it wouldn’t be like the sod used on lawns today, but it would have been woven together to keep it intact around the cannons.

Installing the gun emplacement has been one of McKee’s goals since 2011.

The Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson historic site staff and volunteers have been sifting through the 3,600 cubic feet of dirt to screen for any items from the Civil War era.

McKee said he plans to draft visitors to help, as well.

Brian Slattery is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or bslattery@brunswickbeacon.com.