Riverfront Park Historical Trail
Nearly 12,000 memorial cannons were donated by the U.S. Government, between 1872 and 1916, to local Posts of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) and other civic and patriotic groups for the purpose of display as a veterans' war memorial. They were formally dedicated by surviving veterans, to serve as "silent-sentinels," in tribute to the memory of all who served and sacrificed during the American Civil War. We have the G.A.R. to thank for our national observance of Memorial Day, which they initiated on May 30, 1868. Since then, countless communities have traditionally held their tribute to veterans (of ALL eras), near their Civil War Monument. Therefore, these memorials are tied to a community's cultural heritage, as well as its historical heritage.
Unfortunately, less than half remain of all the cannons that were originally dedicated as veterans' memorials. It's estimated that only 5,467 of these cannons survived the "scrap-metal" drives of World Wars I and II. Therefore, the historical value of the cannon and the special significance of the memorial in Niles is multiplied.
Niles's cannon is a Model 1861 6.4-inch (100 pounder) Army Parrott Rifle. The gun was invented by Robert Parker Parrott, who graduated third in the West Point Class of 1820. It was cast at the West Point Foundry in New York on June 1, 1863 (foundry #717, Registration #128) and was inspected by Ordnance Officer Alfred Mordecai Jr. before being placed into service. The 100 pounder was used by the Army primarily as a siege and fortification weapon. It was also used aboard ships of the U.S. Navy during the Civil War. It could fire a 100 pound solid shot or long shell at ranged of about 6,900 yards at a 28 second time of flight. Of the 233 accepted by the Army between 1861 and 1865 only 53 remain as part of veterans' memorials across the country. The 9,747 lb. cannon in Niles is one of these 53. Marking on the muzzle and trunnions of the cannon represent the above information.
Frank Graves G.A.R. Post 64 in Niles petitioned the U.S. Ordnance Department and was granted donation of the cannon for their veterans' memorial. It arrived in Niles on May 13, 1897 from the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois along with 20, 10 inch shells from the Allegheny Arsenal in Pennsylvania. Record of the donation appears in the 1899 Annual Report of the US War Department's Chief of Ordnance (Letter ID #20589). As the successor organization of the G.A.R., the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) is proud to maintain their traditions.
A committee of Niles citizens received approval to establish a regiment rendezvous point and training camp at the Niles Civil War era village fairgrounds site, the approximate locations was between Superior, Michigan, 11th and 9th Streets to be named Camp Barker. The fair buildings were converted into barracks with additional barracks and buildings constructed by recruits. There were ten barracks, one for each company. The oval fair race track was used for drills, training and marching.
Recruitment for the Michigan 12th took place during the fall and winter of 1861-1862, consisting of 10 companies of 100 men each. The original companies comprised enlistees coming from individual towns. For company A-Cassopolis; B-St. Joseph; C-Buchanan; D-Albion; E,F and K-Niles; G-Lansing; H-Lawton; and I-Berrien Springs.
On March 18, 1862 after rudimentary training was complete, the 12th Michigan marched across town to the Michigan Central Railroad station and set off by train for St. Louis, Missouri. After engaging in numerous battles the 12th was mustered out of service February 15, 1866 at Camden Arkansas.