History Center hoping for cannon at Ft. Wilkins

COPPER HARBOR — Spring 2019 will mark 175 years since Capt. Robert Clary and his men arrived and constructed Fort Wilkins, and the Fort Wilkins Natural History Association (FWNHA) is helping the Michigan History Center celebrate with a bang.

“The Michigan History Center would like to celebrate the dodransbicentennial by purchasing a reproduction 1840s six-pounder cannon,” said Barry James, historian with the MHC, and Michigan Iron Industry Museum. “Although a smaller version of the one on the parade ground, it will represent the time period when the fort was built in 1844.”

Fort Wilkins was militarily occupied twice: from 1844-1846 by two companies of the Fifth United States Infantry Regiment, and again from 1867-1870 by two companies of the Second Reserve Corps.

When Clary was ordered to Copper Harbor in the spring of 1844, he was ordered to take with him two six-pounder cannons, with all accoutrements, plus powder and balls. The cannons he brought were the Model 1841 field gun designed by the U.S. Army Ordinance Department in in that year. During the Mexican War, the 1841 Model proved itself in maneuvering and firing, and was considered a very reliable weapon, with a weight of 850 pounds.

During the second occupation, four cannons were brought to the fort by the SRC, all of them Model 1857 12-pounder field pieces. In 1994, in observance of the fort’s sesquicentennial, the Michigan History Center purchased a full-scale museum quality replica reproduction Model 1857 12-pounder, such as those at the fort. This replica replaced a reduced-scale four-pounder Mountain Howitzer that was never present at the fort.

The acquisition of a full-scale six-pounder cannon for exhibit near the flag stand will enhance the historical accuracy and visual symmetry on the parade ground, and together with the present cannon, will reflect the armament of the fort during both occupations.

To help with the purchase of the $15,000 Model 1841 cannon, the FWNHA is encouraging and accepting donations to the project.

“All donations will go to the fort’s friends group,” said James, “and the FWNHA will match dollar for dollar all donations toward this project.”

Most Model 1841s were cast in bronze, but others were cast in iron. But due to the climate in the Copper Country, the MHC would like to purchase either a blue steel or grey iron for this piece, James said.