Grant Park Revisited: The Napoleon

By H. Scott Wolfe

The Blakely rifle shares Galena’s Grant Park with a Civil War contemporary. A second canon reposes near the base of the Jo Daviess County Soldier’s Monument. Known technically as a 12-pounder Field Gun, Model 1857, the weapon was popularly coined, the Napoleon.

This bronze, smoothbore cannon was the true “workhorse” of Civil War artillery. A mainstay for both combatants, Napoleons constituted nearly 40% of the Union and Confederate artillery armament. The gun’s superb versatility…in long-range dueling or short-range anti-personnel fire…was unsurpassed.

The origins of the Grant Park Napoleon are revealed by the markings visible on the muzzle of the gun. It was cast in 1862 at Miles Greenwood’s Eagle Foundry in Cincinnati, Ohio. During the early stages of the Civil War, a woeful shortage of ordinance compelled the Federal government to contract with sundry Western foundries to produce cannon for the Union armies operating in that theatre. This Napoleon was a product of one such contract.

The muzzle markings also reveal the gun’s registry number…3; the name of the Federal ordinance officer in charge of its production…John Rufus Edie; and the weight of the cannon…1200 pounds.

Precise documentation of the cannon’s wartime service is not available. But a short item appearing in the April 20, 1865 issue of the Galena Daily Gazette heralded the gun’s arrival at this place. Entitled simply “The Cannon,” it read:

“This piece of Ordnance, presented by the Government to City of Galena, the home of Lt. Gen. Grant, is a beautiful brass twelve pounder, that was captured from the rebels at Vicksburg. A shell or cannon ball has at some particular time hit it fairly on the breach, and made thereon a profound impression; otherwise it shows none of the marks of war.”

The claim that the gun was captured from the Confederates may be a bit of post-war bravado. The cannon began the conflict in Federal service. If indeed the piece was so captured, the Union forces had to have lost it to the enemy prior to the Vicksburg campaign. Also of interest in the above newspaper account is the mention of the “profound impression” on the gun’s breach. This sizable indentation is clearly evident today. It was no doubt caused by a direct hit of a solid projectile…and is a truly unique feature of the Grant Park Napoleon.

The cannon was displayed at the Galena fairgrounds (Recreation Park) until 1882, when it was mounted on a grant block on the “soldier’s monument lot.” At that time, the Jo Daviess County Soldier’s Monument was located on the west side of the river…on the Meeker Street hill. The Daily Gazette of July 18, 1882 noted:

“The beautiful granite carriage of the cannon is a present from the Smith Granite Company to the Monument Association. Mr. Fraser has also donated his services in mounting the gun…The gift…adds…greatly to the beauty and attractiveness of the monument grounds.”

With the creation of Grant Park, the Soldier’s Monument was moved to its present site. The Napoleon was likewise relocated. The Daily Gazette of May 15, 1891 states:

“The foundation of the Soldier’s monument in Grant Park is completed and the foundation is now being laid for the cannon which accompanies it and which will be made to face the river in its new position.”

That “position” is maintained today…near the base of the monument to those Jo Daviess County veterans the Napoleon served.