Confederate cannons installed at vet center
After nearly four years at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston, three massive cannons from the doomed Confederate Cruiser CSS Peedee were recently returned to Florence and installed for display at the Florence County Veterans Center.
For more than 150 years, the cannons lay buried in the mud at the bottom of the Pee Dee River. In 2015 they were recovered by archaeologists from the University of South Carolina. The guns, two rifled Brooke cannons and a smooth bore Dahlgren, are between 10 and 12 feet in length and each weighs between 9,000 to 15,000 pounds.
The cannons were thrown in the river in March of 1865 just before the CSS Peedee was scuttled to avoid capture by Union forces. The cannons are the property of the U.S. government, and their recovery and conservation was funded by a grant from the Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation in Florence.
“These cannons are an important part of the complex and often tragic history of our county, state, and country,” said County Administrator K.G. “Rusty” Smith. “Florence County hopes that by making them publicly accessible we will promote the study and understanding of that history.”
The three cannons were the primary armament of the CSS Peedee, a 150 long steam and sail powered cruiser built by the Confederate Navy at the Mars Bluff Navy Yard on the east bank of the Pee Dee between 1863 and 1864. The ship was designed to break through the Union blockade of the Southern coast, and was known as the finest ship built by the Confederacy. Its two Brooke Rifles were the most technologically advanced weapons of their age.
The CSS Peedee was scuttled without ever seeing action, and its guns were never fired in combat. Both went to the bottom of the Pee Dee River only months after the ship was launched.
To those who have supported the recovery and preservation of the three cannons, their ultimate futility is an important part of their story.
“These cannons help tell us about the dynamics of a conflict that defined the South more than any other event in our history,” said Ben Zeigler, President of the Florence County Historical Society, who helped coordinate the protection of the guns and their recovery. “They were technological marvels created for a purpose that was never fulfilled and in a cause that will be remembered as fatally flawed by the injustice of chattel slavery.”
Both Smith and Zeigler said that the cannons are not intended to serve as a memorial, but as a basis for reflection on the inherently complex nature of human conflict.
“At the end of the day, war is about human sacrifice, and our Veterans Center is about serving the needs of those who have made great sacrifices in more contemporary conflicts,” Smith said.
A program will be held at a later date at the Florence County Veterans Center.