The Brooke cannon project

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 3, 2007

The Selma Times-Journal

In 1981, due in large part to the assistance of Admiral Jeremiah Denton (then a member of Congress) and Alabama Governor Fob James, the Brooke rifled cannon #S-5 was returned, on loan, to Selma from the Naval Historical Center at the U.S. Navy Yard in Washington D.C. Orchestrated by founding members of the Selma-Dallas County Museum of History and Archives (The Old Depot Museum) the museum was designated conservator of the Brooke.

In the 25 intervening years the Brooke has been on display in front of Selma City Hall, consequently suffering from the passage of time and exposure to the weather. A plan for restoration and maintenance, under the chairmanship of museum trustee Benjamin Austin, has been submitted to and approved by the Naval Historical Center. With an estimated cost of $8,000 to $10,000 to the Old Depot Museum, Austin’s committee has requested financial assistance of local citizens and organizations. Donations are tax-free (the museum is a 501c3 corporation).

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For those not familiar with the Brooke: it is a historic artifact of the Civil War and was manufactured only at Tredegar Ironworks in Richmond and in Selma at the Confederate Naval Gun Foundry, which was under the command of Catesby ap R. Jones. Designed by John Mercer Brooke, Confederate States Navy, it was an improvement of the Union-made Parrot Rifle and is considered to be the best-rifled cannon of the war. Capable of throwing a 97 pound shell some 4-1/2 miles, its designed purpose was to punch holes in the Union ironclad warships at close range

It was cast on Aug. 24, 1863 from iron ore mined in Bibb and Shelby counties 60 miles to the north of Selma, in furnaces fired by coal from the same area and pine from local trees. The first gun shipped from the Selma Gun Foundry, it was received by Admiral Franklin Buchanan at Mobile on Jan. 8, 1864, and mounted as the stern pivot gun on the Selma built ironclad (known as a Ram) C.S.S. Tennessee of Battle of Mobile Bay fame. Able to fire out of the rear and both sides, it is more than 12 feet in length and made of cast iron with wrought iron reinforcing bands, thus weighing 15,300 pounds. (Approximate weight of 5 average-size automobiles).

After the Tennessee was forced to surrender, the Brooke rifles were removed and sent to the U.S. Navy Yard at Washington D.C. as war trophies to be studied by ordinance technicians. They have been on display at the Naval Historical Center since the 1940s.

On Aug. 24, 1981 a dedication and unveiling ceremony was held in Selma, with dignitaries, a brunch and reception, marching band and ROTC drill team participating in the festive affair.

As one of the few remaining cannons of the deadliest naval battle of the Civil War, it is the only one located in the states that were in the Confederacy. Selma’s Brooke is also the only one this side of Charleston to have fired a shot in anger.

Information courtesy Benjamin Austin.