New battle lines have been drawn in Stillwater over the Civil War's most famous weapon — the cannon.
When a citizens group sought approval last week to raise money to buy a Civil War-era cannon for a soldiers memorial at the Washington County Historic Courthouse, its vision of the cannon as a symbol of freedom and piece of history ran into opposition. Members of the St. Croix Valley Peacemakers showed up to say they see the cannon as a symbol of destruction and man's failure to resolve conflicts peacefully.
Similar protests have cropped up occasionally in other communities, and the war in Iraq may be fueling such objections, said Ramona Joyce , a spokeswoman for the American Legion in Washington. She said she has seen more instances lately than in the past. "Any time you're at war, everything's heightened," Joyce said.
Last spring in Colorado, some parents opposed a plan to place a statue of a soldier clutching an assault rifle at a local park, fearing it would scare children.
In Illinois last winter, a group of pacifists objected to a proposal to place a World War II-era howitzer on the lawn of a government building. The group argued that the howitzer glorified war. The proposal ultimately won unanimous support from local government leaders.
In Washington County, the citizens group, which includes historians, scored a victory last week when the County Board gave them the green light to start raising money from private sources to acquire a 19th century cannon from a pair of Wisconsin collectors.
Eyeing a howitzer
The Civil War has special significance for Minnesotans and for Washington County residents in particular, said John Kraemer , a member of the citizens group that pushed for the cannon.
"Many of the Washington County residents who are listed on those plaques were members of the 1st Minnesota Regiment that had such grievous casualties at Gettysburg," he said.
Long ago, a 19th-century cannon stood on the courthouse grounds as a tribute to fallen Civil War soldiers.
But when World War I came, the cannon was donated for scrap metal and eventually replaced with a captured German cannon, donated by the American Legion. But that went to the scrap heap during World War II.
The $21,000 cannon now coveted by the citizens committee is a 24-pounder flank howitzer, Kraemer said. The barrel is an authentic Civil War piece manufactured in 1864, but the carriage is a replica. Owned by the Paulson Brothers Ordnance Co. of Clear Lake, Wis., the cannon closely resembles one on the courthouse grounds from 1902 to 1917.
A push for a peace pole
In Stillwater, seven people from the area spoke out at last week's County Board meeting against the plan to add a cannon to the existing Soldiers and Sailors Monument. They advocated installing a peace pole instead. It measures 4 feet high and has the word "peace" on it in many languages.
"These cannons blew men apart, even in the Civil War," said the Rev. Jerry Doherty , an Episcopal priest and member of the St. Croix Valley Peacemakers. "They were horrible, destructive weapons."
Gary Kriesel, chairman of the County Board and a Civil War history buff, sees the cannon differently. "To me, it signifies the price of freedom and the sacrifice those soldiers faced and what our soldiers today face," he said.
With the County Board's action, the fundraising for the cannon commences. Kraemer said he plans to seek donations from veterans groups and the public. He estimated that the group will need to raise of $25,000 to pay for the cannon and also to secure it at the site in time for Minnesota's sesquicentennial celebration in May.
Allie Shah • 651-298-1550