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Heralding Our History: Chronicling city park’s combat-tested cannon


Mary Sheridan Park in Lambertville is diminutive in size but rich in items of historic interest, from its 1840s vintage city jail, to its 1870 Civil War monument, to its often-overlooked Civil War naval cannon.

In the Delaware River valley, where the American Revolution dominates local military history, Mary Sheridan Park offers poignant reminders of America’s other great domestic war.

Yet few know the origin of the park’s cannon, how it came to Lambertville, or the illustrious chapter it represents in the Union victory in the “War Between the States.”

The gun and carriage have graced Mary Sheridan Park, formerly York Street Park, since May 1908, when it was donated by the Department of the Navy to the City of Lambertville to adorn the park and complement the Civil War monument to Lambertville’s fallen sons. The loading, shipping and mounting of the cannon cost almost $100 and was funded by donations from Lambertville residents and businesses.

The gun was a fitting addition to the park, as it had seen years of action in some of the Civil War’s greatest naval battles, and had later served around the globe as an ambassador of America’s naval and commercial might.

The cannon’s story begins with the commissioning of the USS Richmond, a wooden steam sloop, on Jan. 26, 1860 at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va. Ironically, the USS Richmond, which was launched less than 15 months before the start of the Civil War and bore the name of the future capital of the Confederacy, ultimately proved to be one of Union’s most potent weapons in the war’s all-important naval blockade and river campaigns.

After a maiden voyage to the Mediterranean, the Richmond’s war service began in July 1861 when she sailed to the Caribbean in an unsuccessful search for the elusive Confederate raider CSS Sumter, which was commanded by Raphael Semmes. By September 1861, the Richmond had assumed blockading duties at the mouth of the Mississippi River, where the Richmond’s captain became commander of a small flotilla, which included USS Preble and USS Water Witch.

In the predawn darkness of Oct. 12, 1861, the Confederate ironclad ram Manassas and three armed steamers of Confederate Commodore Hollins’ Mosquito Fleet attacked the Richmond and her sister ships in an attempt to break the blockade. The ensuing battle, which came to be known as the Battle of the Head of Passes, was the first conflict in history between an ironclad and wooden vessels, preceding by five months the famed battles involving the CSS Virginia at Hampton Roads Va.

In the following months, the Richmond was repeatedly involved in engagements with Confederate naval forces and shore defenses. On Nov. 22 and 23, 1861, the Richmond participated in the bombardment of Pensacola Navy Yard, sustaining one dead and seven wounded from shore fire.

In late April 1862, the Richmond took part in Union Flag Officer David Farragut’s naval assault on New Orleans. On April 24, the Richmond was hit 17 times above the waterline. Two were killed and three were wounded.

In June and July 1862, the Richmond participated in attacks on the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg, Miss., again sustaining two killed and significant damage.

Its participation in the campaign to control the Mississippi River continued in 1863. On March 14, 1863, the Richmond, as part of Farragut’s squadron, attempted to pass the Confederate stronghold of Port Hudson. The Richmond’s executive officer was mortally wounded in the engagement as Richmond was hit by a 42-pound shell that ruptured her steam lines. Finally, on July 9, 1863, the Richmond helped Union ground forces capture Port Royal, the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi.

On Aug. 5, 1864, the Richmond played a central role in the pivotal naval battle for Mobile Bay, Ala., where Union Admiral David Farragut gave his famous order “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” In that engagement, the Richmond exchanged fire with Confederate steamers Selma, Morgan and Gaines, and the ironclad ram Tennessee. She also participated in the successful 18-day bombardment of Fort Morgan, which finally surrendered on Aug. 23.

In a profound sense, the Richmond was the most decorated Union ship of the American Civil War. Thirty-three sailors and Marines were awarded the Medal of Honor for service aboard it during the Civil War — four for the March 14, 1863 attack on Port Hudson and 29 for service during the Battle of Mobile Bay. No other Union ship had as many Medal of Honor recipients. Truly remarkable is the fact that the Richmond’s 33 Civil War Medal of Honor recipients constitute almost 1% of all Medals of Honor awarded in the 163-year history of the medal.

Following the Civil War, the Richmond spent almost 40 years cruising the Mediterranean, Caribbean, South Atlantic, South Pacific, and Far East. She served as the flagship of the United States Asiatic Fleet from 1879 to 1883, and of the South Atlantic Squadron in 1889 and 1890. She was eventually decommissioned and sold for scrap in 1919.

Although the USS Richmond has been gone for more than 100 years, a visitor to Lambertville’s Mary Sheridan Park can view a tangible piece of American history and reflect on the courage, fortitude and service exhibited by the sailors and Marines who manned the park’s often overlooked cannon.

D. Jeffrey Campbell is president of the Lambertville Historical Society.

“Heralding Our History” is a weekly feature. Each month, the Herald delves into the history of one of its towns.

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