Threatening rain clouds did not stop the rededication ceremony for the confederate cannon and bronze tablet located outside the Story County administration building in Nevada.
Hundreds of community members crowded into the Board of Supervisors meeting room at noon on Friday, June 14, with some spilling out into the hallway, to honor individuals from Story County who served in the Civil War. Special honor was given to Jason DeVillo Ferguson, who was Story County’s first casualty in the war. This fact is engraved on a stone that was dedicated during the ceremony. The stone also states the significance of the cannon.
Gov. Terry Branstad and Col. Todd M. Jacobus of the Iowa National Guard attended the ceremony, as well as local county and city representatives. A speech given by an individual acting as President Abraham Lincoln was one of many highlights of the ceremony.
The idea of a rededication ceremony was proposed by Gretchen Triplett of Ames at a Board of Supervisors meeting last October.
"I hope today sparks interest in 7-year-olds, who will remember this day and be excited about it," Triplett said. "We do want this history to be carried on; it’s being lost."
Prior to last Friday’s ceremony, few people knew the story behind the cannon’s presence outside the building, including Rick Sanders, chairman of the Story County Board of Supervisors. He told the crowd gathered at the ceremony that he parks his car near the cannon every day he comes to work, but he never paid attention to it.
"That all changed when Gretchen came to visit about a year ago," Sanders said.
Story County’s Civil War artifacts
The Civil War bronze-rifled cannon was the first of its kind to be manufactured in 1861 by A.B. Reading & Brother factory in Vicksburg, Miss. Of the approximately 50 other cannons made by the factory, only two others have been identified. The cannon is known as a rifled cannon "because the barrel is rifled with six sawtooth grooves of left-hand twist," according to Story County’s website. When in use, it would fire an elongated James or Schenkle projectile that weighed a little more than one pound. The shape of the projectile had better accuracy and penetrating power than a round cannon ball, with an approximate range of 5,100 feet.
Story County’s cannon was used by the Confederate Army during the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862. It was captured by the Union during the battle and later obtained by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) branch in Nevada. The GAR was given the name Jason D. Ferguson, Post #31, in honor of the Story County native who was mortally wounded in the Battle of Shiloh. The group donated the cannon to Story County before disbanding, and it has sat on the grounds of the adminstration building since 1901.
The bronze tablet mounted on granite that sits beneath the flag poles displays President Lincoln’s "Gettysburg Address." A total of 314 tablets were made, but only a few remain because they have been lost to time, Sanders said. The tablet was first dedicated on Flag Day in 1930 by the Woman’s Relief Corps Post #147, which is also named in honor of Ferguson. It has been on display ever since.
Ferguson’s family came to Story County in 1857. He and three of his buddies joined the military and were put with the 1st Iowa volunteer infantry, Sanders said. Nearly five years later, on April 6, 1862, Ferguson gave his life for his country.
"It’s completely fitting that we dedicate the cannon and tablet to honor the life of Jason Ferguson," Sanders said.
Ferguson and his friends were just a few of the 425 individuals from Story County who volunteered for the Union army - approximately one-tenth of Story County’s population at the time. Of those volunteers, at least 85 died of injuries or disease.
The ceremony aimed to make sure citizens of Story County understand the story and significance of these Civil War artifacts.
"We remember so that future generations never forget," Jacobus said.
During his speech at the ceremony, Branstad said it is an honor to see people recognized for their service to the country.
"I’m proud Iowa has always been a state where people always answer the call to service," Branstad said. "Because of our veterans’ efforts, we enjoy the freedoms we cherish today."
(Nevada Journal intern, Ariel Curtis, contributed to this story)