by Erin Doane
On August 4, 1904, a 14,920-pound siege gun arrived in Millport. The artillery piece was made by the Fort Pitt Foundry in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for use during the Civil War. The army shipped it to Millport from Liberty Island, New York to serve as a monument to the local soldiers and sailors who had served in the war.
Dozens of men from Millport served during the Civil War. Many enlisted in the 50th New York Engineers. Company G was almost entirely recruited from village. The regiment built roads, battery position, forts, and bridges. It was attached to the Army of the Potomac and saw action at Yorktown, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and Rappahannock Station. The men of the 50th were at Appomattox Court House to witness the surrender of General Lee and his army.
In 1883, veterans of the war established Post 416 G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) in Millport. The post was named for Private Wilson Dean who was a member of Company A, 89th New York Volunteers. He had enlisted in Catharine in 1864 at the age of 27. He was captured in Cold Harbor, Virginia and died at Andersonville. In 1904, members of the Wilson Dean post arranged to create a monument to honor its namesake and all the others who had fought during the war.
The siege gun was brought to Millport on a flat rail car which was shunted onto a Pennsylvania Railroad siding. From there, it was up to the people of the village to get the gun to its final location in the Millport Cemetery. The cemetery was almost a mile from the railroad siding and some 400 feet up a steep dirt road. The cannon was moved onto a low wheeled rig provided by the Reeves Machine Works. It took ten teams of horses and additional men hauling on ropes to move the piece to the cemetery. People cheered the workers along the way and, after several pauses to rest, the gun was placed on a concrete base in the northwest section of the cemetery near the graves of several Civil War veterans. Its barrel was pointed toward the south.
The monument was officially dedicated on October 13, 1904 at a daylong celebration. At 11 o’clock in the morning, G.A.R. members and other citizens marched to the cemetery. Post commander R.B. Davidson delivered opening remarks which were followed by the singing of a patriotic song and a prayer by Rev. E. Burroughs. Several young Millport girls then pulled strings which let the drapery that had been covering the cannon fall way. The crowd sang another patriotic song then listened to an address given by Dr. Robert P. Bush, a distinguished orator from Horseheads and a Chemung County assemblyman.
The festivities did not end there, however. At noon, the G.A.R. members and their guests returned to the village and had dinner at the Baptist Church. At 1:30pm, additional dedication exercises and speeches took place at the masonic hall. Sherman P. Moreland of Van Etten gave the keynote address. There was then a reception held to honor the surviving members of the famous 48th Regimental Band. There was singing, addresses, music, and stories by veterans. Coffee and hardtack were served at the close of the evening.
For almost 90 years, the cannon stood guard over the Millport Cemetery. Over the years, however, the monument suffered from the effects of weather and the occasional vandal. The concrete base had begun to crumble, and the gun and pyramid of cannonballs, which had been painted silver at some point, were looking worn.
In the summer of 1991, Duane Hills, commander of the Elmira Sons of Union Veterans, and a crew of his men went to the Millport cemetery four time to restore the monument to its former glory. They patched the concrete, removed graffiti, and repainted the gun and cannonballs. On October 13, 1991, they hosted a small ceremony to rededicated the memorial. At the conclusion of the event, fifteen men dressed in Union uniforms fired a rifle volley in honor of those who had served during the Civil War.
Erin Doane is the curator at the Chemung County Historical Society. To read more of their blog, go to http://chemungcountyhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com