Baldwin Men Salvage Huge Sea-Coast Mortar

Posted 7/23/13

Reprinted from The Baldwin Times

Thursday, July 6, 1967

The salvaging of a 17,200 pound Sea-Coast Mortar of the Civil War era by a group of Baldwin County men began last Saturday and was successfully culminated Tuesday morning, July 4th, …

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Baldwin Men Salvage Huge Sea-Coast Mortar


Reprinted from The Baldwin Times

Thursday, July 6, 1967

The salvaging of a 17,200 pound Sea-Coast Mortar of the Civil War era by a group of Baldwin County men began last Saturday and was successfully culminated Tuesday morning, July 4th, perhaps a fitting date for the event.

The mortar, which could be termed monsterous in size, had inscribed upon it “17,200 lbs,” the number “No. 53,” and the letters “L.S.B.” Also inscribed in another area were the figures “840” or “B40.”

It measured 43 inches in diameter, had a bore diameter of 13 inches, a bore length of 35 1/4 inches, an overall length of 55 inches and 15 inch bore walls. According to ordinance books, a mortar of this type fired a maximum weight projectile of 770 pounds with a 75 pound powder charge.

It was used basically against gunboats and ships and had a range of up to two and one half miles.

The huge old mortar of Civil War vintage Is believed to have been a part of the Confederate defenses, located at King’s Battery or Fort Huger as it was known during the Civil War.

Some reports are that it was one of two such mortars at the Battery and that this particular mortar was mounted upon a raft of 14 x 14 inch timbers. It was salvaged from a small channel leading off the Tensaw River and north of the King’s Battery location, where it is believed to have been washed by the severe hurricane of 1906 which reportedly brought waters 25 to 30 feet higher than the normal water level in that area.

Inspiration for salvaging the old mortar began with a history paper being written by Tom McMillan, son of A. M. “Bill” McMillan.

Tom, a graduate student at Auburn University, began studying the history of old Blakeley. He and two Auburn professors, Dr. H. O. Beals and E. S. Lyles, in the course of his research, visited the old town site.

Tom actually became interested in the mortar through conversation with L. C. Williams who operates Cloverleaf Landing. In talking with Williams about Blakeley, Williams said he knew the general location of an old cannon and related the known history of the weapon.

Tom became interested in finding the old weapon and he and Williams spent about three days searching for it. They used various means, including metal detectors but finally discovered it by poking around with a pole. It was under about five feet of water and about half submerged in mud.

They located it about three weeks ago. Plans to salvage it began and the operation finally got underway last Saturday.

The nucleus of the salvage operation was formed by A. M. “Bill” McMillan, Tom McMillan, and George Woolfe.

Working with them throughout the operation were Capt. Frank Shaffer, tug boat operator; Roy Godbolt, W. H. Hodges, Buddy McDonald, Odell Robinson, Jim Allen, R. L. Smith, and Lee Davis, tractor operator.

The salvage work began early Saturday morning with the crew moving a catapiller and power winch mechanism on a barge into the small channel off the Tensaw.

The men worked all day Saturday and until late Sunday afternoon before they were able to secure the mortar to the barge, and even then it was beneath the end of the barge and could not be brought up enough to view.

They then carried it up river to Gibson’s Landing where they began a morning long job July 4th to get it on land. It was about midmorning before it was finally secured far enough upon the river bank to permit close viewing.

The huge proportions of the mortar can be seen by comparing it to the size of the men shown with it in some of the accompanying pictures.

According to history books on military weapons, it was employed principally for sea coast fortifications where it was expected to operate against decks of vessels. The great weight of the projectiles it fired were exceedingly destructive. These mortars were sometimes used for siege purposes, but their great weight made them difficult to move and emplace in temporary works. The mortars looked something like huge bullfrogs with their muzzles elevated at 45 degrees.

The mortar is presently placed in Tom McMillan’s yard in Stockton and he says all are welcome to stop by and view it.

He says he is not sure just what he will do with it. He would like to see it remain in Baldwin County, perhaps permanently mounted at the Baldwin County Court House.

He actually began the enterprise hoping to make some money from it.

He is working toward a Masters degree in wood technology.

The old mortar is thought to be valued at $5,000 or more as a collectors item or museum piece.

The Baldwin Times is interested in publishing information about old war relics, weapons, and even stories of the history of battles in Baldwin. The Times solicits letters to the editor on these subjects which provide very interesting reading to all.