The shining of the sentinels: a Homecoming 2014 special report
Two of The Citadel’s historic cannons receive makeovers*
CHARLESTON, S.C. – Two aging monuments on the campus of The Citadel are once again shining brightly after a complex restoration process. The brass cannons have been among the college’s historic artifacts since 1886. They have been in their current location “guarding” Summerall Field and the entrance to Padgett-Thomas barracks for almost a century. The salt air from nearby marshes, harsh sun and other environmental influences had taken a toll on them.
“The cannons needed substantial renovation due to the influences of the outdoors and time. Some alumni requested that the cannons be restored and we agreed that it was time, putting the process to repair them into motion,” said Col. Benjamin Wham, III, USAF (Retired), associate vice president for the Office of Facilities and Engineering at The Citadel and member of the Class of 1986.
In the 1960s, cadets dubbed the two cannons "Pixie and Dixie" after two Hanna-Barbera cartoon mice from the popular Huckleberry Hound Show, but most people knew very little about the cannons other than their names. Major Steven Smith, who is a tactical officer, instructor and historian at the college, as well as a member of The Citadel Class of 1984, decided to do some research.
Cuban Cadets with one of the cannons in 1905
The cannons at the original campus on Marion Square
The Citadel basketball team with one of the cannons, 1909
“They are model 1841 bronze, 6-pounder guns, cast by one of two foundries in Massachusetts that were the primary producers of this type of cannon for the federal government from 1835 until the Civil War,” Smith said. “They were considered obsolete and no federal batteries were equipped with them after 1862.
Though remnants of a foundry number indicated one of the cannons was cast in 1842, it was difficult to determine the exact age because cadets who frequently polished them unknowingly rubbed off most of the markings over the years. “Eventually, the weekly polishing was stopped to preserve them and the cannons were covered with a coating giving them a polished brass look – but that too eventually broke down with age,” Smith said.
“The cannons were removed from their decaying wooden carriages and new carriages were meticulously constructed using the original design, some original parts, and new parts that were provided by a company specializing in reproduction cannon parts,” Christenberry said. “We wanted the carriages to be as long-lasting as possible, so mahogany had to be used. We were able to locate plantation-grown mahogany which ensured that endangered, old-growth trees were not harmed in the process.” The college’s carpentry shop headed by Chris Singleton and under the direction of Mark Christenberry, conducted the three-month restoration process, after additional research and consultation with restoration experts. Six craftsmen worked to refinish the cannons, reconstruct the carriages, and rebuild the bases. The restoration was funded through The Citadel Foundation and the generous gifts of alumni.
The cannons themselves were processed to remove previous coatings and a new powder coating was applied, according to Christenberry.
Finally, the cannons were returned to their renovated pedestals and positioned atop the newly built carriages just in time for the first dress parade of the 2014 – 2015 fall semester. How did the cannons get to The Citadel in the first place?
“Historic documents indicate that the cannons were purchased by the Washington Artillery of Charleston about 1876 and donated to The Citadel in 1886 along with two other cannons which have long since disappeared,” Smith said. “They were placed on concrete pedestals in front of the old Citadel on Marion Square in 1909 and moved to their current location in 1922. The goal of the restoration was to ensure that they will continue bearing silent witness to thousands of cadets, faculty and visitors who pass before them for many decades to come.”
*A special note of thanks to Maj Steven Smith who researched the cannons and contributed to this article
About The Citadel
The Citadel is a four-year, public college in historic Charleston, South Carolina. The Citadel offers a classic military college education for young men and women profoundly focused on leadership excellence and academic distinction. Graduates are not required to serve in the military but about 30 percent of each class commission as officers in every branch of U.S. military service. Graduates of The Citadel have served the nation, their state and their community as principled leaders since the college was founded in 1842. The Citadel Graduate College offers more than 40 Master's degrees and graduate certificates in a wide range of disciplines, plus five undergraduate programs, through an all-evening schedule. Some graduate courses are available online