The Dahlgren Connection to South Mountain

This is totally off subject relating to the Civil War period upon South Mountain, but it does have a small connection. Let’s talk about the Dahlgren connection. Mrs. Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren moved to South Mountain shortly after the death of her husband Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren who passed away on July 12th, 1870. Although the South Mountain Inn still stands which served as her home, her famous structure on the mountain is the Dahlgren Chapel that stands on the site of a Confederate artillery position during the Battle of South Mountain. Construction of the Dahlgren Chapel began in 1881, and was completed in 1884. Today the Central Maryland Heritage League owns Mrs. Dahlgren’s chapel and rents it out for weddings and such.

Mrs. Dahlgren’s husband, Admiral John A. Dahlgren, was a naval officer during the American Civil War. Before the war broke out, he enlisted in the Navy as a midshipman, and by 1847, he was assigned to the Navy’s Ordnance Bureau at Washington, D.C. By 1850, Lieutenant Dahlgren began working on weaponry.

One of the cannon Dahlgren designed in particular is the bronze 12-pound boat howitzer. In 1849, Dahlgren began designing a smoothbore bronze cannon that could either be mounted for use on a boat or mounted to a carriage for field usage. During the Maryland Campaign of 1862, less than a dozen of these cannon were used by the Union troops who participated in the Maryland Campaign.

Why focus on this particular cannon? On January 12th, 2011, it was announced by the Department of Natural Resources that they had purchased a Dahlgren 12-pound boat howitzer that was used during the Oyster Wars on Chesapeake Bay. The Oyster industry was huge industry following the Civil War to about 1890, and with it came problems. In 1868, the Maryland State government created the Oyster Police. Hunter Davidson, a former Confederate Naval officer, after assuming his post, requested that his ship, the Leila be supplied with cannon. Commander Davidson received the Dahlgren 12-pounder. The Dahlgren 12-pounder was made at the Richmond foundry known as Tredegar Iron Works.

In 1884, the steam-power Leila was replaced by a more modern vessel named the Governor R. M. McLane. During the time period of the Oyster Wars, the cannon saw lots of action according the DNR press release combating the poachers, or what is referred to Oyster Pirates. Poachers used dredgers that often illegally harvested the Maryland Oysters from the Chesapeake Bay using metal baskets that would drag across oyster beds. Because of this pitched skirmishes occurred, sometimes resulting in bloodshed between the Maryland State Oyster Police and the illegal dredgers. In 1891, the cannon was retired and replaced with a more modern artillery piece.

I applaud the efforts of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Maryland Natural Resource Police for purchasing the cannon that was used during this time period. The Dahlgren cannon was purchased from the American Legion Post 116 for $40,000, half of that price was contributed by a private donor. The cannon is now resting in a temporary home at the headquarters for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Read the press release

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