Michigan Artillery Returns to Rich Mountain

By Hunter Lesser

In 1861, a battery of Michigan cannoneers invaded Virginia, fought the first campaign of the Civil War, and helped secure statehood for West Virginia.

Now, one hundred and fifty years later, they’re coming back.

Members of Loomis’ Battery, First Michigan Light Artillery, will bring their big guns to West Virginia as part of the First Campaign Tour and Battle of Rich Mountain 150th Anniversary Reenactment on July 8-10.

One of those cannons—a 10-pounder Parrott known as “No. 23”—is a true Civil War veteran. Manufactured in 1861 at the West Point Foundry in Cold Spring, New York, No. 23 was one of six Parrott guns issued to the battery and among the first offered to the U.S. Army.

Parrott cannons were rifled, with projectiles that could hit a target up to a mile away. Loomis’ Battery received the new guns for their performance in drills. At the Battle of Rich Mountain, they were armed with older 6-pounders.

On July 8, 2011, No. 23 will return to the earthworks at Camp Elkwater near Huttonsville, West Virginia, where it fired at Confederates under General Robert E. Lee 150 years ago. Participants in a First Campaign Tour will witness this once-in-a-lifetime event.

Registration is still open for the July 6-8 tour of First Campaign battlefields and sites.

Soldiers of the original Loomis’ Battery, based in Coldwater, Michigan, earned a stellar reputation during the Civil War.

Members of the modern battery carry on that tradition. With origins in 1959, they are one of the oldest and most prestigious Civil War artillery units in the country. Founding member Matt Switlik literally wrote the book on antique artillery use, safety and manufacture (The More Complete Cannoneer, 1990).

The guns of Loomis’ Battery join the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in a yearly Fourth of July “Salute to America” performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. They provide artillery special effects for films, including “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” (2003).

The battery sponsors a unique “live fire” historic artillery competition each year with the Army National Guard at Camp Grayling, Michigan. The Henry Ford Museum currently features a special exhibit on Loomis’ Battery that includes, among other items, a Parrott shell fired at Bartow, W. Va., during the Battle of Greenbrier River.

Visitors to the Rich Mountain 150th Anniversary Reenactment will have
a rare opportunity to see demonstrations and living history by Loomis' Battery, view the original Parrott cannon and reproductions of the 6-pounder cannon and equipment used at Rich Mountain. An informative photo exhibit about the battery will also be on display.

Other free activities at the Rich Mountain Battlefield Civil War Site include encampments, battlefield tours and demonstrations throughout the afternoon on July 9 and a 3:30 p.m. skirmish. The reenactment battle will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday July 10. A special ceremony will take place at 6 p.m. July 11, the actual anniversary date.
            Evening activities commemorating the 150th anniversary are also free to the public. A presentation on the First Campaign will be given at the Randolph County Community Arts Center July 6. Keynote speaker A. Wilson Greene will discuss the importance of the legacy of the First Campaign and subsequent military action in West Virginia on July 7 at the Harper McNeely Auditorium of Davis & Elkins College. The RCCAC is also the site of the July 8 concert by the Blue and Gray Choir.

The appearance by Loomis’ Battery and other public activities are sponsored by Rich Mountain Battlefield Foundation with support from the West Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission. For more information or to register for the tour, see or call 304-637-7424.

Elkins resident Hunter Lesser is a consulting archaeologist and historical interpreter. His writings on America’s past span topics from ancient Native Americans to Kentucky moonshine stills. He is the author of Rebels at the Gate, a History Book Club main selection, and serves on the West Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission.

* All photographs are courtesy of the West Virginia State Archives
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