NEWS | April 18, 2022

The Mystery of “Old Long Tom” Kentucky’s Mexican-American War Trophy

By SFC(R) John Trowbridge, Kentucky National Guard Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

The story of “Old Long Tom” and his brother Kentucky’s Mexican-American War Trophies is an interesting one, which has never been fully told.  What happened to “Tom” and his brother after they were removed from the State Arsenal by Confederate forces in the fall of 1862, is still a mystery waiting to be discovered.

 

Tom is well documented in books, quartermaster records, newspaper accounts and even Kentucky Resolutions.  However, there is very little documented history on his brother.

 

Tom was a cannon, a war trophy of the Mexican War.  “He” was described as an unmounted Mexican six-pounder, bearing the date 1773, with a barrel length of ten to twelve feet.  Midway of his length, were two hand-holds, or loops, on each side, used to lift the gun with a hoisting machine.

 

During the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), Captain John Stuart Williams organized and commanded the Clark County Kentucky Volunteers.  It was an independent company, attached to the 6th U.S. Infantry at the Battle of Cerro Gordo, Mexico (April 18, 1847).  Williams’ conduct during the battle won him the sobriquet “Cerro Gordo” Williams, which he was afterwards known.  Colonel Williams would command the 4th Kentucky Regiment of Kentucky Volunteers later in the war.  During the Civil War, Williams initially served as Colonel in the Confederate Army, in 1862, he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, holding this rank for the remainder of the war.

 

In his official report of the Battle of Cerro Gordo, to Secretary of War William L. Marcy, dated April 19, 1847, Major General Winfield Scott made the following comments concerning captured artillery pieces.

 

Sir: — The plan of attack, sketched in General Orders, No. 111, forwarded herewith, was finely executed by this gallant army, before two o’clock P.M. yesterday. We are quite embarrassed with the results of victory – prisoners of war, heavy ordnance. Field batteries, small arms, and accoutrements . . . I am, also, somewhat embarrassed with the – pieces of artillery, all bronze, which we have captured. It would take a brigade, and half the mules of our army, to transport them fifty miles. . . . . A field battery I shall take for service with the army; but the heavy metal must be collected, and left here for the present.

 

Out of these spoils of war came Kentucky’s Mexican War Trophies, “Old Long Tom” and his brother.  It is noted the 1939 Military History of Kentucky, on page 135, that “Captain Williams’ company reached Louisville about two weeks later, bringing with it a brass six-pounder captured at Cerro Gordo.”

 

Tom made it into the pages of Lexington’s Observer & Reporter, on June 9, 1847: 

 

Captain Williams we see, brought with him a Mexican six-pounder, bearing the date of 1773, and two large bomb shells, thirteen inches in diameter and two and a quarter inches thick. The gun was taken by his company in the battle (Cerro Gordo).  He intends to present his trophies to the State.

 

John Williams responded to the June 9 article on June 24: 

 

We cannot better make the correction of the error into which we were led in speaking of the trophies brought by the Clarke volunteers from Mexico, than by the publication of the following note to us from Capt. Williams: 

 

Winchester, June 19, 1847. 

 

Mr. Editor: — I regret that, in the Observer & Reporter of the 9th inst., in mentioning the brass six pounder, which I brought from Cerro Gordo to Kentucky, you have been led into the error of saying that “it was taken by my company.”  This gun was not taken by my company; it belonged to one of the batteries upon the right of the enemy’s line, and fell into the hands of the American Army upon Gen. La Vega’s surrender. Please make the corrections and oblige.

 

Yours,    respectfully,
Jno. S. Williams.

 

On July 27, 1847, the reburial of the remains of Kentuckians killed at the Battle of Buena Vista, Mexico, took place at the on the State Mound in the Frankfort Cemetery.  The cannon taken at Cerro Gordo had been mounted for the occasion, and shrouded in black crepe, becoming part of the funeral march from the (Old) State Capitol to the cemetery.

 

In 1848, Kentucky Resolution No. 16, approved March 1, 1848, was the resolution in which two Mexican War cannons presented to the State of Kentucky by Major George Alfred Caldwell and Colonel John S. Williams, where accepted by the State.  Caldwell was a native of Adair County, Kentucky, by the end of the Mexican War he would attain the brevetted rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

 

Resolved by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky,

 

That the cannon tendered by Maj. Geo. A. Caldwell and Col. John S. Williams, be accepted, and that the Governor cause to be inscribed thereon, respectively, the history of their capture and the names of the donors. Resolved further, 

 

That the Governor communicate to those distinguished officers (now in Mexico,) copies of these resolutions, and tender to them the thanks of Kentucky, for those valuable trophies of the valor of our countrymen at the memorable battle of Cerro Gordo.

 

Prior to the 1850 construction of the State Arsenal, which currently serves as the State’s Military History Museum, what passed for an arsenal was a small building located in the rear of the Old Capitol building, consequently when the state received the large unmounted Mexican cannons, which was too large to store inside the building, they were left lying on the ground outside.

 

A memorable incident took place in Frankfort, prior to the Civil War, in which Tom played a major role, however, full details and the names of the perpetrators did not come to light until 1927, when full details of the event appeared in print in the April 3rd edition of The State Journal, the story went as follows:

 

At that time two young men who delighted in playing practical jokes, James W. Tate and John N. Crutcher were employed as clerks down on St. Clair Street, in the Federal Post Office which was then located where the Frankfort Clothing Company now is, and the latter with William M. Todd, who occupied a business house which stood where the south half of the Five and Ten Cent Store is now located, both business places having the same common back yard, which enabled the young men to get together and hatch some scheme without going on the street.

 

They had designs upon that old gun, and went quietly to work to carry them out.  All the spare change they got hold of was invested in powder, which they purchased at different stores and secreted until enough had been accumulated to suit them, then it was placed in a sack made to fit the bore of the gun, then it was rammed in good and hard, and in order to make the report as loud as possible Crutcher took off his vest and rammed it into the cannon on top of the powder and wadding.

 

A section of blasting fuse of sufficient length to enable the plotters to get clear away from the scene before the fire would reach the charge, was run into the touch-hole and connected with the sack of powder.  When all was ready the fuse was lighted and both young men hurried to their rooms so that when the explosion occurred they could swear that they were not there and were in bed when it all happened.

 

The fuse burned slowly but, the fire finally reached the powder and talk about your California earthquakes and other upheavals but when that “Old Long Tom” let go it waked the whole town and broke all the glass out of the windows along Broadway and Clinton Streets, scared the timid half out of their wits, as the people imagined there was an uprising of the slaves and that all the whites were to be murdered in their beds.

 

In those days there was but one night watchman, or patterole as he was called, and he had only recently killed a man.  As no one could explain how the cannon could shoot itself off without any help, the watchman worried over the matter until he began to believe that the ghost of his victim had shot the gun to warn him that a nemesis was upon his trail.

 

 The 1859 Report of the Quartermaster General for the State of Kentucky, makes mention of Tom and his brother, under the heading “Ordnance and Stores, Arms and Equipment in the State Arsenal,” stating that the guns were in bad order.  However, the last paragraph of the report states:  

I would also call your attention to a piece of brass ordnance taken in the late war with Mexico, and presented to the State of Kentucky.  These pieces are unmounted; and if they were properly mounted, they would add greatly to the ordnance department.

 

During the Civil War, in August 1862, Confederate forces under command of General Braxton Bragg captured the City of Frankfort, the only Union state capitol captured during the war.  The Confederates controlled the city for approximately one month, during which time they removed weapons and equipment from the State Arsenal.  When the Confederates withdrew from Frankfort, did they take Kentucky’s Mexican War trophies with them?  

 

Soon after the Confederate left Frankfort an inventory was taken of the arsenal and it was noted that the unmounted cannons had been taken.

 

So, what did the Confederates do with Tom and his brother?  Had they already moved them from the Arsenal prior to their retreat from the city?  Large and heavy, and as far as records indicate, unmounted, would they have just “dumped” both cannon somewhere?  The Kentucky River, located next to the arsenal would have an ideal dumping site, or, did they do as the 1859 Quartermaster Report state, mount the cannon making them functional pieces of artillery once again, for use in one of the future battles of the Civil War?

 

We may never know what happened to Kentucky’s Mexican War Trophies, “Old Long Tom,” and his brother.

 

 

Sources:

1848 Acts of the General Assembly of the State of Kentucky.

Kentucky Quartermaster’s Annual Report, 1859.

Military History of Kentucky, 1939.

Newspapers:

    Observer & Reporter, Lexington, KY.

    The State Journal, Frankfort, KY.

 

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