Restored cannons back at Fort Moultrie

Rick Dorrance, with the National Park Service, explains what went into restoring two copies of Revolutionary War cannons located at Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan’s Island.

— The shell- stopping palmetto logs of Fort Moultrie get the lion’s share of the credit for the pivotal 1776 victory over a British fleet attempting to seize Charleston. But a hodgepodge collection of cannons did the damage that turned back the ships.

Among them were the 18-pounders — carriage guns that could be wheeled back and forth.

Two copies of those guns have returned to the seaside field in front of the fort, after an 18-month restoration. On Monday, the cannons will be re-dedicated. The ceremony will be low-key, but sooner or later, black powder-trained fort staff hope to fire the guns that once took 16 men to handle.

Ten larger, Civil War and World War II-era cannons at the fort are also undergoing restoration, as well as four Civil War cannons at Fort Sumter.

It’s $160,000-plus worth of work staggeringly difficult to accomplish with multi-ton iron pieces. Few companies do it, and they charge hefty prices. Staff is contracting as locally as possible to save money. For instance, a small North Charleston ironworks built new mounts for a mortar. Students at the American College of the Building Arts in Charleston built the wood carriages for the 18-pounders as a class project.

The 18-pounders were built for the Bicentennial in 1976. They and their wooden carriages had taken on more than 30 years of corrosion in the salt air. The cannon tubes had been painted so many times the paint was scaling off. The carriage wood had rotted, said Rick Dorrance, resource management chief.

The paint has been replaced with a high-tech epoxy that has three times the lifespan. The wood for the carriages came from white oak barn beams estimated to be more than 200 years old.

The guns now stand like they still guard. Art Chatfield, a Vietnam War veteran down from Cincinnati on vacation Friday, couldn’t help but stop by the larger cannons to take photos. Here, he said, you can tell you’re at a fort.