Big gun goes home

Chris Watters, an assistant conservator at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, works on a cannon from the Confederate raider Alabama. The Hunley lab has spent six years conserving two cannons from the famous Civil War ship, and this week shipped one of

The Confederate sloop of war Alabama traveled the world during the Civil War, making life miserable for many mariners, but the feared raider never actually made it to the state from which it took its name.

But now, thanks to the efforts of Hunley project conservators, Mobile has one of the Alabama's big guns.

Scientists at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center this week sent one of the ship's cannons to the Alabama port city after a six-year restoration project. The 1862 gun, made in Liverpool, has been restored to look almost new, which was no easy feat.

Paul Mardikian, senior conservator on the Clemson-sponsored project, found human remains and 19th-century paint on the cannon as his crew worked to rehabilitate the weapon, which was pulled off the Alabama wreck in the

English Channel.

"This is a beautiful gun with an incredible history. We are lucky it survived," Mardikian said. "When you look at this, and find the inscription that says, 'Liverpool, 1862,' and realize this gun was responsible for sinking battleships, it's what really makes this job incredible."

The ship was built in 1862 in England under an assumed name -- the British did not particularly want their alliance with the Confederacy known. Shortly after it was launched with Capt. Raphael Semmes at the helm, the Alabama became the most fearsome ship on the high seas. In two years, it claimed 60 ships worth more than $6 million combined.

Then it was caught by the American sloop of war Kearsarge coming out of Cherbourg, France, where it had stopped for repairs. The Union vessel sank the famous ship in about an hour. A French Navy mine hunter found the wreck in 1984.

The cannon goes on display in March at the Museum of Mobile as the centerpiece of the facility's Alabama ship exhibit. Former Alabama state Sen. Robert Edington, who served as chairman of the CSS Alabama Association (USA) for 10 years, said Friday that the ship's original plans will be used to construct a reproduction of the gun's original carriage.

"It will look exactly like it did on the deck of the ship," Edington said. "We are delighted to get one of the restored cannons from the ship. We have had items from the ship here before, but getting one of the cannons gives you a real sense of the ship."

The big question is: Where do you put a 3-ton cannon? "It'll go on the ground floor for sure," Edington joked.

The Museum of Mobile expects to open its exhibit in March.

Another cannon off the Alabama remains at the Hunley lab, but the Navy has not announced any plans for it. Mardikian said he thinks it would be nice to see that gun end up in the Hunley museum.

Reach Brian Hicks at 937-5561 or bhicks@postandcourier.com.