By Kathleen Gray, Detroit Free Press, Aug. 5
LANSING — It started out as a conversation about some vintage War of 1812 cannon balls that were retrieved from the floor of Lake Erie.
But it ended up as a historic restoration project between two state senators from different parties — Mike Kowall, a Republican from White Lake Township, and Steve Bieda, a Democrat from Warren.
The two history buffs are hoping to raise $75,000 this year to replace the two Civil War-era cannons that sat on the lawn of the state Capitol from 1879 to 1946.
The two cannons were used by the highly regarded First Michigan Light Artillery Battery, better known as the “Loomis Battery” because of the military leader Cyrus O. Loomis.
They fought in many battles, including the Battles of Perryville in Kentucky, Stone Rivers in Tennessee and Chickamauga in Georgia. All three were key skirmishes that led to the Union victory over the Confederates. The Michigan unit’s participation was part of the reason that President Abraham Lincoln famously stated, “Thank God for Michigan.”
What was left were the two cannons used by the Loomis men: one pointed toward what now is the governor’s office in the Romney building at the corner of Michigan and Capitol; the other was pointed toward Lansing City Hall across the street.
But the cannons disappeared, Bieda said, most likely the victims of the need for scrap metal during World War II.
“My first instinct was to track down the original cannon or at least try to find some other Civil War cannons,” Bieda said.
When that didn’t work, they found a company, Steen Cannons in Kentucky, that makes weapons replicas that are used in ceremonies or Civil War re-enactments. Now all they need are donations to commission the replicas.
The two sent out a fund-raising letter last month with the hopes of raising the money this year and bringing the cannons to Michigan in time for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s end. They will be placed on the old stone footings that still are on the Capitol lawn.
“We looked at the old pictures of the Capitol building, and they’re out front,” Kowall said. “Michigan played a very important part in the Civil War. And this will help in putting back our history in the Capitol.”
The two politicians sit next to each other in the Senate chamber, which is undergoing its own renovation this summer. When Kowall got his hands on the two War of 1812 cannon balls, he gave one to Bieda for his birthday.
“Fortunately, there wasn’t any gunpowder in it,” Bieda said.
The cannons will be functional and could be used for historic ceremonies. But they will remain plugged and unarmed to avoid any attack on Lansing.
“If we’re going to hold to real true standards, they should be workable guns,” Kowall said. “But I don’t think you’ll see any cannons flying down Michigan Avenue.”