Civil War-era cannons return to battlefield
I read with interest the recent article about the two “boat howitzers” being moved from the lawn of the old Fairfax Courthouse to the Bull Run Battlefield. If they are indeed the guns lost by the 71st New York State Militia, one story about what happened after their capture by the Confederates claims that they reappeared in New Kent County some nine months later. At this time, two such guns had been issued to Capt. James Reilly’s battery of the First North Carolina Artillery. At the May 7, 1862, Battle of West Point (Union designation) or Eltham’s Landing (Confederate designation), Reilly’s artillerists, aided by soldiers of the 6th North Carolina Infantry, wrestled the unwieldy weapons to the crest of Timberlake’s Hill, from which height they turned them on Union forces deployed around Brickhouse Landing on the York River. Their bombardment was short-lived, however. Union gunboats with heavy naval guns quickly got the range and drove the Confederates and their guns off the hill. After the battle, an infantryman of the First New Jersey Regiment described the wreckage left at the farm of J. M. Timberlake, where Reilly’s Battery had made its brief stand. Although the residents had fled, a frightened mule was still in its stable and agitated chickens were running about the yard. “About the grounds could be seen the fragments of shells which had been fired ... from our gunboats; a tree had its top taken entirely off; near the house was some fresh earth, which, on opening, was found to cover an immense shell which had buried itself deep in the ground and not exploded.” Today, gracious modern homes occupy this hill, but their owners still are reminded of the Civil War when they uncover shell fragments (and, it is hoped, no unexploded ordnance) in their flower gardens.