Soldiers Circle - Table of Contents

Soldiers Circle - Historic illustrations
Buffalo, NY

Where Did All the Cannons Go?

By  Jim Mendola
Buffalo Rising,  July 13, 2017

Parrott rifles are so named because of the rifling of the cannon barrel. The spiral cuts in the interior of the barrel added spin to the projectiles, which made them more accurate than smooth bore cannons. The projectile itself was the pointed shape of modern artillery shells, spelling the eventual end of cannonballs as ammunition. So these can accurately be called either rifles or cannons.

The rifles and ammunition were both perfected by Robert Parrott, a former U.S. Army officer and, from 1836 to 1876, superintendent of the West Point Foundry, where the cannons were cast. By 1860, his design of the rifle was set. Its long barrel of cast iron had a tendency to blow up, so to help stabilize it, a wrought iron band was forged around the bottom, giving the rifle its distinct profile. It was still a dangerous piece to fire, but its accuracy made it the cannon preferred by the army and the navies of both sides in the Civil War.

Buffalo’s Parrott rifles are 100-pound naval versions. Various sizes were cast but the 100-pounders could fire projectiles weighing up to 100 pounds as far as 7,800 yards and needed a crew of 17 sailors to load and fire them. By the 1870s, this cannon model was already obsolete since it was made for wooden warships and would not fit the new iron fleet.

In the 1880s the Philadelphia Naval Yard offered cities its supply of surplus 100-pound Parrotts which had never been used in combat. Buffalo acquired 20 to 25 of them and probably put them in storage until suitable sites could be selected.

In 1908 four more cannons were situated at Soldiers Place, defending the four approaches to the circle. A pyramid of cannonballs was placed next to each rifle. Although inaccurate as ammunition, they proved irresistible to junk dealers and were rolled up and down the parkways as pranks and as part of initiation rites.

Unlike today, Soldiers Place and Colonial Circle had a flatter street level profile. As automobiles proliferated, folks who, for whatever reason, couldn’t maneuver around the circles, would jump the curbs and crash into the cannons.

By the 1930s, the city could no longer afford to repair the damaged GAR carriages. Frank Coon, the parks commissioner at the time, declared the cannons a traffic hazard. They were removed from Colonial Circle in 1936 and, along with the cannonballs, from Soldiers Place in 1937. Everything was sold for scrap at $7 a ton for the cannons and $9 a ton for the cannonballs.

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