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Teens learn to fire Civil War replica cannon

Published 11:00 am Thursday, June 5, 2014

On Monday morning, 12-year-old Jacob Downey had no idea how to fire a 12-pound Napoleon cannon or any knowledge of the intricacies of its parts and pieces.

By 10 a.m. Saturday when he and 20 other student volunteers put on their first Living History program of the summer, they will be as proficient with the Civil War era artillery piece as some of the soldiers tasked with firing them in battle a century and a half ago.

“I like really drilling on firing the cannon,” said Jacob, who is a student at Beechwood Elementary School. “I’m getting it down pretty good.”

The group of teen and preteen volunteers began meeting Monday in an un-air-conditioned maintenance storage building at Vicksburg National Military Park.

Will Gatewood, 14, a Living History program volunteer, aligns a cannon while practicing firing Tuesday at the Vicksburg National Military Park. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)
Will Gatewood, 14, a Living History program volunteer, aligns a cannon while practicing firing Tuesday at the Vicksburg National Military Park. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)

“It’s like the military — train, train and more training,” said seasonal ranger Gina Danna, who is helping instruct the program.

Despite the tough training regimen and heat, volunteers seemed excited and dedicated during a work session Wednesday as they drilled on how to fire the big gun and what to do if the black powered packed inside the replica cannon fizzled instead of booming.

Of course tinkering with a replica Civil War Cannon helps.

“It’s all interesting, but I think the cannon is the most interesting,” said 15-year-old Anthony Jones of Vicksburg.

The students also spent time drilling the names and purposes of cannon pieces and artillery shells into their minds.

“You’ve got to know how to shoot it, but you’ve got to know what it is too,” said seasonal ranger Brian Paul, who led a portion of the drill.

The other portion of class was learning how to greet and talk to park visitors, which is what made second-year volunteer Christian Gray come back to the program.

“I’ve always been interested in history,” the 15-year-old Vicksburg High School student said. “My favorite part is talking to all the visitors.”