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Cannon fire signaled news of Civil War’s conclusion

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

On the floor of the Sophienburg Museum is a strange looking hunk of steel that seems out of place because it has no apparent use. But this object wasn’t always useless. As a matter of fact, it had a very prominent place in New Braunfels history, because it’s the breech of a cannon.

Seeing photos of the medieval- looking Prince Carl, it makes sense that he would insist on two cannons for protection of the new colony. He had them made in Victoria, Texas. Now just imagine this:

Prince Carl chose 1st Lt. L.L. von Coll to be in charge of guns and the cannons. Sophienburg Hill was to be the defending fortress and the guns were to be kept there in the magazine (warehouse) to be distributed when needed. Hence, we have Magazine Ave.

The two cannons were to be set up at an appropriate point near the magazine. The Prince felt that in case of an attack, the streets could be swept over with cannon shots and the enemy would be cleaned out.

In later years, Mayor C.A. Jahn wrote this account about the cannons for the “Neu Braunfelser Zeitung Jahrbuch”: “They lay for many years several feet apart on the slope of the Sophienburg Hill”.

Jahn goes on to say that before the Civil War, both cannons were used at every celebration of the 4th of July. The cannons were fired alternately to give the 2 ½ – 3 inch thick cast- iron walls time to cool. Once, one cannon was reloaded too early and the firing came off during the loading and catapulted the gunman down the hill.

When news reached the town that the Civil War was over, the cannons were loaded and fired. Jahn said that as a young boy, he and his friends watched this firing from a distance and observed the gunners hurridly placing themselves behind a large elm tree. Suddenly there was an explosion. The one cannon had blown up, scattering parts everywhere.

Jahn’s story about the other cannon is that in 1870, it was taken to the 5th Ward (Comaltown) to be part of the 25th Anniversary Festival to be held there. During the three day celebration, the lone cannon was fired many times. Jahn related that after that, the cannon was seldom used. Some years later four young boys decided to scare the town by shooting off the cannon, but it blew up.

There are dozens of different versions of the demise of that last cannon, but Carlo Fischer in a 1980 Reflections tape claims that he has the “real” story. He claims that on Christmas Eve, 1894, his father, Emil Fischer, plus Harry Galle, Adolph Henne, and Emil Gerlich decided to shoot the cannon to create a little life in the town. At that time the cannon was on the banks of the Comal. First they went to the bowling alley on Seguin Ave. and played cards. Then they sneaked out after the manager Gottlieb Oberkampf dozed off, went to the river and hid under the iron bridge (early San Antonio St. Bridge) until the pump was cut off at Clemens Dam, as it was every night. Henne brought the powder, Fischer brought the loading rod, Gerlich was the cannoneer, and Galle crossed the Comal to get dry cow pods. They inadvertently blew up the cannon and then scurried back to the bowling alley. About 500 of Harry Landa’s cattle across the river stampeded Comaltown.Landa offered a $500 reward and the boys were identified. Oberkampf (who was also the Justice of the Peace) claimed that it couldn’t have been the identified boys because they had been playing cards at the bowling alley all evening.

The boys agreed that the story wouldn’t be told until the last of them died. That was Emil Fischer. So now you know.

The fate of the last cannon. Artist Patricia S. Arnold