There are better investments than replica Civil War cannons

Aug 23, 2013

State Senator Bruce Caswell of Hillsdale is a military buff – he attended West Point for a couple years, before transferring to Michigan State – and he’s a former high school history teacher.

Now, he has a new project he would like people to donate money for. If you are about ninety, and spent a lot of time at the State Capitol when you were young, you may remember there used to be two old Civil War cannons out front.

Otherwise, I suspect you never heard of the so-called Loomis cannons. They weren’t especially famous cannons; they didn’t batter down the defenses of Richmond, and people in the 1940s thought so little of their importance that they were apparently melted down during a World War II scrap metal drive.

The original cannons belonged to a unit of volunteers from Coldwater known as the Loomis Battery, and the number of people in Michigan who have heard of them may be smaller than the number who put on uniforms and reenact Civil War battles.

But their memory means something to Senator Caswell, and he, together with two other senators, Mike Kowall, a Republican, and Steve Bieda, a Democrat, have announced a drive to replace the Loomis cannons with replicas.

To be fair, they aren’t suggesting one dollar of taxpayer money be used. They just want people to send money to something called the Oakland County Community Club, whose mailing address, oddly enough, is in Macomb. But I do have a question about this whole project, which I can best put this way:

Like, why?  I myself am a history buff. I have an entire bookcase full of Civil War histories and biographies. I have walked the battlefields of Antietam and Shiloh and Gettysburg.

I think we should spend more time and effort and money educating students at all levels about history. But why spend a bunch of money for reproductions? The State Capitol is not Disney World.

There is a century-old statue of a Union sharpshooter on the grounds and a whole display case full of authentic battle flags in the Capitol itself. Do we really need two replica cannons?

Two years ago, Senator Caswell, a man notoriously tight with the people’s money, came under fire for proposing children on welfare be given a clothing allowance voucher that would only be good at thrift stores. He later backed down from that.

But as far as I know, he has never said a word about another black mark in our state’s history – the lawmakers’ decision to break their promise to kids and eliminate the Michigan Promise scholarship four years ago. From the standpoint of history, don’t you think it would make more sense to donate to help kids who want to be history teachers manage to afford to attend college?

Or if artifacts are important, a house once belonging to General Ulysses S. Grant is sitting at the now-abandoned state fairgrounds, gradually decaying. Why not raise money to restore it, and move it somewhere where it can be visited and appreciated?

What people do with their money is their own business, and anything that sparks interest in history is a good thing.

But it may be worth asking …does the state capitol really need two pretend Civil War cannons?

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, the University of Michigan.