Burroughs Battery members Justin Bubrowski, left, Gary Howard, Steve Cameron and Brandon Bragg practice Tuesday with a howitzer built by Trail Rock Ordnance in Blaine. The mounted artillery battery is rehearsing for the Battle of Fort Sanders re-enactment today and Sunday at the Clapp Farm on Washington Pike. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)
By Fred Brown
Friday, October 7, 2011
BLAINE — The scene is right out of 1861 — restless horses, rumbling caissons and ground-rattling blasts from a 1,300-pound cannon belching fire and smoke.
Steve Cameron, captain of the Burroughs Battery, and his outfit are practicing on Buford Watson's farm in Blaine, preparing for this weekend's Battle of Fort Sanders, which will be re-enacted on the Smiley Clapp Farm on Washington Pike.
Cameron, 41, isn't your ordinary weekend-warrior commander of an artillery battery for Civil War re-enactments. He makes his living building exact replicas of Civil War-era gun carriages, limbers and caissons.
Even the cannons he has manufactured to his specifications in a Morristown foundry are exact copies of the originals.
After attending re-enactments in 2000, Cameron, a former U.S. Army ordnance officer (1992-96), enjoyed reliving battle scenes with big guns more than playing the role of an infantryman.
"I had to have a cannon," he says with a laugh.
So he decided to build a cannon and create his own mounted artillery battery.
Why a mounted battery? "There are just a handful of mounted artillery re-enactment batteries in the nation," he says. In fact, in April, the Burroughs Battery was the only mounted artillery participating in the 150th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of First Manassas, and it will be the only mounted artillery battery at the Battle of Fort Sanders.
In 2002, Cameron, a 1992 history graduate of Carson-Newman College, built his first cannon. He had the barrel made and then ordered the 57-inch wheels. The remainder — limber, carriage and caisson he built from scratch, even the threaded bolts and the copper-trimmed ammunition boxes.
Cameron got into the cannon-making business by way of working in the family furniture parts-making company. When the economy slowed down, he had to find another endeavor. He turned his passion into his livelihood.
About four years ago, he went into cannon-building full time under the name of Trail Rock Ordnance. His workshop is a 2,800-square-foot building behind his home in Blaine where he and Gary Howard, Trail Rock Ordnance's only other employee, turn out the stuff of artillery batteries that would have been at home on Civil War battlefields.
Working from an ordnance manual written in 1841 by Alfred Mordecai, a brilliant West Point engineer, Cameron and Howard build the limbers, cannon carriages and caissons to 1841 specifications for an artillery battery, the same manual used in the Civil War.
Limbers carry either the gun carriage or the caisson, and a full complement of limber, gun and carriage.
Last year, Cameron says, the two men built and sold about 22 limbers, carriages and caissons. He says he is a little under that pace this year, but "I am covered up" with work orders.
Just about everything on his carriages is authentic, but he uses steel on the carriages instead forged iron and laminated wood instead of solid wood, he says.
His clients are re-enactment units, collectors, history museums and even states. Virginia purchased two gun carriages last year.
The largest gun carriage he has made could transport a cannon weighing up to a ton. The smallest is a mountain howitzer for a gun barrel weighing 220 pounds.
Burroughs Battery is named for Knoxville attorney William Burroughs who formed the battery in 1861, when a mounted Army battery would consist of six limbers, six guns and carriages and six caissons, pulled by six horses each.
Burroughs Battery practiced with a 1,300-pound field howitzer, carriage, limber and caisson and six horses three days before the Battle of Fort Sanders re-enactment. His command hitched up four horses to pull the gun and limber and two more to pull the caisson during "maneuvers" in the Watson field.
On this day, he had help from Charles D. Hall of Blaine, Justin Bubrowski of Knoxville, Hall's grandson, and Braxton Bragg of Knoxville, and from Byron Bryant, a municipal court judge in Union County, all wearing artillery uniforms trimmed in red.
"We are always looking for recruits, though," says Cameron. In fact, he says, his website, www.trailrockordnance.com, and email Akm556@aol.com, are set up for those who would like to become members of the battery.
The re-enactment of the Nov. 29, 1863, Battle of Fort Sanders is today and Sunday at the Clapp Farm on Washington Pike at 2 p.m. both days. Today is Student Day. Cost is $8 adults and children under 6 free.
read the original at Knoxnews.com