A&M restores and returns cannons, including one used at Alamo battle

Image: Conservation Research Laboratory

Two historic cannons have been returned to their homestead at The Alamo after being restored at Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory (CRL).

In 2018, nine other battle-used cannons went through the same process at the CRL, which is located at the RELLIS campus. Like the two more recent cannons, none had undergone any conservation other than routine painting.

Multiple layers of paint and corrosion were removed over the last six months by the A&M researchers, including graduate students, through what’s called an electrolytic reduction process. Researchers learned details of wear on the cannons, telling more about how each was used.

Jim Jobling, lab manager and research associate at the CRL, said work done at the lab shows what’s not told on the printed page, thereby allowing the materials to be another way of looking at history and telling a story.

“I love archaeology — love history,” he said. “I’m obviously very passionate about it. I want people to be able to learn from history. You want the correct artifacts associated with certain events to be at the particular site, so you can appreciate and learn from it. You have people there who can tell you about the battle and tell you about the cannon. This is how we preserve history.”

The lab has completed 212 projects since opening in 1996, and researchers have conserved more than 2 million artifacts.

Sheila Mayfield, director of marketing at The Alamo, said ensuring history is told to future generations as accurately as possible allows the community to learn not only about the lives their ancestors led, but how those experiences influence our lives today.

“By preserving historic items like this, we are expanding the ways in which Texans can learn about all those who lived, fought and died at the Alamo, and hopefully enabling visitors to make their own personal connection to Texas history,” she said.

More than 1.5 million people visited The Alamo annually before the pandemic struck in 2020.

According to historians, 24 cannons were present during the Battle of the Alamo, however, only 21 were functioning. There were 35 before the siege started, and 11 were sent to other locations to help the Texans.

Jobling detailed some of what they learned about the two cannons.

The small bronze “4-pounder” cannon was cast in 1764 at a Mexico City foundry. Twelve such bronze cannons were originally sent to a Spanish military post in Louisiana, and later transferred to The Alamo in 1793. The cannon is missing its lifting handles, cascabel (projection behind the breech of a muzzle-loading cannon) and trunnions (critical piece that allows a cannon to swivel). These were broken off by the Mexican Army after the battle to prevent the Texans from using them again. This is one of the 13 cannons discovered in 1852 by Samuel Maverick as he was building his family’s home. There, inside the Alamo compound, he unearthed the history that had been buried by Mexican soldiers. It was given away by the family shortly after it was found, and eventually returned to The Alamo in 2010.

The cast-iron 5-inch Howitzer — a short-barreled weapon that could be fired at steep angles or horizontally — is part of a collection donated to The Alamo in 2014 by British rock star Phil Collins. It was recovered from an 1829 shipwreck off Tampico in the Gulf of Mexico. The cannon was not at the Battle of the Alamo, but the Mexican Army did have two similar small Howitzers used in the fight.

“Even though this particular item was not at the battle, it is period correct,” Jobling said, adding that an extra element goes into cleaning an artifact that was submerged in a marine environment and has corroded because of the salt.

The CRL continues to work on a cast-iron 9-pound cannon. It was among several recovered in 1817 by the Spanish from a vessel that had run aground in Matagorda Bay. It was carrying cargo of cannon and munitions up for sale. Later, it was taken to The Alamo.

Jobling said it’s most likely a lighter-weight commercial type of cannon, possibly from a Swedish manufacturer from the mid-1700s. The cannon was on display at the Briscoe Western Art Museum, but now is part of The Alamo collection.

The Alamo relies on donations, which help support preservation efforts.

More at the College of Liberal Arts