ALPENA – Many of the men of Alpena who risked their lives on the battlefields of the American Civil War also devoted themselves to creating the city that is now Alpena – and for that they must be remembered, say local history buffs.
A long-running plan to place a cannon on the lawn of the Alpena County Courthouse may come to fruition, thanks to the efforts of a local Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War chapter.
With years of research and work under their belt, the group is soliciting donations for a memorial they believe would honor crucial leaders of Alpena’s past and help current residents build the city’s future.
The group hopes to raise $30,000 to purchase a Parrott Rifle cannon in honor of former Alpena residents who wore Civil War uniforms in the town’s early days.
The community owes these men a debt of gratitude, “not only for saving the country,” said chapter member Don Londo, “but for building the community of Alpena.”
The 170 Civil War veterans buried in Alpena County fought in what Londo called the most monumental event in the nation’s history.
For at least 20 years, Londo, Bruce Zann and other chapter members attempted to erect a cannon in honor of the soldiers.
In 2019, the Alpena County Board of Commissioners authorized the chapter to place a cannon on the courthouse lawn, Londo said.
Londo has visited the Nashville factory where the cannon he wants to order will be made, and a local company has agreed to make a historical panel to accompany the cannon.
When Alpena’s men prepared to join a regiment during the Civil War, they first gathered on the grounds of the courthouse to obtain a priest’s blessing.
Then the men marched to the waterfront, boarded a steamer and were dispatched to the battlefront, Zann said.
At the time, the courthouse stood at the current location of the Centennial Building. This is where Alpena’s first cannon monument exploded when veterans failed to clean it properly. The cannon exploded during a ceremony when someone tried to fire it, Londo said.
A new cannon, installed at the corner of Chisholm Street and 9th Avenue, would remind residents of today of residents of the past who fought for the country and the city.
Like, for example, James Potter, said Londo, whose extensive research into military history led him to write parts of a book he hopes to publish one day.
Captured in action, Potter spent time in a Confederate POW camp before escaping when guards tried to carry him atop a train car.
Potter moved to Alpena, married the daughter of a Baptist minister, taught Sunday school, and ran a hardware store downtown.
William Johnson, who rose in the cavalry, later became Johnson Street’s namesake in Alpena as a highly respected entrepreneur, head of the local telephone company and founder of the Portland Cement Company, Londo said.
When the 4th Michigan Infantry marched 20 miles to Gettysburg, George Maltz, an Alpena man, marched with them.
Maltz then ran Alpena’s banking industry, Londo said, and built what is now called the State Theater, which after the war served as the site of war-related ceremonies, with the initiation of officers and the singing of war songs.
Alpena’s first sheriff and police chief, two of Alpena’s first mayors, first county commissioners, lawyers, bankers, teachers and farmers all fought in the Civil War before taking on roles direction in the Alpena region, Londo said.
A cannon, he thinks, would serve as a fitting reminder of the work of these men in first defending freedom and then building their city.
After years of planning, Londo and Zann hope the cannon will soon become a reality so they can be a part of it.
“I’m, like, the youngest of the bunch,” Zann said. “And I’m 70.”
They traveled the area, giving presentations and asking businesses and clubs for donations. An arrangement with Alpena’s Exchange Club provides a safe place for donors to place funds for the effort.
The community should make it a point to remember past leaders because “that’s who we are,” Zann said. “And we can move forward by looking to the past to try to improve.”