After the Civil War, the United States Army’s focus changed from battlefield to peacetime activities and frontier defense. Most western forts had both cavalry and infantry, but the majority of artillery personnel were stationed at coastal fortifications or at posts near larger cities. Like most frontier forts, Fort Concho had some cannon manned by infantry soldiers trained by artillery personnel sent from post to post.
Artillery was of limited effectiveness in the west. Rugged terrain and mobile adversary made a heavy piece of ordnance difficult to transport and operate in a battle situation. Still, there were some cases when artillery, especially the more portable mortar and mountain howitzer, contributed to victory. More commonly however, a cannon had ceremonial value, providing the morning and evening salute and being employed for other special occasions.
Fort Concho’s cannon is a three-inch ordnance rifle. It is a replica of the weapon assigned to the fort between 1875 and 1889. It could fire a 9.5 pound shell 1800 yards using one pound of powder at five degrees of elevation. In addition to solid shot, the piece could fire an exploding shell (with a timed or impact fuse) and canister (a tin can containing iron balls). The rifling or grooves in the bore would impart spin to the shell, thus increasing accuracy and range.
As was the case over a century ago, the artillery at Fort Concho is assigned to the infantry. The unit’s primary function is educational; its members participate in activities on and off the Fort Concho grounds to educate the public about the life of the frontier soldiers and dependents. The cannon crew also takes part in community celebrations while promoting San Angelo and Fort Concho.
The Fort Concho Artillery is dedicated to authenticity in its uniforms, equipment, and on-field programs. The gun crew follows the standard drill of the period. Late nineteenth century military rank and procedure are followed during an activity. A separate “out-of-uniform” system allows all members a voice in unit affairs.
As a volunteer organization, the Fort Concho Living History Program is continually looking for new members. Most unit activities take place on evenings and weekends. So, if you have an interest in history and community service, you are welcome to look into an “enlistment.” For more information, call (325) 657-4443 or e-mail LivingHistory@FortConcho.com.