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From Cannon to Mascot to Beer:  The Story of the Red Jacket

 

“Red Jacket” is the name of a small brass cannon, first used during the Civil War to fire salutes.  The history is deeply interwoven within Columbus’ culture and traditions.  Its story is as follows:

 

In 1843 the Georgia legislature officially charted the Columbus Guards, a military company organized in 1835.  They served voluntarily in the Indian War (1836), the War with Mexico (1846-48), the War Between the States (1861-65), the Spanish War (1898), on the Mexican Border (1916-17), and the First World War (1914-18); after which they became inactive. The Columbus Guards furnished the largest number of volunteers of any of the 21 companies from Muscogee County in the Civil War. Serving in 31 battles, the Company surrendered at Appomattox April 9, 1865, with but 2 officers and 11 men.

 

In 1861, Laura Beecher (cousin to Harriet Beecher Stowe) presented the Columbus Guards with a small salute gun in honor of her nephew Lieutenant W. G. Clements.  The name “Red Jacket” it seems came from the red jackets worn by the Columbus Guards.  The thirty-six inch long, two-inch bore, piece was said to have been cast somewhere in the south during the war.  A roughly cut end of the right trunnion showed signs of hurriedly done work; the reason for this unusual workmanship is unknown.  The unit was inscribed “Red Jacket - Presented to the Columbus Guards by Lieutenant Clements, July 1861” and mounted on a field carriage for easy transport.  

 

The cannon was first used by the Columbus Guards to fire a salute of 500 guns when Georgia seceded from the Union and was also used to fire salutes for Confederate Army and Navy victories.  On February 18, 1861 it served as honor guard in Montgomery Alabama; firing salutes to the newly inaugurated Confederate President - Jefferson Davis.  

 

At the fall of Columbus to General Wilson in 1865, the cannon was thrown into the Chattahoochee river, near the city Warf, to prevent it from being captured by the Federal Army.  

 

Four years later, the steamboat Shamrock found the cannon entangled in its anchor.  Captain George H. Whiteside sold it as junk to James W. Godfrey, a New York City armorer.  Godfrey used the cannon in firing salutes at the New York City Hall during public demonstrations.  Several years later a reporter wrote a description of the Red Jacket in a New York paper.  Tom Blanchard of Columbus saw the article and sent it to Captain Lamar H. Chappel of the Columbus Guard.  Correspondence ensued and Mr. Godfrey returned the cannon to the Columbus Guards with the following inscription engraved on the piece:

 

“Restored to the Columbus Guards April 28, 1884 by James W Godfrey, of New York.”

 

The Red Jacket was placed outside of the old Columbus library and courthouse, where it remained for many years.  During this time it gave its name as the Jordan Vocational High School Mascot.  In 1930 the cannon was stolen from its carriage and taken to the river in an attempt to fire it.  The gun exploded, bursting into many pieces.  Alva C. Smith, secretary-treasurer of the Historical Society of Columbus, gathered the pieces and had the cannon rebuilt.  The original Red Jacket was taken to the Columbus Ironworks Trade and Convention Center where it remains on permanent display.

 

In 1996, William Gantt produced a drawing of the gun, from previously taken measurements.  The Breitling Arms Company of Demo Polis Alabama was commissioned to build a full-sized, fireable replica of the Red Jacket for The Cannon Brewpub, a Columbus restaurant and microbrewery.  On July 29th, 1998 the gun was successfully fired one hundred and thirty years after the original.  The replica is currently on display at The Cannon Brewpub, greeting guests as they arrive to the restaurant, and is also the namesake for one of their most popular beers – The Red Jacket.

JVHS Alumni Association

P.O. Box 1456

Columbus, GA 31902

Jordan Vocational High School, Columbus Georgia