Scientists Preserve Cannons That Started The Civil War

Historic cannons from Fort Moultrie, South Carolina, that date to the Civil War have been meticulously conserved and returned to the fort, the National Park Service announced. Some of these big guns, weighing up to 15,000 pounds each, were used to fire on Fort Sumter just across Charleston Harbor. It was this attack on a federal fort that was the official start of the Civil War.

Scientists removed several layers of old paint from the 17 cannons and applied a coat of epoxy to protect them from rust. They also applied a durable coat of fresh paint. The cannons are exposed to the elements as well as salty, humid sea air, so choosing the right coating can make the difference between an evocative, educational exhibit and a rusting heap of trash.

Fort Moultrie is part of the Fort Sumter National Monument and has the world’s largest collection of American seacoast artillery from the 19th century. Last year a team of conservators visited Fort Sumter and treated several artillery shells from these cannons, many of which have been stuck in the fort’s walls since the day they were fired.

Madrid day trip: the Alcázar castle in Segovia

As I mentioned yesterday, Segovia makes a great day trip from Madrid. One of the highlights of any visit is the Alcázar, or castle. Rising from the highest point on the promontory on which Segovia is built, it dominates the town and looks impossible to attack. The architects cut away part of the bedrock to make a dry moat cutting off the castle from the rest of the town, so to get in you have to cross a drawbridge over a deep drop. Don’t look down if you’re afraid of heights!

There may have been a fort here in Roman times, and there certainly was one when the Moors controlled this part of Spain. The present castle was built in the early 12th century and was added to and remodeled several times. Several Castilian monarchs used the castle as their palace. Isabella was living here when she was crowned in 1474, and she married King Ferdinand II here. In 1492 they reconquered Granada, the last Muslim holdout on the Iberian peninsula. They also sponsored some crazy explorer named Columbus to sail across the Atlantic to find India that year, but the big news was capturing Granada.

Several rooms are decorated with suits of armor, including knights on horseback. Even the horses have armor, which was called barding. The walls are adorned with medieval and Renaissance paintings showing courtly and battle scenes. Check out the ceilings to see some intricate painting and relief work that shows Muslim influence. When the Spanish and Moors weren’t fighting, they were trading ideas and Spain was a melting pot of different cultures. The throne room and the chapel are the most impressive rooms and have been restored to their original splendor.

%Gallery-128521%Starting in 1896 and for much of the twentieth century, the Alcázar housed the Artillery Academy. There’s a large artillery museum here showing the development of artillery and the daily life of the cadets. Unfortunately the signage is all in Spanish, but a lot of the displays are self-explanatory.

Military aficionados will love the Armory, a long vaulted room filled with medieval arms and armor. There are numerous examples of early cannon from the 15th century. The first depiction of a cannon dates to 1326, and by 1375 they were being used in sieges to knock down walls. The days of castles were numbered. These cannons are pretty crude, made of long strips of iron welded together with loops around them like barrels (hence the name) to strengthen them.

If medieval warfare isn’t your thing, you’ll still appreciate the views you can get from the many windows and battlements. If you’re feeling fit, ascend the steep, winding staircase up to the top of the tower for sweeping views of Segovia and the surrounding countryside. This is an excellent spot to take pictures.

Love castles? Check out our posts on the ten toughest castles in the world and the ten best castles in Europe!

Making sense of the North Korean artillery attacks

I left Uijongbu, South Korea in the second half of September 1998. My olive drab duffle bag slung over my shoulder, I walked to the bus that would take me to Osan Air Base and a flight back to Boston. My one-year tour had come to an end, and it was time to leave, with eight months in Georgia all that stood between me and my discharge.

It was a busy year, particularly because of the U.S. missile strikes on Tanzania and Afghanistan, not to mention the entangling of a small North Korean submarine in South Korean fishing nets. Because of this, not to mention my proximity to the DMZ (and North Korean artillery on the other side of it), I took an interest in activity on the Korean peninsula that has not waned in the ensuing dozen years. So, when I awoke this morning to news of an artillery exchange on the west coast of South Korea, I paid attention immediately.

Seoul, now the second largest city in the world, is only around 35 miles from the DMZ, making it highly vulnerable to attacks from North Korea. Uijongbu has turned into a second city of sorts – think of it as similar to Stamford, CT in relation to New York City – turning it into a valuable target, as well.


Though most North Korean artillery can’t reach Seoul – Business Insider reports that only 17 of them can – there’s plenty of havoc that can be wrought between the capital and the border.

Early in my tour, a simple lesson was communicated: get comfortable with your protective mask (called a “gas mask” by those not in the business of wearing them). My memory has faded – it has been a while after all – but I think I can recall it with some degree of accuracy. In Seoul, you have 60 seconds to don your “pro mask” in the event of an attack. In Uijongbu, it shrinks to 16 seconds. In Dongduchon, where I was stationed for a few months, you have nine seconds … and in Panmunjom, on the DMZ, all you have time to do is gasp.

This is the reality of the peninsula. Seoul is an incredible destination – and one that should be on your list. The DMZ tour is a unique experience, I’m told (I couldn’t go because of service obligations the night before), offering a rare look at one of the most dangerous places on the planet. Nonetheless, it remains a region at risk.

Well, how risky is it?


That’s difficult to say. During my stint in South Korea, there was little happening day to day to remind you of the unpleasantness only a road march away. We conducted the business of keeping the army running in much the same manner that we did when I was stationed in Georgia. The growth of the South Korean economy demonstrates this on a larger scale, and even the recent attack seems unlikely to be followed by an all-out war. The shelling has been called the most aggressive act since fighting was ended by cease fire in 1953, but there have been other instances of hostility in the intervening decades, from acts of terrorism to exchanges of small-arms fire.

The timing of the incident also indicates that there is underlying motivation aside from an urge for conquest or destruction. U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth indicated that it probably wasn’t coincidental, reports Time Magazine, saying that it followed the inspection of a new nuclear facility by former Los Alamos labs director Siegfried Hecker (who, interestingly, spoke at my undergrad commencement ceremony in 1997, only a few months before I checked in at Dongduchon’s Camp Mobile to begin my tour). Also, the recent leadership succession announcement, in which Kim Jong-il’s son, Kim Jong-un was anointed, may have played a role.


Doubtless, this event will have an effect on tourism to South Korea – especially if financial market activity is a reasonable indicator. A reminder that we live in (and travel to) a world at risk, however, shouldn’t act as a deterrent. I miss Uijongbu and Dongduchon, sipping soju and chomping yaki-mandu. It’s a strange environment, moving freely when you know the same opportunity isn’t afforded a dozen miles away, which only serves to define the experience further.

So, you tell us: would you visit South Korea right now?


[photo by tiseb via Flickr]