Re-enactor from Altoona builds cannon in basement

This week, amid the report of rifles and the clash of sabres around the Gettysburg battlefield, an Altoona man’s basement creation rose above the din.

Dave Seedenburg’s 3-inch ordnance rifle – fully operational and capable of firing shells, a rarity among re-enactment cannons – spent three days in front of the Pennsylvania State Memorial for the battle’s 150th anniversary. A crew of eight men demonstrated the heavy work required to operate 19th-century artillery.

Seedenburg, a re-enactor with the 1st Pennsylvania Volunteer Artillery, Battery D, built the 2,300-pound piece largely in his home two years ago, piecing together a wheeled carriage and machining the metal parts to create a historically accurate gun.

“I’ve always built and restored Kentucky long rifles,” Seedenburg said Wednesday, referring to an 18th-century musket type. “I must have little-man syndrome or something – I wanted to go bigger.”

The cannon fires a 10-pound metal ball and requires a pound of gunpowder to fire. While most re-enactors’ cannons merely make a loud “boom,” Seedenburg’s gun has fired on targets for annual competitions, he said.

Videos posted online show the cannon’s crew backing away just before the blast; as it recoils some 12 feet and a cloud of powder smoke spreads through the air.

During the Civil War, a Confederate gunner offered a grudging compliment to the Pennsylvania-built cannons used by his enemies and replicated by Seedenburg’s unit, according to a war historian.

“The Yankee 3-inch rifle was a dead shot at any distance under a mile. They could hit the end of a flour barrel more often than miss, unless the gunner got rattled,” the officer said.

Seedenburg’s comrades, hardcore re-enactors who wear Civil War gear down to the underwear, are granted much-sought-after permission to work on the historic battlefield, he said. Most traditional re-enactors are kept in surrounding areas.

The crew refrained from firing the shells Seedenburg handworks in his home; instead, they demonstrated the loading and firing process for anniversary tourists and onlookers.

Seedenburg said he wasn’t able to attend this week’s demonstrations – he had to work in Altoona – but soon the cannon will return to its home: a specially built addition separate from his house.

“I put it in a garage up the road from me,” Seedenburg said. “I ran out of room.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.