The big guns in Lafayette Park, near the Kern Pavilion, date to the American Revolution. They were given to the park in October 1897 by an association of former Union military officers and their descendants. This is the only Revolutionary War monument in St. Louis.
The three guns were aboard a British frigate, the H.M.S. Acteon, that ran aground in June of 1776, during an attempt by the British to capture Charleston, South Carolina. They lay at the bottom of Charleston Harbor until 1887 when a ship struck them. The guns were raised from the wreckage, sold at auction, and purchased by members of the Missouri Commandery of MOLLUS, who donated them to the park in 1897.
They have been displayed on wooden carriages about 15 feet apart with a small carronade in the center flanked by the two long guns, barrels pointing to the west. A plaque was placed in front of the carronade, and relates the history of the guns.
In time, the original wooden carriages were replaced with others which deteriorated to the point of collapse. The Lafayette Park Conservancy ordered a new wooden carriage for one of the long guns in 2008 and constructed a brick masonry platform. The platform was extended in 2016 to hold the second long gun and its new carriage. Both carriages are made of long lasting tropical wood.
The carronade (center gun) was shipped to Maryland in 2015 for conservation to counter deterioration from being submerged in seawater for 111 years. It rejoined its battery mates two years later.
H.M.S. Acteon and the Battle of Sullivan’s Island
In early 1776, the British attempted to divide the colonies by invading the Carolinas. The immediate goal was to rally local Loyalists and gain landing sites for troops. The frigate Action, armed “with 28 guns and swivels,” was part of a fleet of forty to fifty ships under the command of Admiral Parker. The armada carried a large infantry force as well, led by General Clinton.
When the fleet arrived off Charleston in early June, 1776, it encountered rebel fortifications on Sullivan’s Island. Paired palmetto log walls filled in between with sand blocked access to the harbor. Clinton landed troops on a nearby island and waited for the tide to allow Parker’s heavy warships to enter the harbor before crossing over to begin his attack.
Parker opened fire with a bombardment at close range, but the palmetto logs and sand absorbed the shot while the fort’s cannon inflicted serious damage to several of the warships. Admiral Parker ordered three lighter draft vessels, including the Acteon, to sail closer to bombard the fort, but they ran aground. Two were able to extricate themselves but the Acteon became stuck fast. Her crew set her on fire and abandoned ship.
The victory over a superior British military force at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island was celebrated in Charleston for almost 200 years. It came at a time when George Washington, having occupied the heights overlooking Boston, waited for cannons captured at Fort Ticonderoga to arrive. The Continental Congress was in Philadelphia debating a resolution to declare independence from Great Britain. It was a pivotal moment in American history.