Mt Vernon, IN - The pace of this county has been determined by the flow of the Ohio River since the days it was formed. The Ohio opened middle America up to the settlers from Pennsylvania and New England. Flat boats brought goods from the east, along with pioneer families that would establish themselves as merchants and farmers. On the return trip the boats and barges were full of fur pelts, some produce and, sometimes, less than happy pioneers that found the western frontier just too much to handle. The impact and importance of the Ohio River as a viable transportation corridor is still seen today as coal barges are pushed up and down by commercial tow boats. 

The monument here was an ambitious project for 1902, and to the casual eye might not give any clue about the influence of the river. But I spotted a sly reference almost immediately. One of the four figures at the base of the monument is a sailor of the Union Navy. Called a leadsman, he is a deck hand with an important mission. He tosses the line forward of the prow, allowing the weight to hit bottom and slack the line. When then takes the slack from the line just enough to make it taught. He then looks for bits of leather or colored fabric tied to the line at six foot intervals. Six feet in nautical terms is a fathom. When a leadsman called out "By the mark, three," the river depth was about eighteen feet. If the boat had a eight foot draft there was still ten feet of water below the keel.  It wasn't the most effective depth gauge, but it gave the pilot a bit of warning that the keel of the vessel may be approaching a shoal.

The people of the 19th and early 20th century were expected to be observant. Items like this gave a deeper explanation than any broze plaque could. Veterans sailors especially identified with this element and took it as a compliment from the sculptor. Likewise, similar elements spoke to veterans of the other services - the gunner holds what essentially is a large swab to clear hot embers from the canon bore before another load of power and shot are tossed into the barrel, The infantrymen holds two different types of rifles and accessories. One rifle is a carbine, used by mounted men and others intended to be very mobile, while the other expect to be close enough to any enemy to use a bayonet. This monument works hard to reveal that each veteran had his own job, his own responsibility to the others in his unit.



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