Monthly Archives: July 2008

Guns of the CSS Tennessee

Around the corner from the guns from the CSS Atlanta are three 6.4 inch and one 7 inch Double Banded Brooke Rifles. These four trophies are from the CSS Tennessee. Like those of the CSS Atlanta, these are artifacts linked to a specific historical event, in this case one of the best known naval battles of the Civil War.

6.4in Double Banded Brooke Rifles

6.4in Double Banded Brooke Rifles

On August 5, 1864 at around 6 a.m., from his flagship USS Hartford, Admiral David Farragut led his fleet of eighteen warships, including the four monitors USS Tecumseh, USS Manhattan, USS Winnebago, and USS Chickasaw, into Mobile Bay, Alabama. Running past the forts at the mouth of the bay, at around 7:45 a.m. the USS Tecumseh hit a mine, which of course prompted Farragut’s famous reply, “Damn the torpedoes!” Braving the torpedoes (minefield), the Federal fleet soon met the next threat – the CSS Tennessee.

The CSS Tennessee was built from the keel up as an ironclad at Selma, Alabama. Her main armament consisted of two 7 inch Double Banded Brooke Rifles on pivots fore and aft. The broadsides were four 6.4 inch Double Banded Brookes, two per side. For protection, the ironclad had plate iron varying from 6 inch thickness on the forward end, to 5 inch on the sides, down to 2 inches on the deck. This combination of armor and rifled guns made the Confederate ship rather formidable, but for three weaknesses. First was poor propulsion limiting speed to 5 knots. Second, the limited deck armor did not protect the chains linking the steering to the tiller. Lastly, the with the weight of all that iron, the Tennessee ran deep in the water. Prior to the Battle of Mobile Bay, the ironclad had experienced difficulties even getting to Mobile Bay past the shoals and bars in the bay. Confederate Admiral Franklin Buchanan had planned a raid on Pensacola, Florida, only to be thwarted when the Tennessee ran aground prior to the sortie.

Despite the shortcomings, the Admiral Buchanan ordered the Tennessee to close with the Federal fleet (when he could have stayed under the guns of Fort Morgan) that morning in Mobile Bay. For about two hours, the ironclad fought a lopsided contest against the entire Federal fleet. Lacking the speed to maneuver against her opponents, the Tennessee was rammed several times. Later, with the steering linkage shot away, the Confederate ship was at the mercy of her opponents. Buchanan authorized the Tennessee’s surrender at around 10 a.m.

As with the CSS Atlanta, after surrender the Tennessee was taken into the Federal Navy. Weeks after its capture, the USS Tennessee assisted in the capture of Fort Morgan, on August 23, 1864. Later she served on the Mississippi. Eventually after the war, she was sold for scrap, of course with the guns salvaged as trophies for the Navy Yard.

The profile of these Brookes show the distinctive second layering of bands (again butt welded, as opposed to wrought iron of the Parrotts). The 6.4 inch Rifles were produced at Tredegar, like their single banded cousins from the Atlanta. But the 7 inch Rifle was a Selma Naval Gun Foundry product.

7 inch Double Banded Brooke

7 inch Double Banded Brooke

But these four guns are not the only artifacts linked to the Battle of Mobile Bay in Washington, D.C. At the front of the Navy Museum is an anchor from the USS Hartford. While this writer feels it stretches things a bit, it is possible the anchor was on board Farragut’s flagship during the battle.

USS Hartford Anchor - Left side of the Entrance

USS Hartford Anchor - Left side of the Entrance

Ok, how about one further artifact, sort of:

Admiral Farragut Monument - Farragut Square

Admiral Farragut Monument

Several blocks north, and on the other side of the Capital Mall from the Navy Yard, stands a ten foot tall statue of Admiral Farragut. The bronze for the mortars at the base of the statue (and possibly the statue itself) were cast using metal from the propellers of the USS Hartford. All told, a lot of “metal” reminders inside the Capital Beltway which share a common link to a battle in Alabama.

HMDB Civil War Marker Updates

Just a few odds and ends to mention:

  • Created a new “virtual tour by markers” for Fredericksburg – Sunken Road and Marye’s Heights (Map). More of Fredericksburg in the future. Many of the markers in the park are currently posted, but not grouped.
  • A growing number of markers from Georgia with Civil War themes. At least three active contributors to HMDB are adding markers related to the battles around Atlanta and Decatur.
  • Another contributor has added a score of markers from Charles City County, Virginia which have a common theme – references to the passing of the Army of the Potomac in 1864. The county is well known for its surviving antebellum homes and structures.
  • Finally, I’ve finished posting the East Cavalry Battlefield markers (map), with the exception of the 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry monument (Now including the 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry Monument).
  • The map of Civil War related content added to the database since July 14 covers from Key West, Florida to Texas to Iowa to New Jersey.  Pretty good geographic mix, if I do say so.

Lastly, a non-Civil War marker note. Recently a marker to Major Thomas D. Howie, from South Carolina, was added. Howie was killed in action during the Normandy campaign in World War II while leading his battalion toward a town called St. Lo. His last words were, “See you in St. Lo.”  Doesn’t sound very noteworthy, but in June-July 1944, St. Lo was one of several points that had to be taken in order to make the big breakout. Remember from Saving Private Ryan, as Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) spoke with Captain Hamill (Ted Danson):

Captain Hamill: You got to take Caen so you can take Saint Lo.
Captain Miller: You’ve got to take Saint Lo to take Valognes.
Captain Hamill: Valognes you got Cherbourg.
Captain Miller: Cherbourg you got Paris.
Captain Hamill: Paris you got Berlin.
Captain Miller: And then that big boat home.

For me, the definitive account of St. Lo is Glover S. John’s The Clay Pigeons of St. Lo.  John was a battalion commander during the operations, and wrote a vivid account of the operations.  I picked the book up at the Fort Benning bookstore sometime early on in my Army career.  Of all the “professional reading” I did as a young Lieutenant, none impressed me more than John’s book.  John’s writing helped me understand the fog of war from a personal perspective, and what I as a leader had to consider when operating under that haze.  The book also illustrated quite well the attachment a commander makes to his men as well as the love-hate relation that invariably  develops between a line officer and the staff officers.

At any rate, a little snippet of my personal history.  But the main reason I mention Major Howie is the original marker entry was backed up by an entry of a monument for Howie in France:  Thomas D. Howie.  It is the first entry from France in the database.  Brings back some memories of my abbreviated tours of the World War II battle sites in Europe.  I do hope more monuments and markers from “across the pond” find their way into the database, particularly those for World War I and II.

Guns of the CSS Atlanta

One of the charms about the U.S. Naval Museum at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. are the outdoor cannon exhibits. For field artillery, rarely can a specific piece be tracked back to a “known” history. One notable exception is Calef’s gun, firing the first shot at Gettysburg. On the other hand, a large portion of Naval ordnance can often be traced back to a specific ship and occasionally, by way of that fact, to a specific historical incident. The collection at the Navy Yard in Willard Park and Leutze Park include some noteworthy pieces with such histories. Four pieces in Willard Park, sitting between a massive World War I railway gun and a 16-inch battleship gun, trace back to an incident which occurred on June 17, 1863.

Four Brookes in Willard Park

Four Brookes in Willard Park

The guns were originally the main armament of the CSS Atlanta captured off the Georgia coast. All are Brooke Rifles cast at Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond. The Confederate ironclad included two 7-inch Single Banded Brooke rifles, mounted fore and aft on pivot. Complementing these were two 6.4 inch Single Banded Brookes, on broadside mounts.

The Atlanta began life as a blockade runner named Fingal. Like many Confederate naval projects, she was a novel wartime adaptation of what was available. With the upper structure cut down, a frame was built and armored with railway iron. The weight of armor caused the ship to run deep, with a draft of 16 feet. Furthermore the she maneuvered sluggishly. Both issues that factored in the ironclad’s later fate. On June 17, 1863, commanded by Lieutenant William A. Webb, the Atlanta maneuvered into Wassaw Sound to attempt a breakout to the open sea. Webb was confronted by the monitors USS Weehawken and USS Nahant under Captain John Rodgers. Early on, the Atlanta ran aground on a shoal and became an easy target for the Federal gunners. Faced with an impossible situation, Webb surrendered. The Atlanta was later repaired and placed into Federal navy service. She served with the James River squadron blockading Richmond. Presumably, the armament of the ironclad was dismounted after the war as trophies when the ship was scrapped. Some accounts have the ship sold to Haiti, without the Brookes obviously, but floundering in transit off Cape Hatteras.

The Atlanta in the James.  Photo from the Naval Historical Center Collection.

From the Naval Historical Center Collection

The Brookes are worth a more detailed discussion. All four were “early” Brooke guns and share some visual similarities with the Parrott rifles. While later Brookes had multiple reinforcing bands, these have a single band, much like the Parrotts. The two main differences between Parrotts and Brookes require some close inspection. Parrotts have rectangular groove, right hand “gain” twist rifling, with the number of grooves increasing by caliber. Brookes have a triangular profile, constant rate, right hand twist rifling, with the number of grooves for either caliber set at seven. Furthermore, while the bands look similar, those of the Parrott were wrought iron, while those of the Brooke were but welded.

6.4 Inch Brooke Single Banded Rifle

6.4 Inch Brooke Single Banded Rifle

7 inch Brooke Single Banded Rifle

7 inch Brooke Single Banded Rifle

The guns themselves carry interesting “trophy” inscriptions inscribed on the breech. While each is a little different they generally identify the capture date, the CSS Atlanta, and caliber. At least one inscription cites the Brooke as an “imitation” of the Parrott rifle. The inscription and founder’s marks link the guns to the ironclad.

Left side inscription on 7 Inch Brooke

Left side inscription on 7 Inch Brooke

Right Side Inscription on 7 inch Brooke

Right Side Inscription on 7 inch Brooke

These are not the only Brookes in the Navy Yard. Several from the CSS Tennessee in particular are on display nearby. But those are later models with multiple reinforcing bands. In fact, only five single banded Brookes exist today. In addition to the four on display at Willard Park, a fifth single banded Brooke is in the trophy collection at West Point. It too has an Atlanta connection. At West Point a 7 inch Brooke is listed as trophy No. 180, captured at Charleston, S.C. at the end of the war. Previous to it’s employment on land defenses, that particular weapon had been issued to the Atlanta, but rejected due to defects.

My “what if” of the day, regards the possibility of the Atlanta reaching open water. Her speed was not much better than the Federal monitors, so a sortie as a “raider” doesn’t make much sense. However, some hit and run attacks on the blockading squadrons around Savannah, Charleston and North Carolina might have caused concerns. Timing, of course, is everything. Imagine the newspapers on July 5, 1863 with competing banner headlines: “Grant Takes Vicksburg!” “More Details of the Great Battle in Pennsylvania!” “Confederate Ram Sinks more Supply Vessels off Charleston!”