Monthly Archives: August 2009

James Rifles, Part II – The Type 1

As mentioned in the previous post on James rifled guns, historians of artillery have defined a “true” James rifle as having a 3.80-inch diameter bore.  Charles T. James preferred that caliber for his work.  While other larger and smaller projectiles were produced, it was the 3.80-inch that best identifies the type.

Why 3.80-inch?  That bore size is odd when considering the “standard” bore diameters in use during the muzzle loading days – 6-pdr was 3.67-inch; 9-pdr was 4.2-inch, 12-pdr was 4.62-inch.  The James standard fell somewhere between a 6-pdr and a 7-pdr (3.86-inch) bore size.  And the later was not much more than a gauge for sizing, certainly not used for any issued field piece.  The only lead I have is a citation indicating the caliber was chosen as it allowed the gun-makers to ream out damaged and worn 6-pdrs and apply the rifling.  Makes sense, but implies the Army had a program in place to re-utilize and refurbish old field pieces.

Following successful trials of rifled guns, the Army did order a portion of the existing field gun stocks converted.  Later day historians have labeled this the “James Rifle, Type 1.”  All Type 1s, except one, have 15-groove rifling, 3.80-inch bore, and were either converted from or cast as Model 1841 6-pdr bronze field guns.  An example of this conversion is a field piece on display at Manassas National Battlefield Park, the southernmost of the field guns opposite Henry House Hill.

Model 1841 6-pdr Field Gun Rebored to James Rifle Type 1

Model 1841 6-pdr Field Gun Bored to James Rifle

A date on the left trunnion indicates the piece was cast in 1845.  And on the left trunnion is the stamp of N.P. Ames, of Springfield, Massachusetts.  The registry number 176 and the inspector’s initials J.W.R. (John Wolfe Ripley) is on the muzzle.

Muzzle of #176

Muzzle of #176

And a closer examination of the bore shows fifteen lands and grooves.

Fifteen Grooves - Count 'em!

Fifteen Grooves - Count 'em!

Certainly positive proof that at least some of the existing field pieces were taken in hand and bored out for James 3.80-inch projectiles.  Based on the tally of 22 other similar survivors, a handful of the older production Model 1841 from Cyrus Alger and Ames were modified in this manner.   Several of those survivors were later, in the post-war, taken in hand by the War Department at Gettysburg for conversion to false Napoleons, making identification tricky for cannon hunters today!   Still figure of over 600 Model 1841 6-pdrs produced before 1861, and around 250 of those cataloged as survivors, to find only 23 means the conversion was not too common.

Slightly more common are series of James Type 1 rifles which were delivered as new production.  Both Ames and Miles Greenwood of Cincinnati, Ohio produced such after 1861.  Fittingly, on display at Manassas also, but on the north end of the Confederate gun line, is one of Greenwood’s James Type 1 rifles from their lot of 51 delivered.

Greenwood James Rifle Type 1, Registry #47

Greenwood James Rifle Type 1, Registry #47

Barely visible on the battered trunnions are the manufacturer’s “M. Greenwood” and “Cincinnati O.” circling the year of manufacture – 1861.  The same 15 groove rifling was applied.  And clear at the twelve o’clock position is the number “47.”

Muzzle of Greenwood James Type 1

Muzzle of Greenwood James Type 1

Of course when mentioning the James rifles, one must recognize that Shiloh National Battlefield Park has the largest collection.  The Ames James Type 1 below is one of seventeen examples there.

Ames James Type 1 at Shiloh

Ames James Type 1 at Shiloh

This particular piece stands in a line of guns representing Ross’s Battery at the Peach Orchard.  On the left trunnion, barely visible, is the year 1861.  Clearer on the right trunnion is the manufacturer’s stamp – Ames Co. // Founders // Chicopee, Mass. Yes, the firm’s name changed after the death of Nathan P. Ames in 1847.  Chicopee and Springfield are adjacent, so the change likely did not indicate the foundry moved, but rather the preference of the new owner James T. Ames with regard to his mailing address did.

And yet another of these James Type 1 “new production” stands outside the Antietam National Battlefield Park visitor center.  It was featured in a post by Mannie Gentile last year.

Greenwood James Type 1, Registry #69

Greenwood James Type 1, Registry #69

The tactical impact of these bronze rifles was arguably negligible.  At 4 degrees of elevation, a standard 6-pdr could fire a shell to 1200 yards and solid shot to 1500 yards.  Based on field reports from the Peninsula Campaign of 1862, the James Type 1 rifles could fire a shell to 1400 yards.  (And defying the definition of the “James System” the recorded range was using Schenkl and Hotchkiss shells, not the James type designed for the gun!)  But the rifle did offer more accuracy.  And of course there was the unsolved problem with bore erosion on the bronze guns.

Regardless , the James Type 1 saw wide service early in the war when both armies were short of gun tubes.  Even as late as Chickamauga, in 1863, Confederate reports of captured ordnance list nine James rifles, which based on the recorded weight some would logically be James Type 1.  In service  the weapon was referred to by many names to include 12-pdr, 13-pdr Rifle, and the confusing “6-pdr Bronze Gun Rifled on James System.”  Enough variation in the primary sources to drive a researcher to drink!

There are two oddities within the James Type 1 set accepted by historians.  Neither of two I can say I’ve seen first hand.  The first is an iron field gun, with the same 15 groove rifling and 3.80 bore.  This interesting piece is said to be in Newport, Rhode Island and is similar in form to several experimental smoothbores produced by Cyrus Alger in 1854.  The other is likely the one and only Confederate James, produced by Scates & Co. of Mobile, Alabama in 1861.   It was reported in Ridgefield, New Jersey.  And it conforms to the dimensions and form of the Federal bronze James Type 1, to include the Model 1841 exterior lines.

In conclusion, the James Rifle, Type 1 was a derivative type matching the new technology with existing gun forms.  The type served to transition the armies, using existing stockpiles and production tooling, until the more advanced designs using iron, with cleaner lines, and advanced construction techniques were available.  At a time when artillery pieces were desperately needed, these were at least serviceable options.

———————————————————————————-

Aside from on site notes and links provided above, sources consulted for this post were:

Hazlett, James C., Edwin Olmstead, and M. Hume Parks. Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War, Revised Edition. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Muller, John.  A Treatise of Artillery.  Reprint of the 1780 edition.  Alexandria Bay, NY: Museum Restoration Service, 1977.  (Used to reference the standard artillery bore sizes.)

Olmstead, Edwin, Wayne E. Stark, and Spencer C. Tucker. The Big Guns: Civil War Siege, Seacoast and Naval Cannon. Alexandria Bay, NY: Museum Restoration Service, 1997.

Ripley, Warren. Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, 4th Edition. Charleston, S.C.: The Battery Press, 1984.

Fredericksburg – Slaughter Pen Farm

On the last weekend of July we managed a trip down to Fredericksburg to visit the Civil War Preservation Trust’s (CWPT) Slaughter Pen Farm.  For those not familiar with Fredericksburg, this section of the field was, as historian Frank O’Reilly is quick to point out, the critical sector of the battlefield on December 13, 1862.  While the fighting in front of Marye’s Heights has received the lion’s share of attention from historians, and veterans, the fighting that took place a few miles to the south was the only place the Federals had the opportunity to defeat the Confederates.  The narrative of events on the southern end of the battlefield had everything one desires in a good Civil War story line – personalities, critical errors, heroism, gallant charges, artillery duels…. all but a cavalry charge!

Sadly, the ground on the south end of the battlefield where this action took place was only partially preserved within the National Battlefield Park.  Much of the Confederate line, from Telegraph Hill to Prospect Hill, was preserved within the park.  Lee Drive loosely matches the old Military Road on which much of Jackson’s line stood.  However the ground where the Federal left formed, massed, advanced, and fought was not included in the park. While one could stand where General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson stood and contemplate the field, one could only visit the Federal side with permission from private property owners.

Perhaps the reasoning, as with other sites in the I-95 corridor in Virginia, that there was little chance the farmland would be transformed.  But over time, the area was transformed as housing subdivisions and commercial zones extended out from Fredericksburg.  In particular a small industrial site built first by Westinghouse in 1970, then later purchased by General Motors, stood where General George G. Meade’s division advanced in their assault on Prospect Hill.   (And that plant may close sometime in the near future.)

However, in 2005 when a tract of farmland adjacent to the GM plant was zone commercial and placed on the market, CWPT stepped up.  According to a marker on site, the price tag was $12 million.  With participation from other key allies, the Trust secured 208 acres of ground in 2006.  This effort stands as one of the most prominent preservation victories in the last five years.  As a result of the Trust’s efforts, our donations, and the support of many other organizations, now a visitor can take in the Federal side of the action.  And earlier this year the Trust added a set of markers to aid visitors.

The site is off US 17 (Tidewater Trail) south of Fredericksburg.  At present, the signage states one should contact the Trust (800-298-7878) before touring the field.

Entrance to the Slaughter Pen Farm

Entrance to the Slaughter Pen Farm

While there are several overview interpretive markers near the farm house, the “trailhead” itself is on the west side.   The first two stops highlight the advance of Meade’s Division.  While as mentioned above, the actual ground over which Meade’s men advance is largely developed, the markers pointed out a “Virginia ditch fence” of the type that impeded the advance.

Virginia Ditch Fence

Virginia Ditch Fence

And as seen in the photo, the corn was getting along.  While this hindered some of the orientation, it did serve to block off view of the nearby airport and much of the highway traffic.  Still I plan to revisit the site some time in the winter, if for nothing else to get a better feel for the ground and season in which the battle was fought.

Near where the trail makes an turn to the northwest, the third marker explains the impact of Confederate artillery on the advancing troops.  From that point, I found a good view to the southwest a to view Meade’s sector.

Looking Across the Field at Meade's Advance

Looking Across the Field at Meade's Advance

The buildings in the far distance are roughly where Meade’s Division passed.  The camera is about where Gibbon’s Division moved up to support.  Just looking at the gap here, one gets an impression for the limited support Meade’s assault received.

The trail then turns back southwest, and markers trace the advance of Gibbon’s Division.  The trail turns to parallel the railroad (wartime Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac).

The Wartime Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac RR

The Wartime Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac RR

The National Park Service ground borders the railroad on the other side.  Directly opposite this portion of the Slaughter Pen is the Bernard’s Cabins site (accessed via a trail off Lee Drive).  Here Gibbon’s men battled with Confederates of Scales’, Lane’s, and Thomas’ Brigades.

Section of Railroad in Front of Gibbon's Division

Section of Railroad in Front of Gibbon's Division

Pulling from my files, here is a view of the railroad looking from Bernard’s Cabins.

View From Bernard's Cabins

View From Bernard's Cabins

One of the last markers along the trail relates accounts of the Medal of Honor awardees from the fighting at the Slaughter Pen.  Five were awarded for actions in just this small section of the battlefield.

A Field of Honor

A Field of Honor

I’ve collected the markers under a Slaughter Pen Farm marker set (map) from HMDB.  But for “clean” views of the markers, the Trust has a virtual tour on their site.  This new collection also appears on the Fredericksburg battlefield by markers page.

Overall I found the Slaughter Pen Farm trail easy to navigate, with no challenging terrain.  The site is not developed to the extent that other sites are.  The entrance road is still unpaved, with parking areas around the post-war farm house.  The walking paths are primarily old farm lanes.  And I think this is a good thing, as opposed to asphalted roads and walking paths.  One might say the 20th century buildings can be removed, but I found them as nice reference points.  But several of the old farm lanes, including the entrance road, are traces of wartime lanes.  The markers say the trail is 1 3/4 mile long, and that visitors should plan for 90 minutes.  I walked the trail with my “staff” in just over an hour.

To close, I say the Slaughter Pen Farm is an excellent addition to any visit to Fredericksburg.  And a stop any student of the battle is advised to make.  And beyond the Civil War, the farm is an example of a preservation victory.  In light of the events occurring on the other end of Spotsylvania County, perhaps one can seek comfort here in what has been saved outside Fredericksburg.

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of August 24

Twenty-nine new entries this week in the Civil War Category.  These represent Civil War sites and memorials in the District of Columbia, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.  Here’s the rundown:

- Adding to our General Meade collection is an entry this week for the General’s memorial in Washington, D.C.

- “Wonderful view… even if the battlefield is gone” – A state marker discussing the Battle of Allatoona stands at an overlook of the Allatoona Dam.  The marker’s entry is somewhat fitting considering the passing of Bill Scaife last week.

- Another marker near Cartersville, Georgia notes the site of the Etowah munitions and iron works, which were of course burned by Sherman’s men in May 1864.

- The career of Georgia war-time Governor Joseph E. Brown is detailed on a marker in Canton, Georgia.

- Jeff Davis County, Georgia, which was formed in 1905, was named in tribute to the Confederate President.  The marker describing the county history also offers a short description of Davis’ career.

- In Elberton, Georgia a Confederate Memorial, which carries the distinct styling of something produced within the last few decades, lists those who lost their lives in the service of the Confederacy hailing from Elbert County.

- Violence during the war was not just confined to the South.  A marker in Fairbanks, Indiana points out a incident which occurred on July 14, 1864.  Anti-war Democrat John Drake was killed by a unidentified Union soldier, while attending a community picnic.

- Speaking again of violence outside the battlefield, in the lead up to the Civil War in “Bleeding Kansas” in January 1858, anti-slavery factions who claimed they were deceived in an election, destroyed a ballot box in Mound City, Kansas.  Unfortunately, the simple wood marker does not offer more details on this incident.

- The Civil War Memorial, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania stands at the center of a circle of veterans’ graves.

- A marker in Columbia, South Carolina indicates the birthplace of Brig. Gen. Maxcy Gregg, who was mortally wounded at the battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862.  A street in Columbia was named in Gregg’s honor.

- Also in Columbia, and added this week, is a marker indicting the site of the Palmetto Iron Works.  The factory modified flintlock muskets into percussion types, and later produced a series of small arms for the Confederacy.

- Another manufacturing site in South Carolina, this one in Batesburg – at the Pinarea Plantation stood a sawmill, flour mill, and rifle factory.  The rifle factory supplied weapons to the Confederacy.

- A marker discussing Church Quarter, in Doswell, Virginia relates an interesting story.  On July 16, 1862, as his men marched through, Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson stopped and asked for a drink of water.  When the woman living there discovered the identity of her guest, she preserved the cup Jackson used, handing it down to later generations as a memento of the incident.

- Eleven entries for my Shiloh project this week.  Most of these are along the Pittsburg Landing Road, but commemorate units that did not see action at Shiloh.  I like to call this the “We were here too!” monuments.  Several cavalry units, including a group monument for the Illinois Cavalry, stand along the north side of the road.  However, also in that area is the impressive Iowa Memorial.  Notice the figure that appears to write the inscription. More to follow on Shiloh, as my project moves back out into the fields!

- Four additions for the Battlefield at Fredericksburg this week.  These are new park waysides replacing some of the older interpretive panels and markers:  Dead Horse Hill, Prospect Hill, Hamilton’s Crossing, and Mannsfield Plantation.  These are now included on the “Federal Breakthrough / Prospect Hill” section of the Fredericksburg by Markers page.

One final note, if you look at the blog roll to the right, you’ll notice an addition of “My Adventures in History.”  While not strictly Civil War, in terms of content, I’ve placed it in that category for now.  Don’t know why I have not stumbled across Rebecca’s blog before, but let me extend a belated welcome to a fellow History Channel addict!