The examination of the Model 1839 42-pdr Seacoast guns leaves me with several riddles to examine, but allows mention of a remote seacoast fortification.
Earlier I introduced the four model numbers of the 42-pdr seacoast gun class in American service during the Civil War era. Although by regulation the class was declared obsolete at the start of the Civil War, since quantities remained on hand these weapons continued to serve in fortifications both north and south. Let me recall again the chart showing particulars of the four models.
In the late 1830s, the Army’s Ordnance Department began experiments to improve the artillery system. From field artillery up to the large seacoast guns, the Army purchased small quantities of cannon for tests and evaluation. All of this culminated in the models of 1840 or 1841 in the various classes. Those models are familiar to many readers for service in the Mexican War and at the start of the Civil War. In the 42-pdr seacoast class, the only experimental type purchased was the Model 1839.
In 1839 the Army ordered two “new pattern” 42-pdrs, one each from Columbia Foundry in Washington, D.C. and West Point Foundry in New York. As mentioned in the earlier article, externally the Model 1839 differed from the earlier production models by lacking a breeching ring and a two-inch longer reinforce. Other details on the design are sparse, and many dimensions are marked above as speculative. Other contemporary orders for iron cannon in other calibers called for various forms of iron – cast, mottled, annealed, and wrought. No such specifications were recorded for the 42-pdrs. (But I would not drop that line of questioning until further information emerges.)
According to receipts, Columbia delivered their 8,582 pound gun in March 1840 for John Wolfe Ripley’s inspection. From there, the gun disappears from the record. Likely the Army tested the Columbia 42-pdr to destruction, but no proof sheets have come to light.
West Point delivered a 42-pdr of the new pattern a few months earlier, in December 1839. William Maynadier inspected the piece that month and recorded a weight of 8,389 pounds. The difference between the two guns may be just normal casting variations. Or, as alluded to above, could indicate a different metal working process.
As with the Columbia gun, the West Point gun disappears from formal records. Although presumably proofed, the gun was not destroyed in the tests. Today it sits in the very remote Battery Bienvenue outside New Orleans, Louisiana. State forces seized this third system defense covering one of the bayou approaches to New Orleans in January 1861. Very likely the West Point 42-pdr has sat at the battery at least since 1861. Not clear is if the West Point 42-pdr was at the battery when state forces took over the fortifications, or if Confederates brought the gun out of reserve stocks.
This raises several possibilities regarding the West Point gun. After proofing the Army may have deemed it acceptable for service, then issued the gun to the remote fortification in Louisiana, where in turn it fell into Confederate hands. Or on the other hand, the West Point gun may have sat in one of the arsenals or forts captured by the seceding states in 1861, then reallocated to the defenses of New Orleans.
Regardless of the West Point gun’s service, the Army didn’t order any more experimental 42-pdrs. Instead, Ordnance officers drafted a new design and placed orders for quantity production of a “pattern of 1840.” In 1841, the Bellona Foundry, run by John Clarke, outside Richmond, Virginia received a contract to cast nineteen of the new type. However when Ordnance officials began inspecting the first castings, they noted the use of “pattern of 1839″ forms. Apparently the Army needed the guns quickly. Instead of rejecting the batch, the Army accepted the first twelve Bellona pieces on the order as Model 1839. Subsequent production from the foundry switched to the desired Model 1840 type.
None of the Bellona production batch survive today. As mentioned above, only the West Point example remains from the experimental pair. I’ve never been to Battery Bienvenue, only viewed the site through some images provided by “The Wandering Men” on their Flickr photostream.
Records show the battery contains several Civil War era guns – 12-pdr Model 1819 Siege, 32-pdr Model 1829 Seacoast, 42-pdr Model 1845 Seacoast – in addition to the West Point 42-pdr Model 1839 mentioned above.
Yes, I’d love to take a canoe out there some time!
Discussing the Model 1839 42-pdr I’m left with questions about the particulars of the guns, how the West Point piece ended up at Battery Bienvenue, and what happened to the Bellona Foundry batch. Likely the only resolution will come from still undiscovered records. The lone survivor out there in the Louisiana swamps is not talking anytime soon.
Aside from on site notes and links provided above, sources consulted for this post were:
Birkhimer, William, Historical Sketch of the Organization, Administration, Material and Tactics of the Artillery, United States Army. Washington: James J. Chapman, 1884. Particularly pages 274-8 discussing the evolution of the American systems of artillery.
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.