Rifled 42-pounders – The Federal Side

As mentioned in earlier posts about the 42-pdr seacoast guns, the history of the type begins to thread out a bit after production of the Model 1845.  Concurrent with the start of the Civil War, technical advances rendered the 42-pdr caliber unsuitable for seacoast work.  Although obsolete, both sides continued to use the weapons, lacking substitutes.  Many remained in the forts or moved to the inland garrisons to bolster those defenses.  At the same time, both sides eyed the 42-pdrs for “upgrades” that might render an otherwise useless weapon of some value.

On the Federal side, several 42-pdrs became “James Rifles.”  My research has drawn dead-ends with regard to contracts, time frame, and even the particulars such as rifling.  But field reports link the “James” name to some rifled 42-pdrs.  (I would stress the difference between these modified siege guns and the bronze field pieces commonly known as “James rifles.”  See the link above for a discussion of the James system.  Further posts expanded on the variants of the James field rifle family.)

Reduction of Fort Pulaski, from the OR Atlas

In his official report of the siege of Fort Pulaski in April 1862, General Quincy Gilmore leaves little doubt about the weapons used in Battery McClellan, citing them as “two 84 and two 64-pounders James, old 42 and 32 pounders rifled…”  Gilmore’s report also included orders to the gunners indicating the rifled 42-pdrs used 8 pound powder charges at a 4-¼° to a range of 1,650 yards.  “Each piece should fire once every five or six minutes after the elevation has been established.  Charge to remain the same.  This battery should breach the work in the pan-coupé between the south and southeast faces and the embrasure next to it in the southeast face.  The steel scraper for the grooves should be used after every fifth or sixth discharge. ”  [Note 1] (Please see my earlier post on the reduction of Fort Pulaski for more information about the batteries.)

After the siege, Gilmore spoke highly of the James 42-pdrs – “No better piece for breaching can be desired than the 42-pounder James.  The grooves, however, must be kept clean.  Parrott guns throwing as much metal as the James would be equally good, supposing them to fire as accurately as the 30-pounder Parrott.”  [Note 2]  Of course, the War Department already had contracts for 6.4- and 8-inch Parrott rifles, in line with Gilmore’s recommendation.

Gilmore does not provide specifics such as the style of rifling for the James guns or even if the rifles were banded.  One would assume banding paired with the rifling process to reinforce the metal over the breech.

Another reference to rifled 42-pounders, but not directly linked to the “James Rifles” comes from the Naval records.  Several of the Federal Mississippi River Squadron carried rifled 42-pdrs in lieu of ordnance from naval sources.  The USS Cairo carried  “3 Army rifles 80 cwt.” when she sank.[Note 3]  The “cwt” is the old abbreviation for hundredweight, apparently referring to the gun’s 8,500-pound weight.  And yes, when Ed Bearss and crew recovered the Cairo, they found all three 42-pdrs – one modified Model 1831 and two Model 1845.  [Note 4]

All three are banded and rifled with nine-grooves.  Six other surviving 42-pdrs have the same banding and rifling pattern.[Note 5]  While we cannot link the nine-groove rifling to “James” with a degree of certainty, the prevalence makes this a distinct possibility.  One of the surviving  banded and rifled 42-pdrs sits at the old Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond.

Richmond 21 Mar 10 087

42-pdr Banded and Rifled

The trunnion stamp a pre-war (1859) production batch by Tredegar Iron Works.  The “U.S.” acceptance stamp further reinforces the “Federal” pedigree.  Although not enough to confirm the gun was rifled and banded by Federals.  Only the circumstantial evidence of the rifling pattern links this gun to “known” Federal rifles from the Cairo.

Richmond 21 Mar 10 088

Band of Rifled 42-pdr

At first glance, the band looks like that applied on Parrotts.  However, without documentation there is little way to identify the construction technique.  The band could be wrought iron, as on Parrotts, or could be a set of welded bands (as often seen on Brookes or other banded guns).

In addition to the modified guns mentioned above, Federals ordered several new production 42-pdr rifles. Before the Civil war, the Army ordered four guns of 42-pounder seacoast pattern (likely Model 1845) bored out as 24-pdr rifles, for experiments.  West Point delivered all four in 1859.  These weighed between 8,823 and 8567 pounds.  One of these survives and has two rifle grooves.  At roughly the same time, West Point delivered a fifth rifle but bored out to 6.4-inch or 32-pdr bore.  [Note 6]

In May 1864, Ames Manufacturing delivered a 9,643 pound rifled 42-pdr of unknown pattern.   [Note 7]  The weight rules out a standard pattern 42-pdr, but I include it here for completeness in coverage.

In spite of Gilmore’s endorsement, the “James” 42-pdr or “80 cwt.” rifles played only a small role in the war.  Aside from breaching Fort Pulaski and arming several of the river ironclads, the guns had an otherwise mundane service history.  At least some remained in Army inventories after the war, as Ordnance reports continued to list the modified guns well into the post-war era.

So little documentation exists for these Federal rifles that I am reluctant to provide more than a generic label of “42-pdr seacoast guns, rifled and banded.”  Somewhat contrary to most artillery research, more is known about the Confederate modifications to 42-pdr seacoast guns!  I’ll turn to those next.

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Notes:

  1. Reports of Brig. Gen. Quincy A. Gilmore, U.S. Army, of operations against Fort Pulaski, January 28-April 11, 1862Official Records, Series I, Volume 6, Serial 6, pages 156-157.  This section of Gilmore’s report cites General Orders No. 17, issued April 9, 1862.
  2. Ibid, page 147.
  3. Statistical Data of US Ships, Naval Official Records, Series 2, Volume 1, page 49.
  4. See Chapter 9 of Hardluck Ironclad: The Sinking and Salvage of the Cairo, by Edwin C. Bearss, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980.
  5. 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. Appendix C81, page 223.
  6. Ibid, Appendix C52, page 205 and Appendix C71, page 215.
  7. Ibid, Appendix C84, page 223.
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