Monthly Archives: March 2011

Understanding War Through Imagery – USAHEC Civil War Conference

From the US Army Heritage and Education Center web site:

In conjunction with the Civil War sesquicentennial, The U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center & Army Heritage Center Foundation presents their Civil War Photographic Conference, Understanding War through Imagery: The Civil War in American Memory June 25-26, 2011. We invite you to join us for this conference focused on the events of the Civil War, early photography and photographic techniques and related historical and research resources. The USAHEC offers a unique setting that promotes interaction between speakers and attendees, scholars and enthusiasts. This year’s speakers include both established and new scholars, who will be discussing a wide range of topics surrounding the Civil War and photography.

An impressive list of speakers to say the least.  Perhaps the most impressive and important contributions in recent years to the study of the Civil War has been the more detailed interpretation of the photographs.

Throughout the sesquicentennial we’ll see photographs and images recalling the Civil War.  I’d submit understanding and appreciating the story behind those photos, along with the fine details contained within, is ever more important to the study of the war.

Certainly an event I’ll clear my schedule for!

8-inch Columbiad Walkaround

In January I ran a post about the 8-inch Columbiad Model 1844 but unfortunately could only use photos of a battered example on display at Fort Sumter.

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 170

8-inch Columbiad Model 1844 at Fort Sumter

While fine for “talking” about the columbiad, the example does not do justice to the original form of the weapon.  I was in need of “walk around” photos of a less battered surviving example.

My pal Harry Smeltzer happened to spot one of these columbiads earlier this month while out looking at Prospect Cemetery in Brackinridge, Pennsylvania.

8-inch Columbiad Model 1844 at Brackinridge, PA

Note the pile of shot and the memorial in the background.   These cannon are part of a memorial display in the cemetery.  Compared to the battered Fort Sumter piece, the muzzle and chase ring are intact, allowing study.

Note also the un-battered trunnions.  These measured eight inches in diameter and 6.5 inches long.  The iron “carriage” mount appears to be a display cradle.  In service the Model 1844 used a wooden carriage – hence the long trunnions compared to later Rodman types.

Trunnion of 8-inch Columbiad

In spite of the frosty rain, the right trunnion stamp is clear -  R.P.P. for Robert P. Parrott and W.P.F. for West Point Foundry.

Muzzle of #51

Easier to read the muzzle marks.  One of these is registry number 51, inspected by Benjamin Huger (who later served the Confederacy).

Muzzle of #69

Huger also inspected registry number 69.  Harry reported the date stamps on the left trunnions were difficult to read.  From my reference books, these were included in 1855 production batches from West Point.

Breech of Model 1844

Saving the best for last, I was most impressed with the view of the breech, relatively intact after all these years.  This perspective shows the ratchet steps and split button type knob with good effect.  With a 635 pound preponderance on the breech, elevating the gun just a degree took some effort.  But imagine bringing the gun up to high elevation; firing the gun; lowering elevation to load the gun; then returning the gun back to desired elevation.

In April 1861, Confederates fired Columbiads like these two fired at Fort Sumter from the “ironclad battery” on Morris Island.  Photos taken after the bombardment confirm the presence of three Model 1844 columbiads in that battery.

On the defender’s side, Captain John G. Foster reported four 8-inch Columbiads on the barbette tier of Fort Sumter.  Four more 8-inch Columbiads sat on the parade ground, mounted as mortars to fire on Morris Island.  No good close up views of those guns were taken in the days after the fall of Fort Sumter.  (A few others may have lay unmounted in the fort.) From circumstantial evidence, likely the seven 8-inch Columbiads mounted in Fort Sumter were Model 1844.  However, with over three hundred of the type produced, the odds are against the two guns currently at Prospect Cemetery being part of the fort’s armament.

Again, thanks to Harry for the photos.  I’ll make a cannon-hunter out of him yet!

8-inch Seacoast Howitzer: Projectiles and Range Tables

Yesterday I presented the three different 8-inch seacoast howitzers produced before the Civil War, noting the similarity to the Model 1844 Columbiad in the same caliber.   Let me pick up discussion of those weapons now, noting the projectiles fired by those heavy howitzers and the weapon’s performance.

As alluded to in previous posts on the columbiad-seacoast howitzer family, the main employment of the seacoast howitzer called for the use of shells.  The 1862 Ordnance Instructions specified the 8-inch shell weighed 49.75 pounds and measured 7.88 inches in diameter.  While the shell could hold 2.5 pounds of powder, standard bursting charge was one pound.  The seacoast howitzer shell was about a quarter-inch thicker than standard mortar or siege howitzer shells (which weighed under 45 pounds).

There is no direct specification on case shot for 8-inch seacoast howitzers.  Presumably the cannon could use the standard howitzer case shot – weighing about 60 pounds, loaded with 486 lead balls and a 15-ounce bursting charge.

8-inch grapeshot consisted of nine six-pound, cast iron balls, each a maximum of 3.6 inches in diameter.  The entire stand, with the iron balls, a top plate, two rings, a bottom plate, and a retaining rod, weighed 75 pounds!  The other anti-personnel projectile, the 8-inch canister weighed 54 pounds.  The canister consisted of forty-eight iron balls packed in sawdust.

Both the Ordnance Instructions of 1862 and the contemporary Artillerist’s Manual provided range charts with charges ranging from 4 to 8 pounds.  However the listed service charge for the piece was 8 pounds.  The columns on this chart indicate the powder charge, weight of shell, elevation in degrees and seconds, and the range in yards:

The figures above likely applied to the Model 1840 Seacoast Howitzer.  The particulars listed for 8-inch seacoast howitzers in the 1862 Ordnance Instructions (table on page 20) match those for the 1840 model, and not the later 1842.  And note the same table lists the Model 1844 Columbiad as a “shell gun.”

In confined waterways, the seacoast howitzer’s heavy shell could deter wooden ships of the day.  But lacking the seacoast howitzer lacked the range to cover the wide channels common along the American shores.  The range also limited the value of the seacoast howitzers to the Confederates firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861.  While placing at least two of these howitzers on Morris Island, their role in the battle, if any, received little mention.

On the Federal side, three 8-inch howitzers covered the main harbor channel, deterring any ships approaching the besieged fort.  While not directly noted, likely these were Model 1840 Seacoast Howitzers.  More important for the fort’s defenders, one seacoast howitzer covered the sally port; and two more covered the esplanade and wharf on the south side of the fort.  These three guns could sweep the wharf and approaches to the fort if the Confederates had attempted to storm the works.  However these preparations proved excessive, as the Confederates compelled surrender without direct assault.

The employment of 8-inch seacoast howitzers at Sumter was perhaps the most noteworthy use of the weapon in the Civil War.  Reports list the seacoast howitzers at several coastal forts and in the Washington defenses.  However, these mostly provided close, anti-personnel defense until the 8-inch siege howitzer production picked up.  The Rodman guns completely replaced the seacoast howitzers in the anti-ship role.