Another Paperwork Trail: Bellona 8-inch Columbiads

You might recall a couple of 8-inch guns  from St. Augustine from earlier in the Confederate Columbiad thread.

St. Augustine 1 Aug 11 515

Bellona 8-inch Columbiad No. 29

The muzzle stamp very clearly identifies this gun as registry number 29.

St. Augustine 1 Aug 11 509

Muzzle Stamp for #29

But you may recall that I took exception to the plaque at the base of the gun mount.

St. Augustine 1 Aug 11 510

Plaque Mentioning the Gun's Service

As I said at the time, with a production year of 1861, the gun was certainly not in St. Augustine before the Civil War.  Indeed, Federal reports indicate that prior to Florida’s secession the only 8-inch weapons at Fort Marion were old seacoast howitzers, not “proper” columbiads.

But what about during the Civil War?  Did the Confederates send this gun, and it’s mate, to St. Augustine?  If so, there should some notation of 8-inch Columbiads.  Unfortunately, the records of Bellona Foundry are incomplete at best.  But there is one invoice dated October 20, 1861 that mentions registry number 29.

The bill records four 8-inch Columbiads numbering 29, 30, 31 and 32 shipped to three different locations on October 21 (see the remarks on the right side).    Notations mid-way down indicate, “by direction of Lieut. Col. Gorgas Chief of Ordnance,” the destinations of those four guns:

  • One to General John Magruder at Yorktown, Virginia.
  • One to General Richard Gatlin at Fort Macon, North Carolina.
  • Two to the commander of defenses at Cedar Key, Florida.

Unfortunately the records do not indicate which gun went where.  But each of these localities were the site of military action in the winter and spring of 1862.  The USS Hatteras raided Cedar Key on January 16.  Fort Macon fell to General Ambrose Burnside in April.  Yorktown fell after a long, but somewhat cumbersome, siege in early May.

There’s a lot of room for speculation regarding these guns.  Photographs from Yorktown show guns very similar to Bellona #29 in the Confederate works.

But look close.  Those are wooden carriages.  Recall that #29 has short trunnions used on iron carriages. The nearest columbiad in the photo has long trunnions.  We might debate the shadows on the trunnions of the second gun,  however.  As for Fort Macon and Cedar Keys, I have no specific returns of those defenses to work from. So my speculation on those points must end there.

A Federal naval force from the USS Walbash, under Captain C. R. P. Rogers, landed at St. Augustine on March 11.  In his report, Rogers stated the Fort Marion contained three 32-pdr guns and two 8-inch seacoast howitzers, along with “a number of very old guns….” (Report of Captain Rodgers, Naval ORs, Series I, Volume 12, page 595-7).   Such would exclude presence of the 8-inch Columbiads from the Bellona invoice. 

Given the invoice and Captain Rogers’ report, the presence of Bellona #29 as part of the Confederate defenses of St. Augustine is unlikely.  And the same can be said for #27 on the other side of the Plaza de la Constitución.  The weight of evidence points to the capture of these two guns, perhaps early in 1862.  If so, these guns may have arrived in St. Augustine during the war years when Fort Marion was used as a depot.  Just as likely the guns arrived after the war for use in memorials.  But the documentation rules out active use of the Confederate Columbiads at Fort Marion.

So should someone change the plaques?  I say no.  Let’s keep this bit of trivia between us as some “insider” factoid.  No need to pull the rug from underneath the quaint, nostalgic, undocumented story about these columbiads.

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4 responses to “Another Paperwork Trail: Bellona 8-inch Columbiads

  1. Great post, Craig. Regarding your comment on one of the Confederate Columbiads arriving at Cedar Keys. I have found nothing to indicate that it did (the “Offiicial Records of the Navies”, a book by Hurley on “Florida Lighthouses in the Civil War”, and Buker’s “Blockaders, Refugees and Contrabands”, plus talking to local historians). These various sources indicate that the Hatteras found 2 or 3 guns in the area, two mounted in a small battery on Seahorse Key, and possibly one found later. An inspector with the Confederate military had declared these guns “unservicable” due to their age, but the Hatteras’ crew spiked and dismounted them, anyhow. I’ll be doing a post on this on the CWN Sesquicentennial blog page in January.
    When were you in St. Augustine, dude?? That’s less than a half-hour from where I live (Palatka). Let me know when you are in the area and let’s get together for lunch or something. I can easily travel to Jacksonville area, out to Cedar Key, south to Orlando area, or even southeastern Georgia. My email is on the CWN150 blog site; let me know when you’re in town!!!

    • Thanks, Rob. I pulled out a paragraph (too wordy) indicating that the Hatteras did not report any Columbiads. Felt I was trying to prove a negative, and it needed too many qualifiers. There are two leads I can think of. First, as you say, the guns didn’t get to Cedar Key. Second, they were withdrawn along with other Confederate forces that massed near Fernandina in January. I think it worth noting that Federal and Confederate reports mention 8-inch Columbiads in the Fernandina-Jacksonville area around that time. But none at St. Augustine.

      We visited there back in August. Family vacation. Wife has vetoed any further summer trips beyond the SC line.

  2. Paul Branch

    Craig:
    I work at Fort Macon State Park, Atlantic Beach, NC and wondered where you found the invoice above listing the four 8-inch columbiads of Oct. 20, 1861? I have been looking for some documentation as to when this particular guns was shipped to Fort Macon and wondered what the source was for the invoice pictured.