A Defective Brooke Rifle at Fort Pulaski

Sited between the two 4.5-inch Blakely rifles on the eastern point of Fort Pulaski is an interesting 6.4-inch Double Banded Brooke Rifle. It’s one of my favorite cannons.  As with many Civil War-era guns, it has a story to tell.  However, I don’t think the story is, as of yet, complete.

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6.4-inch Double Banded Brooke Rifle at Fort Pulaski

For some reason, the park mounted this gun upside down.  That’s why the rear sight mass is underneath the gun, instead of on top.

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Rear sight mass - underneath because the gun is inverted

That means the right trunnion is on the left side of the carriage, with the stamp for “1863.”

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Right trunnion then is on the left!

The pitted left trunnion reveals some lines which appear to be the initials for Tredegar Foundry.

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Left Trunnion

The bore, while eroded, has seven grooves – standard for this caliber Brooke rifle.

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Bore of the Brooke

But what you noticed in the first picture is this:

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Separated bands on Brooke Rifle

Definitely a problem! But this does gives us an appreciation for the Brooke banding method.  Unlike Parrott, which used a wrought iron coil to form a band, Brooke used rings to build up a band.  In the case of the 6.4-inch double banded guns, there were five such rings on the lower level with three more rings on the upper.  The rings were wrought iron, six inches wide and two inches thick.  Earlier Brookes were single banded.  Double banding provided extra strength needed to use heavier charges needed for anti-ironclad work.

But why are these bands separated?

There is a dispatch from General P.G.T. Beauregard’s chief of staff, General Thomas Jordan, dated September 7, 1863, responding to inquiries from General Roswell S. Ripley at Charleston, South Carolina.  In the response, Jordan mentioned, “The 6.40-inch Brooke gun at Fort Johnson will be rebanded at once.”1  Very likely the work, if done, was completed at one of the local Charleston shops. Lacking the facilities of Tredegar, the work may have been sub-standard. Might that repair (or similar repairs to another gun) account for the separations?

Another lead comes from John Brooke’s journal.  Around June 5, 1863, Brooke penned an entry discussing the May 15 fire that struck the Tredegar facility.  He mentions damage done to a triple banded 7-inch rifle, noting “The bands of one opened a little at the joints, about 1/32 part of an inch or 1/30….” Brooke went on to mention 7-inch rifles and 10-inch smoothbores damaged in the fire.2

It is possible a 6.4-inch gun escaped Brooke’s attention or interest if it was under contract for the Army (for those unfamiliar with Brooke, he was working the Confederate Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography). The gaps do increase towards the front of the band.  I could see that being the result of a heating and cooling cycle.  Perhaps the bands heated, slipped, then contracted back after cooling.

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Separated bands on the double banded 6.4-inch Brooke

Maybe this gun came from the factory in the “separated” condition.  Maybe damage due to a fire at the foundry contributed to the issue.  Or maybe a botched repair job produced the spacing.  Regardless, since the gun was not scrapped, someone found a use for the gun.  Hard to believe anyone would trust the gun with a full service charge. So perhaps that’s the next lead – accounts alluding to a specific Brooke rifle that required smaller charges for fear of bursting.

If you visit Fort Pulaski, please take some extra time to examine my “old friend” with the separated bands.  Maybe you will see some mark or feature that would shed light on this mystery.

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Notes:

  1. Official Records, Series I, Volume 28, Part II, Serial 47, page 346.
  2. Ironclads and Big Guns of the Confederacy: The Journal and Letters of John M. Brooke, Edited by George M. Brooke, Jr. (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 2002), page 134.
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