Monthly Archives: May 2012

Bottom of the Barrel, part 2: Confederate use of “ancient bronze mortar”

Earlier I mentioned an old Spanish mortar, now at Castillo de San Marcos, which, if inscriptions are believed, was used by the Confederates in Florida.

Recently, searching for wartime illustrations to support a blog post, I ran across another incident where the Confederates used weapons better suited for a museum, even 150 years ago.

The caption reads, “One of the ancient bronze mortars of the time of George II, found at Island No. 10. Formerly in Jackson Square, New Orleans.” The royal seal is fairly well reproduced in the drawing. Better than most of us could probably draw. If the artist did not take artistic license with the perspective, this mortar must be a Coehorn class. I can only speculate some Confederate officer saw this mortar as something to fill a gap…or at least cover a flank.

So from a trophy display in New Orleans to the front lines of the Civil War, a weapon well past its prime saw some limited service. The Confederates drafted what they had on hand to meet needs. And these were not isolated cases of appropriated “trophies”. I’ll offer up more from my files as time permits.

Confederate Napoleons: Odds and Ends

In an earlier post, I pointed to the type classes assigned by modern historians to the various Confederate manufactured 12-pdr Napoleons. Over the last month, I’ve added articles about some of those types and their manufacturers. Those are now linked on my Napoleon gun page, under the Confederate section. Allow me to wrap up some odds and ends here before moving on to other ordnance.

I have a couple of surviving guns to “hunt down.” Or perhaps more accurately wait for the National Park Service to place back on display. Those are the Quinby & Robinson Type 2 gun and the elusive Tredegar Type 3 guns. Beyond that, I have a few “oddities” to track down, or in some cases obtain better photos of. These are mostly cases where markings deviate from the standard. In the case of one Columbus Arsenal Napoleon, I’m looking to get better photos of a fire table etched on the breech.

Fort Frederick 25 Apr 10 021

Columbus Arsenal Napoleon #52 at Fort Frederick

And there’s a few other loose ends to mention. Based on surviving guns, there are seven confirmed sources for Confederate manufacture (the four government arsenals, Tredegar, Quinby & Robinson, and Leeds & Company). But from time to time I come across documentation of other vendors. Usually, the mention is speculative at best. One of those appears in a letter from General P.G.T. Beauregard to Colonel Josiah Gorgas on March 25, 1862:

COLONEL: Notwithstanding that there was a scarcity of the materials for making bronze field pieces, and fearing moreover that my communications with the east might be cut off for a time at least, whereby I should be thrown upon my own resources, I issued a call upon the planters for their bells. Already that call has met with a patriotic response from all quarters, and a large number of these bells have been placed subject to my orders at points on the navigable rivers and at railroad stations.

The question now is how may these bells be most advantageously transmuted into cannon, to which end I must now invoke your assistance and advice. I desire to have 12-pounder Napoleon smooth-bore and 6-pounder (caliber) rifle guns, which I am advised by General Bragg can be manufactured in New Orleans, where Leeds & Co. have the proper models and all necessary experience. Propositions have also been made from parties at Natchez to cast some guns. I regard it as clearly advantageous to encourage the casting of such guns at different points in this valley, so that should a foundry unfortunately fall into the hands of the enemy we should not be wholly crippled and deprived of our resources, but have several centers of manufacture. I must therefore ask you to supply, through me, drawings and the necessary details and instructions for the Natchez foundry for both descriptions of guns just mentioned.

I must also ask you to establish some just rate of compensation for the work to be done, also the value of the bells, with such other details and instructions concerning their conversion into field pieces as you may deem needful to facilitate and insure the casting of proper guns of the character wanted.
Please answer in part by telegraph.

Beauregard’s request is for a specific set of patterns, identifying the most desired set of field artillery well in advance of authorities in the Ordnance Department. The letter also speaks, as we often see, to the lack of raw materials that hindered the Confederate war effort – bells into guns in this case. The general also correctly identifies a great shortcoming of the Confederacy, as the war effort lacked redundant, and secure, industrial centers. We’ve already seen Leeds & Company produced a small number of guns before the fall of New Orleans. But who were the authorities in contact with in Natchez?

The most likely candidate, identified by Larry J. Daniel and Riley W. Gunter in their book Confederate Cannon Foundries, is the firm of C.B. Churchill & Company. Newspaper reports in 1861 noted the firm had cast test guns early in the war at a facility in Natchez. Around the time of New Orleans’ capture, Churchill relocated inland. Eventually the firm started business again in Selma, Alabama. It supplied projectiles and other materials to the Confederate arsenal in Columbus, Mississippi. I should say a substantial number of projectiles, all things considered. Receipts indicate the firm delivered 387 32-pdr (6.4-inch) bolts for rifled guns in April 1862.

Yes, the stationary came from the Memphis depot. Just over a thousand Confederate dollars for a whole lot of iron bolts for rifled guns. Later receipts indicate the firm produced a wide range of projectiles from 3-inch to 10-inch calibers… but nothing on those Napoleons. After relocating to Selma, the firm ran into many difficulties securing iron, much less bronze, to meet its contract obligations (a story for another post some day that involves a claim against the C.S. government). It is very unlikely Churchill & Company produced any guns.

That said, Churchill & Company remains a question mark with regard to the Confederate Napoleon. I would not look for some surviving Churchill gun, but rather search for additional documents that might provide more details of the firm’s attempted production.

Richmond Battlefields Sesquicentennial Events Timeline

I like the way Richmond NBP laid out this year’s  sesquicentennial events in a side-by-side timeline.  On the left are the historical events.  On the right are scheduled observances.  A handy reference for those planning trips to Richmond in the next few weeks.

Sort of wish that as similar reference was around for the Shenandoah Valley events this year. (If anyone knows of such, please do pass it along in the comments.)

Richmond also has a downloadable guide to the 1862 sesquicentennial, covering out to mid-July.  (My Aide-de-Camp secured a copy while we were touring on Saturday, as a good ADC will do!)  Four living history weekends and scores of presentations… big named speakers mind you… packed into the next seven weeks.  But of course those same seven weeks were lively around Richmond in 1862.