Daily Archives: 5 December 2012

It’s all about the foundry numbers: 30-pdr Tredegar Parrotts at Fredericksburg

In a post last month discussing weapons shipped to Vicksburg, I closed off with a photo of this big 30-pdr Parrott at Fredericksburg.

Fredericksburg 24 Nov 12 051

30pdr Parrott on Lee’s Hill, Fredericksburg

The gun is a 30-pdr Parrott of Federal vintage used as a “stand in” representing weapons of the same caliber, but produced for the Confederacy by the Tredegar Iron Works. Ells’s Georgia Battery manned two such Confederate 30-pdrs during the battle of Fredericksburg. There are only three known surviving Confederate 30-pdrs. So this is a necessary and acceptable substitute.

The story of those Confederate Parrotts is well known. In Ironmaker to the Confederacy, Charles Dew summarized the story from the perspective of the guns:

The Army of Northern Virginia received a few Parrott rifles in time to answer the mighty Union cannonade that descended on Fredericksburg in mid-December. For two months prior to the battle, ordnance officers had been urging Anderson and Company to speed up delivery of these powerful rifles. Four 20-pounder Parrotts were turned over to the Ordnance Department in October and two 30-pounders were completed late in November. Lee ordered the 30-pounders to the front immediately. On the evening of November 28, thirty Tredegar slaves labored for almost five hours … loading the two cannon on a special train and filling two box cars with ammunition. The guns arrived at Fredericksburg the next day, were tested, and put into previously prepared emplacements on Marye’s Heights. When Union troops attempted to storm the naturally strong Confederate position on December 13, the two Parrotts went into action. Confederate artillerists used the heavy guns with devastating effect on the assaulting Federals for several hours, but both guns burst during the battle, one on the thirty-ninth round, the other on the fifty-fourth. Lee, Longstreet, and other high officers were standing near one of the cannon when it exploded, but miraculously all escaped injury.1

The story matches well to the notion that the Army of Northern Virginia was making a desperate stand against an overwhelming enemy force. On face, it sounds plausible. But were the Confederates so hard pressed as to ship untested guns to the front?

To start with, Tredegar began producing 30-pdr Parrotts well before November. Here’s a summary of foundry numbers and casting dates based on the “Foundry Book” entries for entries in 1862:

  • No. 1631 – July 26
  • No. 1637 – July 26
  • No. 1645 – August 13
  • No. 1649 – August 19
  • No. 1662 – August 27
  • No 1673 – October 11
  • No. 1690 – November 12
  • No. 1698 – November 252

At first glance, yes, there were two of the big Parrotts produced in November of that year. So would those be the two guns in question? Maybe not.

Well first bit of documentation to consider is the hauling tally sheet mentioned in the previous post3:
Page 636b

This, as cited by Dew, leaves no doubt when two guns were loaded and shipped to Fredericksburg. But there are no foundry numbers recorded.

The next document to consider is a listing of guns received by the Ordnance Department in December 1862. Leading the list is a set of entries for December 3:

Page 670a

Clearly annotated is “4.2 rifled gun 30pdr No. 1690″. But not only is the date incorrect, but also the recorded destination. The gun was among a shipment bound for General Theophilus H. Holmes, Little Rock, Arkansas. (And yes, remarkably Tredegar gave away a water bucket at “no charge.” Wonders never cease!)

But… there’s a discrepancy. The same foundry number shows up again on a list of weapons received in February 1863.

Page 699b

Um…. did Tredegar sell the same gun twice? Or was there a duplicate foundry number issued? Is this a single digit transcription error, where #1698 was supposed to show? Your guess is as good as mine. The Tredegar Gun Book is known to have errors with respect to foundry numbers. So it’s certainly possible to see transcription errors for the receipts. Regardless these two documents rule out #1690 as one of the Fredericksburg guns.

Looking further at the tally sheet for February 1863 deliveries, one of the other 30-pdrs shows up on the list:

Page 699a

So #1662, cast in August, was not delivered until February, sent to Wilmington, North Carolina.

Another of the Tredegar 30-pdrs, #1645 also cast in August, shows up on a receipt for guns received in January 1863…. January 9 to be exact.

Page 656a

So of the eight Tredegar 30-pdrs produced between July and November 1862, at least three (maybe four) are accounted as delivered after the battle of Fredericksburg. Those three include at least one of the two November guns. The other two guns, delivered in 1863, were cast the previous summer.

It is possible that #1698 was cast on November 25, 1862, then three days later loaded onto the rail car. But how likely is that occurrence with at least two 30-pdrs cast in August, if not more, still at Tredegar? Or is it more likely that the two Fredericksburg guns were actually two from castings prior to November? If Tredegar was setting on cannons, maybe ordnance officers had good reason to urge delivery. That of course leads to the next logical question – why would Tredegar delay deliveries?

Regardless of the exact manufacture date, the guns almost struck a blow worse than the Stockton Gun. Throughout the war, Confederate manufactured (or modified) cannons exhibited a nasty failure rate. A burst Tredegar gun nearly killed General Leonidas Polk at Columbus, Kentucky in 1861. A burst gun, a modified 32-pdr, played a significant role in the fall of Fort Henry. And that 30-pdr at Fredericksburg nearly changed the course of the war in the east.

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NOTES:

  1. Charles B. Dew, Ironmaker to the Confederacy: Joseph R. Anderson and the Tredegar Iron Works, Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1999, page 187
  2. “Table of Cannon Cast at J.R. Anderson & Company,” Larry Daniel and Riley Gunter, Confederate Cannon Foundries, Union City, Tennessee: Pioneer Press, 1977, pages 98-99.
  3. The sections of the receipts and tally sheets are from the Tredegar Folder, “Confederate Papers Relating to Citizens or Business Firms, 1861-65,” Record Group 109, NARA.