Daily Archives: 23 January 2013

150 years ago: Rifled guns defending Charleston

Recently I mentioned Confederate efforts to arm and equip the batteries defending Charleston, South Carolina in the winter of 1862-3. On this day (January 23) in 1863, Colonel Ambrosio J. Gonzales, Chief of Artillery and Ordnance for General P.G.T. Beauregard’s department, filed a report detailing the rifled guns in South Carolina and the ammunition available for those guns.

The report included a table similar to this one, with the title “Approximate statement of rifled guns in South Carolina”:

RiflesInSC

In the remarks section below the table, Gonzales explained the disposition of a handful of other weapons in the department:

Besides the within rifled guns there are in Georgetown, S.C.. two 12-pounder banded rifled guns, received from Richmond and two 6-pounder rifled Blakely guns.

In Georgia there are one 32-pounder rifled, one 30 pounder Parrott, two 24-pounder Blakely and a few field 6-pounders. There are in Florida, as far as is known, a few 3-inch rifled guns.

Thus all told, Gonzales tallied over seventy guns. Almost half of the total were field gun caliber weapons. Those were of little use against the Federal fleet, which was seen as the most dangerous threat. Indeed, none of these guns were larger than 7-inch caliber (42-pdr).

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 312

42-pdr Seacoast Gun, Banded and Rifled, at Fort Sumter

Even more troubling for Gonzales was the lack of projectiles for the guns. From the totals offered in the table, the guns had an average of forty rounds each. Fine if you are an infantryman planning to skirmish for an hour or so. But not enough for a fortification defending the entrance to one of the Confederacy’s major seaports. Gonzales, and his commander, desired nearly four times that amount to defend the southern coasts:

Colonel Gorgas is most earnestly requested to provide the promised 150 rounds per each of the above guns, and above all to send the projectiles for the 12 pounder and 6-pounder bronze, the 20-pounder Parrott, the ammunition for which was not sent with the guns from Richmond, although packed and addressed in the presence of Major Alston, and the 3.67 caliber guns.

Recall that earlier in the month, Colonel Joshia Gorgas agreed to supply projectiles. But at the same time he’d cautioned against converting too many smoothbores to rifles, due to limited projectile supplies.

Gonzales’ report references several less common artillery types. Mentioned are imported Whitworths and Blakelys. Perhaps the “weaker” Parrotts were of Confederate manufacture. Although I would point out the lone rifled 18-pdr gun reported in September 1862 does not appear on Gonzales’ list.

But the “12-pounder old English siege (rifled)” ?

Charleston 4 May 10 181

12-pdr English Gun at Charleston’s Old Powder Magazine

At least one of those is still in Charleston – banded and rifled. This artifact, cast during the reign of King George II, is among the oldest cannon used in the Civil War. And certainly the oldest weapon taken in hand for modification. That, I say, is deserving of a separate post!

(Gonzales’ report and citations are taken from OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, pages 754-5.)