Category Archives: 3-inch Rifles

Case-shot, shell, and canister at Kelly’s Ford: Ammunition analysis

Yesterday’s post about the employment of Pratt’s 4.5-inch Rifles at Kelly’s Ford ran a little long.  And there’s one more interesting angle to look at, given the records from the engagement. The participants provided a remarkably well detailed list of ammunition expended in the engagement.  While not a major battle, the action at Kelly’s Ford on November 7, 1863 is a good case for reviewing what ammunition the battery commanders and section commanders selected for the tactical requirements.

Captain George Randolph provided a list of ammunition expenditures, by type, in his report of the action.  Let us start with the 10th Massachusetts:

  • Schenkl case-shot, 3-inch – 300
  • Hotchkiss percussion shell, 3-inch – 40
  • Hotchkiss fuse shell , 3-inch – 50
  • Schenkl percussion shell, 3-inch – 10

The total given by Randolph – 400 rounds – does not match that reported by Captain J. Henry Sleeper – 459 rounds.  So either eight ammunition chests, with fifty rounds each, of 3-inch projectiles were used up.  Or a little over nine were used.  Of course the expenditure does not indicate any canister or bolts were fired.  So there were more than just eight or nine chests opened up.

And you are also thinking about Brigadier-General Henry Hunt’s concerns about mixing different rifled projectile types.  Sleeper had his Schenkl and Hotchkiss shells all mixed in.  Regardless, it was the case-shot Sleeper and his gun-chiefs selected most for their targets.  In his report, Sleeper mentions firing on a brick mill building where Confederate sharpshooters were posted.  He later replied to Confederate artillery attempting to drive his battery off.  After the Confederate artillery retired, Sleeper fired on Confederate infantry that attempted to reform on the hills beyond Kelly’s Ford.  Based on the wording of his report, and that of Randolph’s, the battery engaged those infantry targets for the longest period of the engagement.  So it is logical to presume that is when most of the Schenkl case-shot were fired -targeting infantry inside a wood line.

As mentioned yesterday, Captain Franklin Pratt’s Battery M, 1st Connecticut Artillery fired but 15 Schenkl shells with percussion fuses.  These were fired at brick buildings where the Confederate infantry sheltered and later on the Confederate battery.

Moving next to Lieutenant John Bucklyn’s Battery E, 1st Rhode Island artillery, Randolph indicated they fired a total of 181 shots from their 12-pdr Napoleons:

  • Solid shot, light 12-pdr – 80
  • Spherical case, light 12-pdr – 72
  • Shell, light 12-pdr – 24
  • Canister, light 12-pdr  – 5

Bucklyn’s guns went into battery about 300 yards from the ford itself.  Their first targets were the skirmishers on the distant bank.  When Captain John Massie’s Confederate guns opened upon Slepper’s battery, Bucklyn turned his Napoleons on that target. Likely most, if not all, of the solid shot fired were expended at those targets.

Later, when supporting the Federal infantry crossing at the ford, Bucklyn fired a few rounds of canister.  Again, let me pick at how, and how few of, the canister were used. Five rounds fired to cover the advance of the infantry.  Bucklyn’s guns fired those so close that he later lamented the death of one of the friendly infantry, “but they were so nearly between me and the enemy, the accident could not have been avoided.”  Or what we’d call today “Danger Close.”  Keep in mind the maximum effective range of the canister rounds was between 300 and 400 yards.  If Hunt’s earlier complaints were valid, then the canister was designed with engagements at that range in mind.  So let’s dispense with the notion canister was only a defensive projectile.   At Kelly’s Ford those canister rounds were useful in the offensive because of their “reach.”  But of course, with the crossing effected so quickly (as compared to say a crossing at the same point on March 17, 1863), only five canister were needed.

One other note about Bucklyn’s expenditure.  In his report he complained, “I found my fuses very unreliable; some shell did not burst at all, while others burst soon after leaving the gun. I could place no dependence on them.”  Those 12-pdr shells used Boremann fuses.  Randolph seemed perplexed by this issue, “for I have seldom known them to fail.”

Finally, and this is a bonus round, Captain Frederick Edgell’s 1st New Hampshire Battery fired sixty rounds during a separate action on November 8:

  • Schenkl case-shot, 3-inch – 20
  • Schenkl percussion shell, 3-inch – 10
  • Hotchkiss time fuse shell, 3-inch – 30

about a mile north of Brandy Station, a section of Edgell’s guns deployed and opened fire on a Confederate battery at the range of 2,000 yards.  After a few rounds, the Confederate battery fell back.  Edgell then moved up to the “left of and near Brandy Station.”  There at a range of 1,800 yards, Edgell’s 3-inch rifles traded shots with two 20-pdr Parrotts and two smaller rifles.  Edgell reported expending 56 rounds, while Randolph recorded an even 60.  The preference, Edgell’s 3-inch rifles firing in counter-battery mode, was shell, with some case-shot mixed in for good measure.

From the expenditure figures for these four batteries in two engagements, consider these preferences:

  • 3-inch rifle firing on troops in the woods – case shot.
  • 3-inch rifle firing counter-battery – shell
  • 12-pdr Napoleon firing counter-battery – solid shot, though the preference cannot be stated for a fact.
  • 12-pdr Napoleon firing in direct support of infantry advance – canister, within range limitations.
  • 4.5-inch Rifle – shell at anything.

There’s a lot more I could suggest or speculate towards.  But what I see with the artillery employment and ammunition expenditures is a lesson in how Civil War era armies effectively employed artillery in the offensive.  The guns firing over the Rappahannock on November 7, 1863 (and those later firing around Brandy Station on November 8) succeeded in pushing the opposing forces back and then kept them back.  That accomplished, the infantry was able to conduct their most important mission on the battlefield – occupy terrain.

(Sources, OR, Series I, Volume 29, Part I, Serial 49, pages 566-574.)

Six groove sawtooth rifling: The rifles of A.B. Reading and Brother

Mentioned earlier, this piece on the Five Forks battlefield is interesting for several reasons.

Five Forks 4 Mar 12 051

3-inch A.B.Reading Rifle #24 at Five Forks

Before the normal “walk around,” a bit about A.B. Reading & Brother. Vicksburg, Mississippi plantation and businessman Abram Breech Reading operated a foundry and machine works near the river along with his brother C.A. Reading. As one might expect, the firm turned out products supporting steamboats and light industry. Shortly after the start of the war, the firm turned to military products. But later that year, the firm leased out much of its equipment to the Atlanta Arsenal and ceased cannon production themselves. Yet, between December 1861 and May 1862, receipts credit A.B. Reading & Brother with delivery of 45 cannons. All were bronze field pieces – 6-pdr guns, 12-pdr howitzers, and 3-inch rifles. It is the 3-inch rifles this post will focus upon.

Reading delivered at least fourteen 3-inch rifles. But there were some variations in the production lots. Compare the values provided on a receipt issued in January 1862 -

… with another in June 1862 -

Hard to read? Here’s the summary:

  • December 14, 1861 – one 6-pdr weighing 844 pounds.
  • December 31, 1861 – one 6-pdr weighing 844 pounds.
  • December 31, 1861 – one “6-pdr rifle” weighing 957 pounds.
  • January 6, 1862 – three 6pdrs averaging 844 pounds.
  • January 6, 1862 – three “6-pdr rifles” weighing 956, 659, and 955.
  • March 25, 1862 – three 6-pdrs averaging 808 pounds.
  • March 25, 1862 – three 3-inch rifles averaging 875 pounds.
  • April 12, 1862 – three 6-pdrs averaging 809 pounds.

Noting these variations, the writers of Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War speculated there were at least two different casting patterns in use. The early batches of 6-pdrs is about forty pounds lighter than a US regulation Model 1841 6-pdr, but within tolerances. One surviving Reading 6-pdr is a trophy at West Point and conforms generally to the Model 1841 pattern. The heavier weight listed for the “6-pdr rifle” are within the range expected for a 6-pdr bored out as a 3-inch rifle. The weights are just twenty pounds or so heavier than that recorded for early Tredegar Bronze 3-inch rifles using the Model 1841 envelope. Given those weight figures, Reading likely used the Model 1841 casting pattern for both 6-pdrs and 3-inch rifles.

But for the later batch, those weights are much lower than expected for Model 1841 or derivatives. And that might easily be explained by a reduction in length, either to simplify the casting or a reduction in precious bronze. The Model 1841 guns were 65.6 inches long, while that piece pictured above at Five Forks is only 63.5 inches overall (61 inches without the knob). The shorter length and reduced profile accounts for some of the 75 pound difference, if not all, in both the 6-pdr smoothbore and 3-inch rifles from the later batches. Enough circumstantial evidence to argue Reading used two different casting patterns.

All four surviving Reading 3-inch rifles match the later pattern. All but one have an erratic set of stampings on the right trunnion.

Five Forks 4 Mar 12 042

Right Trunnion of Reading 3-inch Rifle

The stampings are in two different sizes. The top line, curved with the trunnion edge, reads “A.B.R. and Bro.” Early “cannon hunters” failed to see the period after the “R” and interpreted that as “A.B. Rand Bro.” and thus could not correctly identify the firm. The second line notes the firm’s location in Vicksburg, Mississippi. In a smaller font is the year of manufacture “1862″ and below that is the gun’s foundry number – 24.

The left trunnion displays three letters – “COL.” This appears to be a post-delivery stamp and might be post-war. Notice the trunnion face is a bit recessed from the carriage cheeks. And the trunnions require a spacer to fit properly on the carriage. The Reading Rifle’s trunnions are slightly smaller than those of the Quinby & Robinson Rifles of the same caliber.

Five Forks 4 Mar 12 047

Left Trunnion of Reading #24

The breech profile matches that of the Quinby & Robinson 3-inch rifles at Petersburg – well-rounded knob, thick fillet, rounded breech face, and a base ring. Notice the vent is bouched.

Five Forks 4 Mar 12 044

Breech Profile of Reading 3-inch Rifle

The base ring is about 1 1/8 inches wide. The stamping to the right of the ruler is an Army depot tracking number.

Five Forks 4 Mar 12 052

Base ring of Reading 3-inch Rifle

The trunnions and rimbases also match that of the Quinby & Robinson 3-inch rifle.

Five Forks 4 Mar 12 054

Rimbases and Trunnions of Reading 3-inch Rifle

The muzzle is straight, lacking any swell. The front sight post sat directly on top, where a tapped hole is now.

Five Forks 4 Mar 12 050

Muzzle profile of Reading 3-inch rifle

The bore diameter is, as advertized, 3-inches.

Five Forks 4 Mar 12 049

Bore measure of Reading 3-inch Rifle

But look a little closer at that rifling, particularly at the edges on the muzzle face. Those are “sawtooth” grooves, often used by Confederate cannon makers.

Five Forks 4 Mar 12 046

Rifling of Reading 3-inch Rifle

The grooves are left-handed. This particular gun has a bit more bore wear than the Quinby & Robinson gun.

The rifling pattern is the only significant difference between the guns produced by Quinby & Robinson and A.B. Reading & Brother. These are “cousins” in most other respects. As seen with the James series, bronze was not the best metal for rifled field pieces. The bronze rifles compared dis-favorably to 3-inch Ordnance Rifles encountered on the battlefield. No doubt some of the 3-inch rifles were melted down by the Confederates for casting into more useful 12-pdr Napoleons.

Five Forks 4 Mar 12 037

Reading Rifle guarding Five Forks

One that did survive the war and post-war scrapings is A.B. Reading & Brother’s number 24. Today that rifle sits a long way from its place of origin, guarding Five Forks – an obscure gun guarding a famous crossroads.

Sent down river for finishing: Quinby & Robinson’s Vicksburg connections

In the last cannon post, I closed with mention of similar 3-inch rifle patterns used by both Memphis gunmaker Quinby & Robinson and the Vicksburg firm of A.B. Reading & Brother. You saw this photo in the earlier post:

Petersburg 4 Mar 12 491

3-inch Q & R Rifle #34 at Colquitt’s Salient

Compare to this 3-inch rifle on display at Five Forks:

Five Forks 4 Mar 12 051

3-inch A.B.Reading Rifle #24 at Five Forks

The two rifles share a common external form. Although records are silent, the most likely explanation is Confederate officials distributed documentation for the patterns. But there is also a formal connection between the two companies, with a sub-contracting twist.

Quinby & Robinson and A.B. Reading were among several companies in the Mississippi Valley which answered the Confederate calls for ordnance early in the war. Even without any formal experience in the field, both firms made credible progress. But of course, like many other Confederate gunmakers, the efforts suffered with the lack of raw materials. And like other Western Theater companies, the two firms were endangered by Federal advances.

Quinby & Robinson suffered one additional setback. On September 30, 1861 a fire destroyed much of the Memphis firm’s facilities. The timing of the fire was unfortunate. Prior to the fire, Quinby & Robinson was able to deliver up several cannon a week. After the calamity, the firm had several unfinished castings on hand without the means to complete. So the Memphians turned to other vendors. A receipt from February 20, 1862 indicates Quinby & Robinson turned to at least three different firms. Two of which were in Vicksburg.

Listed on the receipt, A.B. Reading & Brother completed four 12-pdr howitzers and one 6-pdr gun for Quinby & Robinson.

A line below, A.M. Paxton, another Vicksburg firm, received credit for finishing three more 6-pdrs. There was more work for Paxton, but I’ll save that as a tangent to follow on a follow up post. The only 3-inch rifles listed on the receipt were two completed by the Memphis entrepreneur George Washington Grader.

Still, if Quinby & Robinson sent unfinished castings to Vicksburg, is it also plausible for them to send detailed plans and casting models? If so, that might account for the nearly identical guns provided by Quinby & Robinson and A.B. Reading & Brother.

Nearly identical, I say. There are some differences between the rifles from the two companies. To see those differences, one has to look down the bores.