Category Archives: Parrotts

“Ninety-five tons of loyal complements”: Bombardment of Charleston continues

The last I detailed the Federal bombardment of Charleston was in relation to increased bombardments in the middle of January 1864. Through the end of January, Confederate observers recorded 990 projectiles reached the city, with an additional 533 falling short. The average, considering days on which no shots were fired at the city, was 49 per day counting hits and misses.

The Federals increased the pace in February.  A March 4, 1864 report from Colonel Alfred Rhett, commanding the Fifth Military District (which encompassed the city of Charleston itself) provided the number of projectiles observed fired at the city for each day:


The totals for February 1864 were 964 fired into the city and 763 falling short.  For that month, the average per day increased to 59.5 rounds per day.  And the figures provided in the table do not count shots fired at other targets around the harbor.  A table from the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery’s regimental history lists the weapons in Fort Putnam with their assigned targets, ranges, elevation, fuse settings, powder charge, and shell charges:


UPDATE: Forgot to add – the range given here for Battery Lamar appears to be in error.  I estimate the range to be around 8500 yards.  Perhaps the typesetter mixed up “8″ with “3″ when transcribing.

Guns at positions 1 and 2 in the fort bore directly on Sullivan’s Island and Fort Sumter.  Their most distant target was the channel in front of Mount Pleasant at 3500 yards… or nearly two miles.  Those two 30-pdr Parrotts were these two familiar subjects:


Two larger 8-inch Parrotts in positions 3 and 4 also pointed at Sullivan’s Island.  But the mountings allowed traverse to fire on Fort Johnson, though not on Charleston.

A 10-inch Columbiad in position 5 also fired on Forts Johnson and Sumter, in addition to other targets on James Island.  The most distant of those targets was two miles away.  I believe the photo below shows that gun.  There is a sign to the left of view that appears to have a number “5.”


A 6.4-inch Parrott in position 6 also fired on James Island along with Castle Pinckney some three miles distant:


In position number 7, a 30-pdr Parrott could train on Mount Pleasant, Castle Pinckney, and, importantly, Charleston.  The range to Charleston was a remarkable 7440 yards, or 4.2 miles.  And this was at a 40° elevation with 3¾ pounds of powder.  I’ll come back to discuss this gun a bit more further down in this post.

Position number 11 contained a 6.4-inch Parrott that fired upon Charleston and “Ram on stocks” – again, I should mention, a military target. Range to Charleston was the same 7440 yards.  The gun elevated 38° and used ten pounds of No. 7 grade powder to reach the city.  The weight of the shell was 101 pounds.  The projectile took over thirty seconds to reach its target in Charleston.

Lastly, a 3.67-inch Wiard gun in position number 12 also fired on James Island and Charleston.   However a notation below the table indicated “This last did not reach” in relation to the 7440 yard range to Charleston.  As the gun fired a much lower powder charge compared to the 30-pdr Parrott, one could expect less performance from the field piece.

I don’t know of any wartime photographs that capture details of Charleston as seen from Morris Island.  However a color drawing does show an artist’s rendition of the view:

In the mid-range of this view are Battery Simkins and Fort Johnson.  Beyond are the ship masts and church spires of the “Holy City.”

In regards to the 30-pdr in position number 7, that weapon burst during the bombardment that winter.  But not before it fired a remarkable number of rounds:

The famous gun, in its life, for firing on Charleston was No. 7.  It was expended on the 4,606th round, having thrown ninety-five tons of loyal compliments to the Charlestonians, expedited by nine tons of patriotic powder.

The ordnance officers recorded the fragmentation of the gun after it burst:


The gunners of the 3rd Rhode Island went on to say more about this gun:

We must add another word of this famous thirty-pounder that so splendidly pounded the cradle of secession.  From the time it was mounted – Jan. 10th – its carriage playing and recoiling on a peculiar chassis of long, elastic timbers, it was fired, on average, once in about twenty minutes, day and night (sometimes once in twelve minutes), til it burst March 19th, making it, on account of its elevation, range, destructive work, and long life, the most remarkable gun on record.  Its fragments were carefully collected and put together, and after it had received suitable inscriptions ending with these words, “Expended on Morris Island under Col. Charles R. Brayton, Chief of Artillery,” it was sent to West Point for study and for preservation.  On the 15th of January it fired 237 shell, 216 being good shots and striking the city fairly.  In its whole life it fired 4,257 good shots, 259 tripped, ten fell short, and eighty were premature explosions.

Folks, let me pause for a moment of silence.  Cavalrymen speak lovingly of their horses.  And infantrymen will caress their musket.  I submit this is the artillerman’s emotional attachment to their iron.  The endurance of the gun, compared to that of the Swamp Angel, or other large Parrotts used on Morris Island, stands in contrast.  The 4,606 rounds fired from 30-pdr, registry number 193, were a substantial portion of the 3,250 rounds fired at Charleston itself in January and February 1864.

One last note on that particular gun position in the fort.  Photographic evidence suggests that after it burst a larger Parrott replaced it:

Notice the “7″ just below the super-elevated 6.4-inch Parrott in the photo above.

The guns at Fort Putnam were not the only weapons bearing on Charleston’s defenses.  But those guns did the lion’s share of the work.

(Citation from Frederic Denison, Shot and Shell: The Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery Regiment in the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Providence, R.I.: Third Rhode Island Artillery Veterans Association, 1879, page 238.)

150 Years Ago: The South Carolina Siege Train goes to the range

I hesitate to even post this. Not because the topic is troublesome. Rather because the tedious presentation of the supporting “artifact.” Apologies in advance for the large, scrolling table below.  That is a summary of practice fires by the South Carolina Siege Train, commanded by Major Edward Manigault, conducted in January 1864.  The summary table was complied from five tables transcribed from Manigault’s journal by historian Warren Ripley, and included in the book Siege Train.

The site of the practice shooting was just west of Fort Pemberton. Over five days – January 15, 20, 23, 28, and 30 – the gunners fired 30-pdr Parrotts and 8-inch siege howitzers.  After the questionable performance of the guns on Christmas Day at Legareville, no doubt the crews needed the time on the guns. The target was a 40 feet long by 7 feet high wooden target.  The range started at 700 yards, but was later extended to 1158 yards.  Manigault’s journal includes some statements about the weather on those days.  But nothing precise like temperature or air pressure.

Poor range estimation was considered a contributing factor to the Legareville debacle.  So with the guns on this firing line, the battery officers were told to make estimates of the range before it was paced off.  The estimates varied somewhat, and no doubt that became a skill those officers refined in later weeks.

Results of the shooting were mixed – and that is perhaps being generous.  The gunners fired 56 shots over those five days.  Of those, only seven were described as going “through” the target.  Other shots were short, wide, and mostly long.  Fuses behaved erratically.  And a few of the Parrott shells were seen to wobble in flight, suggesting problems with the sabots.  One might say that after five days on the range, the gunners needed more practice but could also do with improved fuses and projectiles. Looking at the number of overshoots, one wonders if the Confederate cannon powder was too strong in this sampling.

If the practice was not perfect, at least those tables (consolidated here) offer a measure of how the weapons performed.  Outside of Ordnance Department tests, detailed reports as this are somewhat rare.  The two types of weapons employed on the range – 30-pdr Parrotts and 8-inch siege howitzers – show up at  live fire events from time to time.  So perhaps some of those gun owners have similar records that might compare.

Data for this table complied from:   Edward Manigault, Siege Train: The Journal of a Confederate Artilleryman in the Defense of Charleston, edited by Warren Ripley, Charleston: University of South Carolina Press, 1986, pages 109, 111, 112, 114, and 116.


Sorry for the scrolling!

Gorgas sends “Long Tom” to Wilmington

On January 5, 1864, Major-General W.H.C. Whiting wrote Colonel Josiah Gorgas, at the Confederate Ordnance Department, requesting assistance:

Colonel Gorgas: My 30-pounder Parrott burst yesterday fighting the enemy at Lockwood’s Folly, killing 1 man and wounding officer in charge.  It was at third fire.  This is all the Parrott gun I have.  Hurry the others.  All the guns I have seen lately are defective; should be tested and examined.  Send this to General [Samuel] Cooper.

On January 3, the blockade runner Bendigo ran aground at Lockwood’s Folly.  While making a run north along the coast, the captain of the Bendigo mistook the wreck of the Elizabeth, a blockade runner which had ran aground in late September 1863, for a Federal blockader. The captain tried to run between the shore and what he thought was a threat, but ran into another – the shallow waters of the inlet.

The Bendigo lay on a shoal close enough inshore for the Confederates to attempt recovery of the cargo, but far enough off shore to allow Federal gunboats to obstruct any recovery.   Over the next couple of days, both sides sparred over the wreck.  The Federals finally damaged the wreck sufficiently to prevent Confederate recovery.  But the lure of further salvage brought the USS Iron Age into those shallow waters a week later, ultimately resulting in her demise.  (All in all, a fantastic series of events, but one I must leave to a correspondent with better footing in regard to the Wilmington sector.)

The 30-pdr Parrott mentioned by Whiting was part of the force deployed to support the recovery operations.  It was a Confederate copy of the original 30-pdr Parrott rifle, patterned after one of Robert P. Parrott’s 30-pdr rifles captured at First Manassas in July 1861. The captured Federal gun received the nickname “Long Tom,” due no doubt to the length of the barrel (and I would add such christening is not unique among artillery pieces). Unable to replicate the coiled band technique used at West Point Foundry, Tredegar opted to use a series of welded wrought iron bands.  The (composite) band over the breech is about 10-inches longer than the guns produced by West Point Foundry.

This was not the first time the Tredegar 30-pdr Parrotts had failed in action.  Recall just over a year earlier, one of these guns failed at Fredericksburg, in very close proximity to General Robert E. Lee and other senior officers.  Perhaps with the failure rates in mind, Gorgas responded on January 6 with the offer of something better than another Tredegar gun, “There are arms on the way to him, and I have asked Colonel [Walter] Stevens for the gun known as “Long Tom,” now on the defenses here.”

The declarative in Gorgas’ response leaves little doubt – this is the “Long Tom” from the artillery section commanded by Lieutenant Peter C. Hains at First Manassas, which had fired the first shot of the battle, and which was later captured by Confederates.  The Confederate Ordnance Department described this gun, in The Field Manual for the Use of the Officers on Ordnance Duty, as:

The 30-pounder Parrott gun (captured at Manassas) has a caliber of 4.2 inches; weight 4190 lbs.; entire length 132 inches; five grooves.  The wrought iron band at breech is 19 inches in length and 2 inches in thickness.  It is rifled with one turn in 24 feet.

These particulars are important for those track the history of “Long Tom.”  The weight given – 4,190 pounds – was about ten pounds less than standard. The dimensions match, within a half inch here or there, those of Parrott’s specifications. The only major discrepancy is the reported rifling.  Parrott used increasing-pitch rifling.  That indicated in the manual is about twice that specified for Federal use.  Then again, I don’t think anyone climbed down the bore of the gun to verify the rifling.

“Long Tom” had to be one of six of its type received by the Federals prior to the battle of First Manassas.  Of those six, only one survives today – registry number 4, located in Cleveland, Ohio (in Woodlawn Cemetery, if anyone cares to pass along a photo or two). Its weight is reported at 4,175 pounds, ruling it out but offering a comparison figure.  The variation of the weight reported, by the Confederates, for “Long Tom” as compared to the design specification and single survivor of the lot leads to the conclusion that 4,190 pounds was the actual weight of the gun.  The writers of Big Guns, looking at ordnance receipts retained at National Archives, concluded that based on the reported weight, “Long Tom” was registry number 2.

Setting aside for the moment the administrative details identifying “Long Tom,” the gun went to Wilmington to serve in the batteries defending Cape Fear River and covering the blockade runners.  And at least one report indicates “Long Tom” burst like its Confederate cousins.  Colonel William Lamb noted such in a diary entry from December 1864:

December 17 – Bought two dozen eggs at $20.  Came down the river with General Whiting in the Cape Fear.  The Long Tom rifle exploded in Battery Anderson last night.  Went up to see it.  The carriage was torn to pieces and the gun was broken into over seven large pieces.

However, contradicting Lamb’s entry is a catalog of weapons captured by Federals near the end of the war.  General Henry L. Abbot, 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery, reported that Captain Samuel Hatfield, his ordnance officer, made a complete inventory of weapons captured at Fort Fisher in January 1865.  In that list appears a line for “4.2-inch Parrott (No. 2)” indicated as in “good order.”  A separate line tallied a disabled “4.2-inch banded” rifle.  The nomenclature used on that second line matches the identification of Confederate rifled and banded guns of other calibers listed in the table.

So the indication is that Hatfield inventoried a U.S. gun of the Parrott pattern with registry number 2.  He didn’t offer weights or other details.  However, the circumstantial evidence points to this being “Long Tom.”  Maybe not a water tight conclusion, but strong enough for me.  I conclude that “Long Tom” that opened the action at First Manassas ended up at Fort Fisher at the end of the war.  Unfortunately, the Federals recapturing the gun failed to appreciate its history.  Thus, if you go with Lamb or Hatfield, “Long Tom” ended up on the scrap heap… literally and figuratively.

(Sources OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, page 1066; Volume 46, Part I, Serial 95, page 167.  ORN, Series I, Volume 11, page 746.  The Field Manual for the Use of the Officers on Ordnance Duty, Confederate Ordnance Department, Richmond: Ritchie & Dunnavant, 1862, pages 20-21.  Edwin Olmstead, Wayne E. Stark, and Spencer C. Tucker, Big Guns: Civil War Siege, Seacoast, and Naval Cannon, Alexandria Bay, NY: Museum Restoration Service, 1997, page 114.)