Tag Archives: 12pdr English Guns

Ye Olde English Gun… on Sullivan’s Island!

You may have seen this wartime photo of the Sullivan’s Island defenses before.

The photo shows two guns in Fort Marshall. The caption from the Library of Congress states this is the northeast angle of the fort. The photo was one of many taken of the defenses of Charleston in 1865 after the Federals occupied the city.

Let me go all Garry Adelman for a bit. There’s a Brooke single banded rifle (I think) on the left. But it is hard to glean any details from the photo. On the right, the closer gun, is a siege gun. And that gun is a bit more interesting, if you are trying to match surviving guns to wartime photos.

oldEnglishGunFtMarshalla

Nice study of a siege carriage, with a few implements as props. The size and mounting are the type used for 12-pdr siege guns. But notice a few particulars about this gun. There’s a breech loop over the knob. There’s a band over the breech. And there’s something like ornamentation on top of the barrel over the trunnions.

oldEnglishGunFtMarshallb

Well, well! That’s just like this gun:

Charleston 4 May 10 181

Yes, one of the old English 12-pdrs banded and rifled by the Confederates. The gun, as mentioned earlier, is on display at the Old Powder Magazine in Charleston. A refresher from the walk around provided, that particular gun’s trunnions, cascabel, and breeching loop are missing, with only scars on the metal. But that royal seal is on the top of the barrel.

Charleston 4 May 10 187

Certainly similar guns. But there were several old English guns converted to rifles by the Confederates. Without some definitive marking to work from (alas those missing trunnions!), I can only suggest the surviving gun was at Fort Marshall.

One other detail from the photo that I’d call attention to. Look at the ammunition stored in a little hut to the side of the gun.

OldEnglishGunFortMarshallc

Grape, canister, and either solid bolts or shells. There’s more of the first two types than the later. That, of course, gives some indication as to the intended use of this weapon – to sweep the beaches and dunes of any attackers on foot. And speaking of beach, look at all that sand piling up next to the projectiles.

You can almost feel the sand between your toes just looking at that photo.

But why would the photographer chose this particular setting? Don’t get me wrong, I like a good cannon photograph. But what attracted the cameraman’s eye when he setup this particular shot?

Some “olde English iron”: British smoothbores rifled for Confederate service

The other day I mentioned this rifled gun currently resting outside the Old Powder Magazine in Charleston, South Carolina:

Charleston 4 May 10 181

12-pdr English Siege Gun, Banded and Rifled by Confederates

There is little doubt as to the weapon’s vintage. The royal monogram on the top is that of either King George II or King George III .  In other words, likely a weapon that pre-dated the Revolution and therefore the United States.

Charleston 4 May 10 187

Monogram – King George II or III – on Gun

The gun appears to have several bands welded together.  Such was common practice among Confederate shops, both in Charleston and Richmond.

Charleston 4 May 10 184

Band on 12-pdr Gun

However the knob was removed from the gun, either during the alterations or later handling.

Charleston 4 May 10 193

Breech Profile of Banded and Rifled 12-pdr

The gun’s muzzle remained unaltered.

Charleston 4 May 10 185

Muzzle Profile of English 12pdr

A look down the bore shows the other alteration done by the Confederates – rifling.

Charleston 4 May 10 186

Bore of Rifled and Banded English 12-pdr

I count seven grooves, but with all the deterioration that’s more of a guess.  The bore is a bit larger than standard 12-pdr gauge.  But that may be explained by the machining required for rifling.

Also at the Old Magazine is a similar 12-pdr that remained, at least on the exterior, unaltered.

Charleston 4 May 10 188

12-pdr English Gun at the Magazine

The breech of this gun retains the knob and ring.  Although proper fitting for naval use, the practice from the 18th century into the 19th century called for similar fittings on seacoast guns.

Charleston 4 May 10 191

Breech profile of unaltered 12-pdr

An obstruction blocks the bore.  So while certainly not “banded” this gun could be “rifled” … or not.

Charleston 4 May 10 189

Muzzle profile of unaltered 12-pdr

Neither gun has trunnions.  Those may have been broken off to disable the guns or damaged during handling.  Since markings on the trunnions often provide additional details of the gun’s origin, that leaves a gap in the precise identification.

The guns measure around nine and a half feet long.  That places them in the 34 cwt class for the caliber.  While comfortable identifying Civil War artillery, I’m more of a dabbler when it comes to colonial era weapons.  So I’ll save the exact designation for those who know that time period well.  However, the tally of a “12-pounder old English siege (rifled)” in the list of guns at Charleston in January 1863 certainly makes this a Civil War piece.  In April of that year, another report indicated one 12-pdr “Old English siege, rifled, banded” and four “Old English siege, rifled, not banded” were among the weapons deployed in the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Apparently the Confederates found modification of these old guns acceptable.  On August 15, 1863, one of the unbanded but rifled guns was sent back to the Charleston Arsenal to receive a band.  At the same time a smoothbore of the same type was at the arsenal, presumably for modification.  The old English 12-pdrs appear again in correspondence dated that October, with favorable mention from Colonel Ambrosio J. Gonzales:

The rifled 12-pounder gun [Major John Barnewll] mentions at Royal’s is very old, but reported as a very good gun.  It is one of those long 12-pounder English siege guns, recommended by me to the commanding general to be banded, which was then approved.

So at least the artillery chief and his commander, General P.G.T. Beauregard, saw value in the old guns.  At the time, the ordnance officers may have held these guns in higher esteem as they were cast using older methods.  The “hot blast” techniques introduced in the 19th century left many questions about iron guns.  In some eyes, the “older” guns were indeed “better”.  These guns, perhaps veterans of earlier wars, were therefore selected for modification – rifling, and in some cases banding.

While not anti-ironclad guns, they were dispersed to the outer fortifications around Charleston to cover waterways and other approaches to the city.  Proving once again even an old gun can have some “bite” left in it.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part II, Serial 47, page 415.)