Tag Archives: A.B. Reading & Brother

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Base ring of Reading 3-inch Rifle

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

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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.

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Muzzle profile of Reading 3-inch rifle

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

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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.

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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.

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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:

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

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

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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.

Counterfeit Parrotts: Confederate 10-pdr Production (Part 1)

Having worked in the discussion of Confederate 10-pdr Parrott rifles (2.9-inch or 3-inch bore size) now by comparing the guns on Henry Hill at Manassas, I’ll share my notes about production of the weapons.  The Confederate Parrotts were not, as indicated with the breech band construction, exacting copies of West Point (Federal) Parrotts.  Nor was Tredegar the only Confederate source for Parrotts.

The story of the Confederate 10-pdr Parrott started when the state of Virginia purchased a Parrott rifle from West Point Foundry in 1860.  This gun, tested by Thomas J. Jackson at Virginia Military Institute, prompted an order for more early production Parrott rifles (2.9-inch caliber) from West Point.  While delivery of the whole Virginia order lacks proper documentation, at least a handful of these reached the state in time to serve at Big Bethel in June 1861.

These guns came into high regard on the Confederate side, but of course West Point was not going to fill any more orders due to that whole secession thing you might have heard of.  So with the original production lot to serve as patterns and a few design diagrams, Tredegar Iron Work tried their hand at a copy of the Parrott.  Identification of the Confederate Parrott’s size alludes to the confusion over designating rifled guns.  An existing production diagram identifies the type as a 3-pdr caliber rifled gun, alluding to the old smoothbore sizing designation.  Tredegar documents label the guns as “6-pdr Parrott.”  Other documents identify the gun by the bore measure – either 2.9-inch or 3-inch Parrotts.  And many military documents refer to the guns as “10-pdr Parrotts.”

Regardless of the designation, Tredegar began production of the type in November 1861.  One of those, produced in June 1862, stands on Henry Hill at Manassas today.

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Tredegar 2.9-inch Parrott #1590

I’ve discussed in detail the breech band composition and departure from the original Parrott design.  The knob on this gun is rounded, not much different than the Federal Parrotts.  However some of the Tredegar Parrotts have flattened knobs.

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Muzzle of Tredegar #1590

Tredegar opened the muzzle swell sharper than the Federal version, but retained the front sight of the early Parrotts of this caliber.  Compare to an early Federal production Parrott on the other end of the line on Henry Hill.

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Muzzle of West Point 2.9-inch Parrott #66

Later production Federal Parrotts used off-center front sights on the right rimbase, paired with a socket mounted rear sight on the breech band.

Tredegar retained the three groove rifling for these “counterfeit” Parrotts.

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Bore of Tredegar 2.9-inch Parrott

Hard to make out with the 149 years of corrosion, but the rifling is uniform twist.  Federal Parrotts used a “gain-twist” or increasing pitch twist.

Later in the production runs, Tredegar opted for unbeveled bands.  One example which greets visitors to the Gettysburg theater has an unbeveled band.

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Tredegar 2.9-inch Parrott #2119

Tredegar produced in 1864.  While retaining the muzzle sight, this gun has a more “Federal” looking band.

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Band of Late Production Tredegar Parrott

Tredegar produced more than fifty 10-pdr Parrotts during the war.  Although a far cry shorter than the hundreds produced by West Point Foundry at the same time, still a significant showing considering the situation in Richmond.

But Tredegar was not the only source for “counterfeit” Parrott 10-pdrs.  Although I’ve not personally seen them, there are reports of 10-pdr Parrotts with markings for Macon Arsenal and Noble Brothers (Rome, Georgia).  Macon Arsenal produced over a dozen during the war, but there is scant documentation for the Noble Brothers.

Other “counterfeit” Parrotts are known only from the paper records left behind.  The firm of Bujac and Bennett of New Orleans produced roughly twenty Parrott rifles of an unknown size.

Bujac and Bennett Invoice for a Dozen Parrotts

The unit price leads me to believe these are 10-pdrs.  But further invoices indicate several of these guns failed.

Another western vendor involved with Parrotts was Street, Hungerford, and Jackson of Memphis, Tennessee.  An October 1861 invoice bills for boring and rifling of three Parrott rifles.  Such billing usually indicates the firm was simply finishing work of another company’s castings.  There is no indication as to the Parrott gun sizes or the original manufacturer.

Similarly the Vicksburg, Mississippi firm of A.B. Reading & Brother bored, rifled and banded six Parrott rifles.

A.B. Reading & Brothers Invoice

A.B. Reading produced a significant number of 3-inch bronze rifles during the war, leading me to suggest the same boring equipment produced 3-inch Parrotts in this case.

While far from just a Tredegar product, the counterfeit Parrotts still numbered less than the original Federal variety.  While many of the private vendors out west ceased deliveries as New Orleans, Memphis, and Vicksburg fell, Tredegar continued to produce Parrotts right up to the end.  Many of those later Parrotts differed significantly in external form and rifling pattern.  I will look at that variation next.

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Aside from on site notes and links provided above, sources consulted for this post were:

Daniel, Larry J., and Riley W. Gunter.  Confederate Cannon Foundries.  Union City, Tennessee: Pioneer Press, 1977

Hazlett, James C., Edwin Olmstead, and M. Hume Parks. Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War, Revised Edition. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Olmstead, Edwin, Wayne E. Stark, and Spencer C. Tucker. The Big Guns: Civil War Siege, Seacoast and Naval Cannon. Alexandria Bay, NY: Museum Restoration Service, 1997.