Tag Archives: Ambrosio J. Gonzales

150 Years Ago: Beauregard asks “Where are my requisitions for heavy guns?”

We often encounter times when, in the course of any endeavor, a shortage of resources impedes progress.  If part of a large organization, rounds of coordination occur.  Often the conversation centers on establishing some simple facts – What was requested? When was it requested?  Were is it now?

In military operations such resource inquiries occur almost constantly, making many a staff meeting exciting to say the least.  One such inquiry occurred on this day (March 15) in 1863.  The artifact is a report from Colonel Ambrosio J. Gonzales, Chief of Artillery and Ordnance, to General P.G.T. Beauregard:

I have the honor to state, in answer to your note of the 13th, received yesterday evening, that there is no record in the ordnance or artillery offices relative to the applications of General Pemberton for heavy guns for this department.

What application he may have made in writing directly to Richmond I know not. I am positive about one thing, to wit, that he went to Richmond to apply personally for such heavy guns and obtained the promise of ten 10-inch columbiads, and several 8-inch which were to have been cast in Rome, Ga.; the latter not being procurable some 10inch were promised in their stead. I inclose copies of such communications as are on my books in relation to this matter.

I once telegraphed the Secretary of War during General Pemberton’s administration for 10-inch mortars, and after your taking command a letter from Colonel Rhett, inquiring how many guns were wanted by you for the defense of the department (heavy guns), having been referred to me by you, I applied for fifty-one 10-inch columbiads for the defense of the inner harbor, as a necessity, after the failure of the obstruction at the gorge, which application was approved and forwarded by you, and of which a copy was, I believe, kept at the adjutant-general’s office.

For some time, Beauregard inquired to Richmond about obtaining heavy guns.  Despite assurances and some deliveries, Beauregard never felt enough was in place.  Now with a growing fleet of ironclads at Port Royal threatening to roll into Charleston with guns blazing, Beauregard was wondering “where are the guns we ordered?”

Keep in mind the production cycle of heavy guns.  The time between casting and delivery for a Tredegar columbiad was several months.  Beauregard took command of the department in August 1862.  He was told at that time weapons were on the way to improve the coastal defenses.  Yet by March 1863 his command had received only nineteen heavy caliber cannons, against fifty-one needed.  A lot of forts but not a lot of guns.  So “Bory” asked his ordnance officer to help establish the facts – how many guns did Major-General John C. Pemberton order before leaving in August?  Gonzales’ answer was not what Beauregard wanted to hear.

The only guns promised to Pemberton were due from Rome, Georgia.  And those promises fell apart when the Noble Brothers started hurling insults at ordnance officers.  However, keep in mind that the Noble Brothers had no experience with such large weapons in the fall of 1862, not to mention short capacity. So the promise was rotten from the start.

So the answer to “when was it requested?” rolled forward on the calendar to “December.” Tredegar could not turn out fifty-one columbiads that fast.

Beauregard’s request for information coincided with a special board he had convened to determine what should be done to better protect Charleston.  Brigadier-Generals Roswell Ripley, S.R. Gist, and James Trapier. Make no bones about it, Beauregard had hoped a long list of requisitions and requests would stiffen the output from the board.  That in hand, he might really lay into those in Richmond (Oh, not like he had an axe to grind or anything, right?).

Now the question changed to “what can we do with the resources on hand?”

(Colonel Gonzales’ report appears in OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, page 828.)

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.)

 

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.)