Tag Archives: Bellona Arsenal

Pointed at Fort Sumter: The 8-inch “New Columbiad”

I know, more 8-inch caliber Columbiads?

Yes.  Perhaps no better illustration of the evolution of heavy artillery in America than to look at the varieties of 8-inch weapons present at Charleston in 1861.  Thus far I’ve discussed the Bomford “Seacoast Howitzers,” which evolved into the Columbiad Model 1844 (arguably more of a “shell gun”).  Now let me turn to the “New Columbiad” or Model 1857.  The reason for this evolution and multiplicity of models had much to do with individual cannon’s reliability and efforts on the part of the Army to solve problems with cast iron guns.

Starting in 1857, and concurrent with the last batch of contracts for Model 1844 Columbiads, the five active heavy artillery foundries received orders for “new pattern” Columbiads.  In terms of critical dimensions, as seen on the chart below, the “New Columbiads” (see the third data column) did not differ from the earlier Model 1844.

However not depicted in the dimensions were several design changes.  The New Columbiads dispensed with the base ring, introduced a hemispherical full caliber chamber, and smoother reinforce exteriors.

As indicated on the chart, five foundries produced quantities of the New Columbiads.  Cyrus Alger received orders for 41, which the Army later reduced to only three trial guns.  Bellona Foundry saw their initial order for twenty reduced, with only nine credited deliveries (and which apparently the state of  Virginia seized in 1861).  Tredegar’s order for 26 dropped to only 17 credited deliveries.  West Point delivered only 19 on the contract for 24.

Fort Pitt Foundry’s initial order carried the requirement “to be cast hollow.”  On the initial order for nineteen, the Army credited the foundry for sixteen.  And then the Army ordered additional batches, many of which “cast hollow,” between 1859 and 1861.  With these orders, Fort Pitt transitioned production techniques from the old style castings to that used for the highly successful Rodman guns.

Of just under a hundred produced, only two examples survive today.  Such reinforces the assumption that the Army expended most of the New Columbiads in destructive tests.  Some of those earmarked for tests lacked the elevation ratchets on the breech face, replacing them with a large knob cascabel.  Mounted on a test carriage at locations such as Fort Monroe, the gun crew only needed a quoin to change elevations and not the elaborate service mechanisms.  While sacrificed on the test range, the burst guns provided invaluable data leading to the fine, dependable wartime Rodman guns.

But at least a few of those New Columbiads saw active service, issued to the seacoast forts.  Photos of Fort Moultrie taken prior to the Federal evacuation (probably in 1860) show what appear to be the New Columbiads on barbette carriages (just right of center).

Sullivans Island, Fort Moultrie

Hard to make a certain call from this angle, but the three guns above the hot shot furnace are 8-inch Columbiads.  And likely the partially obscured gun on the far right is also.  The guns appear to have rounded breech faces, as used on the New Columbiads. Photos taken after April 1861 show two or three of those guns still in place.

I’ve seen photos from other angles which confirms the rounded breech faces, leading to a tentative identification of New Columbiads.

Of the two surviving examples, one apparently didn’t venture far from Fort Moultrie.

Fort Moultrie 3 May 2010 490

8-inch New Columbiad, West Point #89, Rifled and Banded

Confederates rifled and banded this gun during the war.  The story about this gun, and others like it which were similarly modified, is worth a separate post.  So I’ll hold off discussing the gun further at this point.

The other surviving 8-inch New Columbiad – from Tredegar – sits atop a memorial at Beatrice, Nebraska (don’t ask me how it got there!).

Gage County Courthouse Cannon (Beatrice, Nebraska)

8-inch Columbiad at Beatrice, Nebraska

I would also point out the 8-inch New Columbiads appear in many wartime photos.  Perhaps the most interesting are those taken at Yorktown, Virginia in 1862.

A few photos from the same time period, but at different locations, show 8-inch New Columbiads with knobs instead of ratchets.  But proper identification there runs into a trap – both Tredegar and Bellona continued production of the 8-inch New Columbiads for Confederate customers.  Those I will deal with in detail in another post.

Having completely exhausted the topic of 8-inch caliber weapons involved with the April 1861 Battle of Fort Sumter, let me next turn to the larger 10-inch Columbiads.

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

Ordnance Manual for Use of the Officers of the United States Army.  Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1862. (Google Books copy)

Birkhimer, William, Historical Sketch of the Organization, Administration, Material and Tactics of the Artillery, United States Army.  Washington:  James J. Chapman, 1884.

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.

Ripley, Warren. Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, 4th Edition. Charleston, S.C.: The Battery Press, 1984.

8-inch Seacoast Howitzer

Turning from the “guns” that served both sides at Fort Sumter in 1861, another type of weapon in the batteries was the seacoast howitzer.  As mentioned in an earlier post tracing the history of columbiads, the seacoast howitzer filled a requirement to fire shells at enemy ships venturing too close to the friendly shores.

Earlier weapons, from the time of the War of 1812, that carried the “columbiad” resembled heavy howitzers.  But these fired solid shot.  By the 1830s tests indicated that shells would cause considerable damage to wooden ships of the era.  The Army wanted to complement conventional seacoast guns with “seacoast howitzers” firing such shells.  In 1839, the Army issued contracts to Columbia Foundry, in Washington, D.C., and West Point Foundry, in New York, for 8-inch seacoast howitzers (the term “bomb cannons” appeared on some documents) built to a “pattern of 1839.”  The contracts specified the use of hot blast iron.  Columbia Foundry delivered 38 of these; and West Point produced 20.

One of the later is on display at the memorial for General John Sedgwick in Cornwall Hollow, Connecticut.  Friend and fellow marker-hunter Bill Coughlin forwarded a few pictures of that howitzer.

8-inch Seacoast Howitzer Model 1839

The profile follows a familiar pattern for external moldings and fixtures.  But there is one extra “ring” on the reinforce just in front of the lockpiece.  This ring indicates the separation of the first and second reinforce.  Hard to determine without laying a level on the howitzer, but that first reinforce is a true cylinder, like those seen on the larger 32-pdr and 42-pdr models of the same time period.  The addition of the ring allows easy identification of the seacoast howitzer.

8-inch Seacoast Howitzer Model 1839

The muzzle itself incorporates a fillet and cavetto.  On the muzzle face of this piece are the initials of Rufus Lathrop Baker (R.L.B.) and the registry number 4.  Note the test scar on the muzzle.

Muzzle of 8-inch Howitzer

Aside from the example in the photo here, only one other 8-inch Model 1839 exists today.  However in 1840, the Army issued more contracts for a very similar Model 1840, but this time specifying the use of “cold blast” iron.

The difference between hot and cold blast is better left to a separate post, as it transitions easily into a larger discussion of the study of metallurgy in the 19th century.  But the short version is hot blast involved blowing pre-heated air into the furnace in the smelting process.  While reducing the cost to manufacture, this also changed the composition of the metal.  The Army later determined hot blast iron lacked the endurance to use with cannon and specified traditional cold blast iron instead.

Both 8-inch and 10-inch models appeared.  But for our discussions here, let me focus on the 8-inch model that was used at Fort Sumter.  I lack photos of any Model 1840 seacoast howitzers.   So in that place I’ll offer one of my tables indicating the dimensions of the various seacoast howitzers.

Notice the same dimensions for both the Model 1839 and 1840.  Other than a slightly reduced muzzle swell diameter, the two models were externally indistinguishable.  Columbia produced 43 of the Model 1840 and West Point added another twenty.  Cyrus Alger of Boston produced one experimental howitzer to this pattern.  Bellona Foundry initially received an order for twenty, which was later cancelled (occurring about the same time as many other issues at Bellona with cannon production).

Not content with the design, the Army again revised the howitzer design in 1842.  The improved model featured the ratchet bar in place of a traditional knob on the breech.  In place of the reinforce ring was a six-inch wide reinforce band situated over the mouth of the chamber.  The chase tapered gradually, with a chase ring, to a straight, un-swelled muzzle.  Cyrus Alger received a contract for thirteen 8-inch and seven 10-inch, delivering them in 1843-44.  Only one of the 10-inch howitzers survives today, and none of the 8-inch types.  But these served as transitional pieces to the Model 1844 Columbiad design.

By 1861, the Army had suppressed the use of the seacoast howitzers across the board (in the same order that also suppressed the 32- and 42-pdr seacoast guns in favor of the Rodman-type guns).  But with quantities on hand in April 1861, both sides used the seacoast howitzers.

Given the quantity of manufacture, likely the howitzers arrayed around Charleston were of the Model 1840 variety.  Although the Model 1839 would easily pass without much note on the inventories.  The South Carolinians captured a small quantity of these weapons in December 1860.  The Fort’s garrison positioned several of these guns in key positions around the fort.

In my next post I’ll discuss the performance of the 8-inch howitzer and discuss how these were used at Fort Sumter.

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

Ordnance Manual for Use of the Officers of the United States Army.  Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1862. (Google Books copy)

Bell, Jack. Civil War Heavy Explosive Ordnance:  A Guide to Large Artillery, Projectiles, Torpedoes, and Mines. Denton, Texas:  University of North Texas Press, 2003.

Birkhimer, William, Historical Sketch of the Organization, Administration, Material and Tactics of the Artillery, United States Army.  Washington:  James J. Chapman, 1884.  Particularly pages 275-9 discussing the evolution of the American systems of artillery.

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.

Ripley, Warren. Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, 4th Edition. Charleston, S.C.: The Battery Press, 1984.

Improved 32-pdr Guns – Models of 1840 and 1845

After the long production run of the 32-pdr Model 1829, the Army turned to simplified and improved designs.  In parallel to 42-pdr seacoast gun developments, two experimental “new model” guns appeared in 1839.  Columbia and West Point foundries cast one Model 1839 each.  As noted on the chart below, the design shortened the reinforce and decreased weight.  The ringknob disappeared.

A production model followed the following year, and matching improvements to the larger 42-pdrs, featured a cylindrical first reinforce.  From the breech, again without ringknob, a 22-inch diameter base ring formed into a 22.4-inch long, 21-inch diameter first reinforce.  The second reinforce narrowed from 21 inches to 18.5 inches over a 31.5 inch length.  The trunnions, with a large 9.4-inch diameter rimbase, formed off the second reinforce.  The chase tapered through a chase ring, then expanded with a muzzle swell.  The muzzle featured a echinus, instead of the earlier model’s caveto.

The Army placed orders for the 32-pdr Model 1840 with three foundries on January 7, 1841.  Columbia Foundry in Washington, D.C. produced twenty.  West Point Foundry provided nineteen.  Bellona Foundry outside Richmond, Virginia received an order for twenty.  However two months later the Army reduced the order to sixteen.  The Army rejected all sixteen produced.  Finally in March 1843, eleven of Bellona’s guns passed proofing thus completing the contract and production of the Model 1840 guns.  As noted, none of these guns survive today.

Presumably, the Model 1840 failed to live up to expectations and the Army revised the pattern.  In late 1844, Tredegar Foundry received orders for sixty Model 1845.  The new model increased the base ring to a 23.5 inch diameter.  The reinforces measured the same lengths as on the Model 1840, but the first reinforce was 22-inches in diameter.  Other dimensions remained the same.  Weight increased to 7,251 pounds average.  Surviving Model 1845s show machine marks all around, indicating an effort to smooth the overall surface of the guns prior to leaving the foundry.

Fort Donelson 367

32-pdr Model 1845 at Fort Donelson - Tredegar #21

Tredegar fulfilled the order for sixty by 1846.  In 1850 the Richmond foundry delivered another thirty.  Other sources included Cyrus Alger with 30, Fort Pitt Foundry with 32, and West Point with 30.   All told 182 guns in the production run.

Three of the Tredegar guns stand on display today at Fort Donelson, offering good “walk arounds.”  Starting at the breech, the breech forms a “dish” behind the base ring.  From the base ring the lines taper sharply down to the first reinforce.  Note the slight vertical line at the end of the first reinforce, just left of center in this photo.

Fort Donelson 372

Breech Profile of Tredegar #21

Another view of the breech of another 32-pdr shows the lockpiece above the vent, connecting to the base ring.

Fort Donelson 409

Breech of Model 1845 - Tredegar #52

The second reinforce gradually tapers down to the shoulder, just past the trunnions.  The rimbases provided a one inch surface area all around the trunnions.  Note also the “U.S.” acceptance mark between the trunnions.

Fort Donelson 413

Shoulder of Model 1845 - Tredegar #52

The left trunnions display the year of manufacture.  The right trunnions bear the initials of the foundry owner and foundry – in this case “J.R.A.” for Joseph R. Anderson and “T.F.” for Tredegar Foundry.  Notice the machine marks on the rimbases, seen to advantage in this view.

Fort Donelson 410

Right Trunnion of Model 1845 - Tredegar #52

Proceeding to the muzzle, the chase tapers to the chase ring.

Fort Donelson 373

Muzzle Profile of Model 1845 - Tredegar #21

Finally, the muzzle face bears the stamps of the registry and inspector.  In this case Alfred Mordecai (the senior).  Notice the echinus with no fillets.

Fort Donelson 390

Muzzle Face of Model 1845 - Tredegar #26

Like the 32-pdr Model 1829, the Model 1845 was considered second rate for seacoast defense at the start of the war.  Yet without sufficient replacements on hand, both sides used the Model 1845 where needed.  Some were rifled to improve performance (and I will take that discussion up in a later post).  But after the first half of the war, like all the 32s, the Model 1845s were relegated to supporting roles.

Fort Donelson 386

32-pdr Model 1845 at Fort Donelson - Tredegar #26

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

Birkhimer, William. Historical Sketch of the Organization, Administration, Material and Tactics of the Artillery, United States Army.  Washington:  James J. Chapman, 1884.  Particularly pages 274-8 discussing the evolution of the American systems of artillery.

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.

Ripley, Warren. Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, 4th Edition. Charleston, S.C.: The Battery Press, 1984.