Tag Archives: Columbiads

Beauregard to Gorgas: “I prefer that we should try the experiment on our enemy…”

Throughout 1863, General P.G.T. Beauregard authorized programs to convert both 8-inch and 10-inch columbiads into rifled guns for the defense of Charleston.  These modifications did not receive the full blessing of those in Richmond.  In fact, Colonel Josiah Gorgas, Confederate Chief of Ordnance, voiced concerns in a letter to Beauregard in November 1863.

Beauregard wisely waited until January 9, 1864 to respond, explaining he delayed “until I could carefully reconsider my preconceived views and subject them to the test of actual experiment.”  He went on to say while the 10-inch rifles had not been tested in action, the 8-inch rifles had been fired in anger… a lot.

Your letter alludes chiefly to the 10-inch gun, but as your objections and conclusions must apply equally to the 8-inch as to the 10-inch, I must acquaint you that an 8-inch gun, rifled and double banded, in position at Fort Moultrie, has been fired through some four or five different engagements, in all over 100 times, with shell weighing over 100 pounds and bolts 140 pounds, with most satisfactory results, giving a greater range with the same charges and less elevation than the smooth-bore, with shell and shot of less than half the weight. The gun is uninjured, and there is no apparent reason why it should not last a long time.

He went on to say General Roswell Ripley considered the gun his best on Sullivan’s Island and “and in action has an immediate effect upon the enemy’s iron-clads, which always try to avoid it.”

Fort Moultrie 3 May 2010 490

Beauregard continued:

This having proved a success, three others of the same kind have been prepared and placed in position in the harbor batteries, but owing to the limited supply of projectiles a thorough test has not been applied. The charges used have been 8 pounds and 10 pounds of coarse-grained powder, and the range shows these to have been sufficient to give full velocity to the projectiles for distances of 1,000 yards.

The reported experience demonstrated that higher powder charges did not offer any significant gain in range or velocity.  And Beauregard added, perhaps to make a point about the Ordnance Department’s products, that a Brooke rifle at Fort Sumter, fired with fifteen pounds of powder at an elevation of 18º had suffered a cracked vent.  The surviving Brooke 7-inch rifle at Fort Sumter was thereafter fired with reduced charges, of 10 pounds, with better results.  Beauregard quoted a report from Ripley claiming the gun had, with a 23º elevation, achieved a range of four miles to strike in the Federal camps on Folly Island (that being in the days before Fort Sumter was bombarded by the Federals).  In Beauregard’s view, this field experience trumped the instructions sent out by those in Richmond.

Fort Moultrie 3 May 2010 568

In regard to his modified rifles, Beauregard built a case for their acceptance:

If the rifling and banding of the 8-inch and 10-inch columbiads is to be abandoned I consider it fortunate for Charleston that I have four of the former in position instead of the like number of smoothbore 8-inch guns, which abundant experience here has demonstrated to be almost ineffective against iron-clads….

As long, therefore, as we can get equal or greater ranges with the same elevations and charges with the rifled as with the smooth-bore guns and throw projectiles of more than double the weight with increased accuracy, it would seem advisable to continue the alteration of these guns of the same patterns and dates.

The principle of the Blakely gun has not been tried as yet with these columbiads, because they do very well when fired according to the ordinary method; but by the application of the principle I should hardly deem it jumping at a conclusion. Would it not be better than remaining in statu quo?

I cannot believe that it would have been advisable to wait for the elucidation of the matter by the United States Ordnance Bureau, from their trials with 10-inch guns at West Point, for we may depend upon it that if successful the first we shall know of the fact will be the transfer to Morris Island and continuance of their experiments on ourselves by heavy batteries of this description of ordnance…

And, then he went for the kill:

I prefer that we should try the experiment on our enemy rather than let him test it on us. Fas est ab hoste doceri is a good axiom in war, but not exactly in the way you propose.

Fas est ab hoste doceri  – that is “it is right to learn even from an enemy.”  And Beauregard was tired of “learning” about the effectiveness of the Federal heavy guns as he watched them bombard Battery Wagner, Fort Sumter, and Charleston itself.

And he could not help but offer one more jab saying  “The guns selected for this purpose were captured at Forts Moultrie and Sumter in April, 1861, of the very best iron, and superior to those now manufactured by the Ordnance Department of the Confederate States.”  And remember, it was Beauregard who had recommended Gorgas for the position heading the Ordnance Department, back in the spring of 1861!

Beauregard closed his argument saying, “I do not say that these rifled and banded 8 and 10 inch guns are the best that can be made of their calibers, but, in my belief, they are the best we can get in the present condition of our manufacturing resources.”

Fort Sumter 4 Aug 11 1601

And those rifled guns Beauregard mentioned would serve at the front of Charleston’s defenses for the remainder of the war.  In terms of investment of money and resources, one could carry Beauregard’s argument to say those were the best weapons in the city’s defense.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 513-516.)

Captured guns turned on Confederates: Federal use of “Revised Columbiads”

Confederate observers on Fort Sumter and other points around Charleston harbor were very good at identifying Federal batteries on Morris Island.  Their reports often detailed even the make and model gun in the individual positions. An entry from November 14, 1863 described Battery Gregg, renamed Fort Putnam after capture in September, as containing “Four 30-pounder Parrotts, three 200-pounder Parrotts, and one 10-inch columbiads.  Two mortars are also observed in the same battery.”  For comparison, the 3rd Rhode Island which manned Fort Putnam recorded having one 200-pdr Parrott, two 100-pdr Parrotts, four 30-pounder Parrotts, one 10-inch columbiad, and two seacoast howitzers* when the second great bombardment of Fort Sumter started.

The Parrott guns, large and small, carried most of the weight during the bombardments.  But what of that 10-inch columbiad?  The Federals had several weapons of that type in the Department of the South.  Columbiads saw action in the bombardment of Fort Pulaski the previous year.  However, the Federals also captured one serviceable 10-inch Columbiad with the fall of Battery Wagner on September 7 of that year.  So is there any evidence of the Federals impressing that Confederate columbiad into service?   Consider this photo taken of Fort Putnam:

No doubt the location of this photo.  It is Fort Putnam.

FortPutnamBty1a

While most, both Federal and Confederate, still referred to Battery Gregg, Fort Putnam appears on official Federal correspondence.

All around this position are stacked projectiles, shells and perhaps some solid bolts.

FortPutnamBty1b

Those on the right side (and to the left) are elongated projectiles to be fed into this gun:

FortPutnamBty1d

Given the profile of the chase, I call this as an 6.4-inch, or 100-pounder Parrott.  But without any good measure reference, this could be a 8-inch, or 200-pounder, Parrott.

Laying in front of the battery are the assembled rails for another heavy Parrott:

FortPutnamBty1e

But behind that stands a pyramid of round projectiles. Three in fact:

FortPutnamBty1f

There’s a couple stand of grapeshot, too.  More grape stand atop the shipping boxes behind that:

FortPutnamBty1c

Those projectiles were not for the Parrott, but rather for this gun:

FortPutnamBty1g

This gun is certainly not a Parrott.  Three items help identify the weapon.  First is the wooden carriage.  Second is the “mushroom cascabel.” And lastly the elevating gear.

At first, one is inclined to say “Rodman gun!”  But there are no references to Rodman guns used on Morris Island.  Because that weapon was so new to service, one would expect Major-General Quincy Gillmore and other observers to provide detailed reports of any such employment.  None exist.  So this is likely something other than a Rodman gun.

The mushroom cascabel was a feature on two types of guns – Rodman guns and Confederate “revised model” Columbiads.  Rodmans used wrought iron carriages, similar to those used by the Parrott Rifles.  The Confederate columbiads used wooden carriages, as evidenced by their longer trunnions.  As for the elevating gear, only the first ten 10-inch Rodman guns used the ratchet arrangement.  All of the “revised model” Confederate columbiads used the ratchet type.

10 July 11 860

Elevating gear on reproduction carriage holding a Confederate 8-inch “revised pattern” Columbiad at Drewry’s Bluff

Those three visible features point to this weapon being a Confederate columbiad cast to an early-war revised pattern.  Sometimes erroneously called a “Confederate Rodman,” the guns were derivatives of the “New Columbiad” pattern, incorporating the mushroom cascabel devised by Captain Thomas J. Rodman but retaining many of the external features of the pre-war columbiad pattern.  Should you wish to compare the Rodman to the “revised pattern” Confederate guns, Fort Moultrie is the place to go.

Official records establish the presence of at least one captured Confederate columbiad on Morris Island.  The photograph, I think, establishes the use of at least one captured columbiad.

Another fine point in this photo which deserves note are the shadows:

FortPutnamBty1h

The sun is to the left of the photo.  Putting things in reference to the maps, either this photo was taken near sunset… or mid-day during one of those late-fall or winter days when the sun is lower in the southern skies.  And therefore, north would be to the right.  Keep in mind the location of Fort Putnam at the north end of Morris Island:

2ndGreatBombardment

While the time of day is not known for certainty, I submit these guns were facing towards the west/northwest to allow fires at Fort Sumter and… if need be … Charleston (thus the high elevation of the Parrott).  If so, here was a former Confederate gun turned directly back on its former owners, with range to hit Fort Sumter and some locations on James Island.

Note: The 3rd Rhode Island regimental history records these as “10-inch seacoast howitzers.” More likely these were 8-inch seacoast howitzers captured from Confederates.

150 years ago: Arms buildup for Vicksburg

The string of tactical defeats and strategic withdrawals for the Confederates in the Western Theater through 1862 not only conceded territory to the Federals but also translated to lost war material.  At the Iron Buffs of Columbus, Island No.10, Fort Pillow, and Memphis, the Confederates shed much needed heavy ordnance and material.  Likewise, the rebels left many small arms on the field at Fort Donelson and Shiloh.  Not to mention the loss of production facilities in Nashville, New Orleans, and Memphis.  All of which was sorely lacking at the next bastion under pressure – Vicksburg.  During the fall of 1862, as the center of gravity in the west shifted towards that particular bend of the Mississippi River, Confederates shipped large quantities of equipment to Vicksburg.

But “shipped to” does not necessarily mean “received at” when one balances the books.  In the last days of November, those in Vicksburg complained of delays.  A message sent on November 30, 1862 complained of receiving only 1,700 small arms.  In response, on December 2 Colonel Joshia Gorgas reported in detail the support offered to that point by the Confederate Ordnance Department:

  • October 29, Richmond: One thousand seven hundred small-arms.
  • October 29, Richmond: Four 4.62 rifled and banded guns, with carriages and ammunition complete; four 12-pounder bronze guns; four 24-pounder howitzers, with carriages, caissons, and ammunition complete.
  • November 9, Richmond: Four thousand rounds ammunition for 6-pounder gun and 12-pounder howitzer (three-fifths gun and two-fifths howitzer); 80 rounds 20-pounder Parrott ammunition; 200 rounds 3-pounder Parrott ammunition.
  • November 10, Charleston: Eight hundred arms to General Smith, Vicksburg.
  • November 10, Atlanta: Five hundred 3-inch rifle shot and shell.
  • November 11, Richmond: Seventy rounds 20-pounder ammunition.
  • November 18, Richmond and Lynchburg: One thousand five hundred arms and ammunition.
  • November 18, Knoxville: One thousand five hundred arms and ammunition.
  • November 18, Atlanta: Five hundred arms and ammunition.
  • November 24, Richmond: Three 10-inch columbiads.

In short about 6000 small arms forwarded from depots in Richmond, Charleston (South Carolina), Atlanta, and Knoxville to Vicksburg.  But of course the majority of those (save the first 1,700) didn’t get on a train until November and thus were likely still on the rails when Gorgas responded. (*)

But that was just the muskets and such.  The “fun” stuff we discuss on this blog is the artillery, right?  Four 4.62-inch rifled and banded guns, four 12-pdr guns (likely Napoleons), four 24-pdr howitzers, and three 10-inch Columbiads.  At least one of the 4.62-inch rifles ended up at Port Hudson and another ended up in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Because of that scattering, its hard to say for sure all three 10-inch Columbiads served at Vicksburg.  The river defenses contained at least two weapons of that caliber before hand, so mention in action reports is not proof of presence of these big triplets.

But there is a good line on when the guns left Richmond.  Tredegar often filed claims for hauling equipment and stores for the Confederacy.  A tally of the “hauling account” for November lists an entry for November 22:

On the 15th, Tredegar unloaded three 10-inch Columbiads shipped downriver from Bellona Foundry, from the wording “boat in basin,” likely using the James River Canal.  The entry also indicates one of the Columbiads went to the proving grounds.  Tredegar also loaded up two 4.62 inch rifles for shipment to Danville at that time – which may or many not be part of the set Gorgas ordered shipped on November 9.  The going rate to unload a gun from a canal boat was $5.  The rate to haul a gun to the range was $10.  Loading two guns on the railcars cost $15.

On November 22, Tredegar loaded three 10-inch Columbiads  on cars heading to Danville, and from there points west.  Since the entry mentions handling one Columbiad from the proving grounds and the other two from the basin to the depot, that covers the weapons mentioned on the 15th.  Tredegar also loaded three carriages for the Columbiads.

Notice the costs of the labor for the 22nd.  Just as on the 15th, $10 a gun to transport to the depot (either from the basin or proving range).  Counting gun and carriage, Columbiads cost $7.50 per gun to load onto rail cars.  The 4.62-inch rifles loaded on the 15th were mounted on siege carriages, so handling costs were fifty cents left.   Again, let me highlight the rather tight bookkeeping done for the Confederate government.

A look further down on the “hauling” tally indicates Tredegar handled five more of the 10-inch Columbiads a few days later:

On the 29th, Tredegar’s workers loaded three of five 10-inch Columbiads handled that day onto rail cars.  The tally does not indicate where those were sent.  Either date (the 22nd or the 29th) would fit for the day those Columbiads rolled out bound for Vicksburg.  I’m inclined to go with the 22nd since the name of the connecting destination was provided.  And again look at the handling costs – $10 to move a gun, $5 to load a gun on a railcar, and $7.50 to haul and load a carriage.

But before leaving the tally sheet, consider this entry made between the two clipped above:

Anyone care to venture a guess about those pieces and where they were used?  I’ll give you a hint.

Fredericksburg 24 Nov 12 051

In late November 1862, the Confederacy rushed guns to several threatened points.

—————————

* For Gorgas’ report and the original inquiry from Vicksburg, see OR, Series I, Volume 17, Part II, Serial 25, pages 775-6.

The receipt for hauling is located in the Confederate Citizens Files for J.R. Anderson & Company.