Tag Archives: Quinby & Robinson

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.

Memphis Rifles: 3-inch bronze guns from Quinby & Robinson

In February 1862, Major William Richardson Hunt approved receipt of over $2500 of ordnance from the Memphis firm of Quinby & Robinson.

The third item listed on the receipt records “1 6 pdr 3 in Rifle Gun” received on February 6 at a cost of $687.43.  (Recall the nomenclature used for other Confederate 3-inch rifles incorporated similar references to the base 6-pdr caliber.)  The 3-inch rifle was one of only a handful, perhaps only three, produced by Quinby & Robinson before the fall of Memphis that spring.  Remarkably two of the guns survive today in Petersburg National Battlefield.

One is on display near the visitor center.

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3-inch Q&R Rifle #33 at the Petersburg Visitor Center

The other is located at Colquitt’s Salient opposite Fort Steadman.

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

At first glance the gun presents a clean appearance, with minimal moldings confined to the base ring and knob.  The cylindrical rimbases attach directly to the gradually tapering barrel.  Small numbers on top of the breech (#33 on the piece in front of the visitor center and #34 on the gun in the field) should correspond to a foundry numbers. The stamps on the right trunnion indicate the guns are indeed from Quinby & Robinson.

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Right Trunnion of #34

The year stamped on the left trunnion of each piece, 1862, puts the guns  are in the range corresponding to the receipt shown above.

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Left Trunnion of #34

The thickness of metal at the muzzle suggests the original casting pattern was intended for a larger caliber weapon.

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Muzzle face of #34

The bore features twelve left-handed twist lands and grooves.  Remarkably, neither gun exhibits significant wear of the rifling.

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Bore of #34

The bore measures out at the prescribed 3-inches.

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Bore measure of #33

The breech profile incorporated a base ring, rounded breech face, and a rounded knob with rather thick fillet connecting to the breech.

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Breech profile of #34

The gun sight mounts are no longer attached.  But the fittings indicate the use of a standard hausse seat in the rear and a spike front sight above the muzzle.

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Muzzle of #33

Of the pair, #33 definitely has more “character.”

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Scar on #33

The divot under the lower left of the barrel looks like a battle scar.  But it could also be the result of mishandling.  But it sounds so much more exciting to say some Yankee solid shot ricocheted off the barrel in the heat of some artillery duel.  The damage deformed the interior of the gun and actually warped the bore.

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Bore of #33

Needless to say, #33 won’t be firing any more rounds.

Up until the recent refurbishment of the Petersburg artillery display, #33 sat on the rails between a James Type 2 14-pdr rifle and a Wiard 2.6-inch rifle, allowing for convenient comparison.

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Three field rifles in the old artillery display. #33 in the middle.

The Confederate rifle measures 61 inches long, compared to 74 inches for the James rifle and 52.5 inches for the Wiard.

The external appearance of these two Quinby & Robinson rifles, even if breaking with established patterns, is not unique.  Another pair of 3-inch rifles at Petersburg, produced by A.B. Reading and Brother, from Vicksburg, Mississippi.  I will examine them next.