Tag Archives: Roswell S. Ripley

Ordnance to repel the Ironclads: Eason Brothers and the arms buildup in Charleston

There’s a tendency, as one considers the Civil War from a high level, to consider Charleston, South Carolina as a “backwater” after the start of the war.  Yet hardly a day went by from the fall of 1862 to the Confederate evacuation in 1865 which didn’t see some military activity.  Several important battles – Secessionville, the Ironclad Attack, Battery Wagner, and reduction of Fort Sumter to name a few – took place in what was the war’s most protracted “siege” as the Army and Navy conducted joint operations against the Confederate defenders.  Geography and operational considerations prevented campaigning on the scale seen elsewhere.  But the South Carolina low country was far from a “backwater” in the flow of the war.  Indeed, in the closing days of January 1863 activity at Charleston would step up.

At the end of 1862, the Federals began a concentration of ironclad ships along the South Carolina coast.  The Federals planned to use these to clear some of the smaller fortifications – Fort McAllister in Georgia and the defenses of Cape Fear in North Carolina – before concentrating on Charleston.  But the Confederates saw these iron monsters as a direct threat to Charleston.  The situation called for large bore rifled guns, such as the vaunted Brooke Rifles.  But those being in short supply (and high demand across the Confederate coast), General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Department of South Carolina and Georgia, sought expedients as alternatives.

An inventory of the guns around Charleston from September 1862 demonstrates the lack of heavy weapons then available.  Arrayed about the harbor, and including landward facing defenses on James Island, the defenders had a total of eight 10-inch columbiads, three IX-inch Dahlgrens, twenty-seven 8-inch columbiads, six 8-inch Navy guns, eleven 8-inch seacoast howitzers, twelve 42-pdr guns, sixty-seven 32-pdr guns, and fifty-one 24-pdr guns.  As for large bore rifled guns, the defenders had six rifled 42-pdr guns, fifteen 32-pdrs, five 24-pdrs, and one 18-pdr.  All of these were modified smoothbores, with rifling and in many cases reinforcing bands added.  Although many of these modifications were done in Richmond, the Charleston firms of Eason Brothers & Company and Cameron & Company also provided these services.

Clearly this was inadequate – in both quantity and caliber – for Charleston’s needs.  Beauregard pressed Richmond authorities for more heavy caliber guns, particularly rifles.  But as noted in other articles, that source was slowly catching up with the need.  In Charleston, Beauregard faced a small bureaucratic problem.  In late November 1862, Brigadier General Roswell S. Ripley, commanding at Charleston, arrested Major Frederick L. Childs, of the Charleston Arsenal, on charges for “refusing to fill a requisition.”  Ripley insisted that Childs sat upon several banding components rather than issue for the improvement of the smoothbore weapons.  This unfortunate episode meant that, just as Charleston’s defensive preparations needed more attention, internal friction delayed action.

Regardless of the delays, Eason & Brothers managed to supply a few additional refurbished, rifled, and banded guns through January, as indicated on receipts in the Confederate Citizens files.

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About halfway down the receipt is a listing for rifling a “42-pdr double banded gun.”

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The double banding probably alluded to the stacking of bands, as seen on many contemporary Brooke rifles.  No surviving gun matches that description. But readers will recall this weapon presently at Kingwood, West Virginia.

Kingwood 24 Jul 10 351

42-pdr Seacoast Gun, Tredegar manufacture, banded and rifled by Eason Bros.

The gun itself was cast by Tredegar.  Records claim the stamp on the right trunnion included the year “1861.”  If correct, this was among the guns produced by Tredegar prior to the outbreak of war, for sale to seceding states.

The band was added later.  A stamp on that band leaves no doubt as to who performed that work.

Kingwood 24 Jul 10 357

Breech and Band Stamps on 42-pdr

The wrought iron has eroded away somewhat.  But the initials “J.M.E. [&] BRO” still stands out.  While several other banded 42-pdrs have associations with Charleston, this one has a clear link to Eason & Brothers.

In addition to updates – arguably marginal updates – to otherwise obsolete guns, Eason provided a substantial amount of projectiles for these guns.  Other receipts from January 1863 show the firm provided solid shot for rifled 42-pdrs, 32-pdrs, 24-pdrs, and 12-pdrs.

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James M. Eason, Brothers, and Company were an important component to the Confederate buildup defending Charleston at the end of 1862 and start of 1863.  The arms and ordnance provided by Eason would be tested in the days and months to come.

A Defective Brooke Rifle at Fort Pulaski

Sited between the two 4.5-inch Blakely rifles on the eastern point of Fort Pulaski is an interesting 6.4-inch Double Banded Brooke Rifle. It’s one of my favorite cannons.  As with many Civil War-era guns, it has a story to tell.  However, I don’t think the story is, as of yet, complete.

Ft Pulaski 3 Aug 11 1373

6.4-inch Double Banded Brooke Rifle at Fort Pulaski

For some reason, the park mounted this gun upside down.  That’s why the rear sight mass is underneath the gun, instead of on top.

Ft Pulaski 3 Aug 11 1376

Rear sight mass - underneath because the gun is inverted

That means the right trunnion is on the left side of the carriage, with the stamp for “1863.”

Ft Pulaski 3 Aug 11 1375

Right trunnion then is on the left!

The pitted left trunnion reveals some lines which appear to be the initials for Tredegar Foundry.

Ft Pulaski 3 Aug 11 1377

Left Trunnion

The bore, while eroded, has seven grooves – standard for this caliber Brooke rifle.

Ft Pulaski 3 Aug 11 1378

Bore of the Brooke

But what you noticed in the first picture is this:

Ft Pulaski 3 Aug 11 1374

Separated bands on Brooke Rifle

Definitely a problem! But this does gives us an appreciation for the Brooke banding method.  Unlike Parrott, which used a wrought iron coil to form a band, Brooke used rings to build up a band.  In the case of the 6.4-inch double banded guns, there were five such rings on the lower level with three more rings on the upper.  The rings were wrought iron, six inches wide and two inches thick.  Earlier Brookes were single banded.  Double banding provided extra strength needed to use heavier charges needed for anti-ironclad work.

But why are these bands separated?

There is a dispatch from General P.G.T. Beauregard’s chief of staff, General Thomas Jordan, dated September 7, 1863, responding to inquiries from General Roswell S. Ripley at Charleston, South Carolina.  In the response, Jordan mentioned, “The 6.40-inch Brooke gun at Fort Johnson will be rebanded at once.”1  Very likely the work, if done, was completed at one of the local Charleston shops. Lacking the facilities of Tredegar, the work may have been sub-standard. Might that repair (or similar repairs to another gun) account for the separations?

Another lead comes from John Brooke’s journal.  Around June 5, 1863, Brooke penned an entry discussing the May 15 fire that struck the Tredegar facility.  He mentions damage done to a triple banded 7-inch rifle, noting “The bands of one opened a little at the joints, about 1/32 part of an inch or 1/30….” Brooke went on to mention 7-inch rifles and 10-inch smoothbores damaged in the fire.2

It is possible a 6.4-inch gun escaped Brooke’s attention or interest if it was under contract for the Army (for those unfamiliar with Brooke, he was working the Confederate Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography). The gaps do increase towards the front of the band.  I could see that being the result of a heating and cooling cycle.  Perhaps the bands heated, slipped, then contracted back after cooling.

Fort Pulaski 5 May 10 236

Separated bands on the double banded 6.4-inch Brooke

Maybe this gun came from the factory in the “separated” condition.  Maybe damage due to a fire at the foundry contributed to the issue.  Or maybe a botched repair job produced the spacing.  Regardless, since the gun was not scrapped, someone found a use for the gun.  Hard to believe anyone would trust the gun with a full service charge. So perhaps that’s the next lead – accounts alluding to a specific Brooke rifle that required smaller charges for fear of bursting.

If you visit Fort Pulaski, please take some extra time to examine my “old friend” with the separated bands.  Maybe you will see some mark or feature that would shed light on this mystery.

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Notes:

  1. Official Records, Series I, Volume 28, Part II, Serial 47, page 346.
  2. Ironclads and Big Guns of the Confederacy: The Journal and Letters of John M. Brooke, Edited by George M. Brooke, Jr. (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 2002), page 134.