Tag Archives: Vicksburg

Richard, the Widow, and some other cannon: Named guns at Vicksburg

A few days back, I posted about Widow Blakely, a 7.5-inch rifled gun imported from England and used by the Confederates in defense of Vicksburg.  I originally used this photo to illustrate the post:

Whistling Dick, ca. 1863

The photo is often captioned as “Whistling Dick” of Vicksburg fame, which it is not.  However, as reader D. Dickens pointed out, it is not the “Widow Blakely” either!  A mistake which I should have avoided simply by referring back to my original notes on this photo!

Alas, having found myself spinning even more confusion into what is already a confusing story, I pulled the image out of the post – I’d already seen where my miss-identification was carried onto another forum.  That said, I need to clear this up!

The gun in the photo, which you see reproduced often, is a 32-pdr Navy Gun.  The same gun appears in other wartime photos:

Vicksburg32Pdr

Here, from my archive of 35mm photos, is a similar gun posted outside the Vicksburg visitor center (in the 1990s, however the gun was on a siege carriage at some point):

Vicksburg32PDRRifle

Banded and Rifled 32-pdr with trimmed muzzle at Vicksburg

Notice the loop cascabel, rear sight arrangement, band extending back to the rear sight, the front sight block over the trunnions, and the truncated muzzle.  This gun has marks indicating proofing in 1849.

In Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, Historian Warren Ripley noted this particular gun came to the park from a Vicksburg cemetery which it had guarded since at least 1874.  Although provenance is not always enough to establish fact, three tons is a lot to move about.  I’ve never researched the full history of the gun, but believe there’s enough similarities between the wartime photos and the gun located at Vicksburg today to apply a “very likely” tag here.

There are several “sisters” to this gun, which I shall christen “Miss Identified.”  One sister is at Fort Branch, North Carolina:

NC 28 Jul 12 130

Banded and Rifled 32-pdr at Fort Branch

Another “sister” is at the Washington Navy Yard:

WNY 10 Apr 10 310

32-pdr Navy Gun of 57cwt, Banded and Rifled, from CSS Teaser

That particular gun was captured by the US Navy on board the CSS Teaser in July 1862.  And that 32-pdr is right next to the Widow Blakely’s sister…

WashNY 21 July 272

7.5-inch Blakely at the Navy Yard

…affording me a rather nice segue!

Widow Blakely Vicksburg

Widow Blakely at Vicksburg

We can say the bands on the Widow Blakely and “Miss Identify” are of two different types of construction.  The Blakely’s were done in England of course.  The 32-pdr bands were done by the Confederacy, likely Tredegar in all three cases.  In fact, there’s good reason to believe the 32-pdrs were among those guns captured at Gosport Navy Yard in April 1861.

But the muzzle of the two guns – Blakely and “Miss Identify” – which are similar enough to fool even this old cannon hunter.  Both have a few feet trimmed off to include the muzzle swell.  Because both guns were damaged at Vicksburg (or at least in the vicinity of Vicksburg), very likely the work was done by a local vendor.  If so, the odds on favorite is A.M. Paxton & Company.   I’ve mentioned that firm in connection with finishing done on Quinby & Robinson guns.  While the firm of A.B. Reading and Brothers sent most of their machinery to Georgia well before the siege of Vicksburg, Paxton apparently retained enough for work supporting the besieged garrison.

Page 80

That’s $2,000 for “Foundry work” through July 4, 1863.  Paxton’s account was not completely settled, even a year later.

I think we can establish, with little doubt, that Widow Blakely and “Miss Identify” were at Vicksburg at the time of the garrison’s surrender.  And the two guns, with only slight hesitation in regard to the 32-pdr, are at Vicksburg today.  But what about “Richard”… I mean Whistling Dick?

First, let us agree beyond a shadow of a doubt, the wartime photos captioned “Whistling Dick” are indeed NOT that famous gun.  The similarities between the gun in the photos and the surviving 32-pdar are far too close.  And we can rule out “Richard” being a 32-pdr.  In his official report of the siege, Major Samuel Lockett gave a very precise identification of the type of gun (emphasis added):

On the 29th, the usual repairs and improvements continued along the whole line: a new battery made in rear of the line left of Hall’s Ferry road; the new battery in rear of General Lee improved, and “Whistling Dick” (an 18-pounder rifled piece) put in position, and a new battery started in rear of General Moore’s center, but the working party was driven off by the enemy’s sharpshooters, and the work stopped.

While not attributing a name to the piece, Colonel Edward Higgins report indicates only one rifled 18-pdr was in the Vicksburg siege lines. That 18-pdr was temporarily disabled on May 22, at the same time the Widow Blakely suffered its burst muzzle (go figure!).  The 18-pdr was repaired and, as Lockett indicated, sent from the water batteries to reinforce the siege lines on May 28, 1863.

Do we have photos of Whistling Dick?  Not that I know of.  Lack of a post-surrender photo would lend credence to a Confederate veteran’s 1900 account.  Alfred Leach claimed the gun was dumped in the Mississippi the night before the official surrender.  Why, with over a hundred other guns in the lines, this particular gun was dumped, I cannot say.

Alternatively, I would offer that, as with so many other weapons captured at Vicksburg, the rifled 18-pdr might have remained in the city.  Federals later used the 10-inch columbiads, 32-pdr smoothbores, and other smaller pieces in the city garrison lines.  However weapons requiring non-standard projectiles – such as the Widow Blakely, Whistling Dick, and “Miss Identify” – were shunted to the side. The Widow went to West Point, was incorrectly cited as Whistling Dick, until corrected in the 1950s.  “Miss Identify,” as mentioned above, probably stayed in Vicksburg guarding a cemetery until relocated to the park in the 1960s.  But “Richard” is lost to the ages.  A famous gun, and a rare 18-pdr siege gun at that (only one cataloged survivor of the type today), discarded without a trace.

So there you have it.  My penance for an earlier mistake with the wartime photo.  Let us remove the confusion about Whistling Dick, Widow Blakely, and that “other” gun.

Sources:  See Ripley, Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War (Forth Edition), pages 30-32. Ripley cited Edwin Bearss, “The Vicksburg River Defenses and the Enigma of Whistling Dick” from The Journal of Mississippi History, Vol. XIX, No. 1, January 1957, page 21. 

Vicksburg Sesquicentennial Schedule

Let me, somewhat belatedly, mention the ongoing schedule of events for Vicksburg’s sesquicentennial. Vicksburg National Military Park has a page detailing the events, which started in April, running through July. Back on April 30, the park began “State Memorial Days” with observances for each state with soldiers participating in the campaign. These run through May 28 (with a couple doubled up).

Interpretive events on Sunday, May 19, and Wednesday, May 22, highlight the days of major assaults on the works. The Memorial Day weekend is packed with living history displays, interpretive events, and concerts. The city of Vicksburg hosts a Memorial Day program including a parade.
The listing of events concludes on July 3 with a luminary, with 20,000 candles, throughout the park.I would love to attend, at a minimum, the Memorial Day events.

But work schedules will not permit. Looking at the schedule, I find interesting the contrast to the eastern theater events from the last couple of years. And to some degree even the western theater events at Fort Donelson, Shiloh, and Stones River. Up to this point in the sesquicentennial, for the most part, we have looked back at individual battles – maybe strung together with campaigns, such as Seven Days or Second Manassas or Antietam – with the peak focus on a handful of days. With Vicksburg, much as we may see for the Overland Campaign, Petersburg, and Atlanta Campaign, there’s a long running “even” spanning weeks. There’s several challenges there. Not the least of which is capturing the moments without saturating the audience.

150 years ago: “…we have an insufficient number of guns.”

In report to Richmond on this day (April 18) in 1863 Lieutenant-General John C. Pemberton, wrote frankly about the status of his defense of Vicksburg:

Jackson, April 18, 1863.
President Jefferson Davis:
The passage of batteries at Vicksburg by a large number of enemy’s vessels on night of [16th] shows conclusively that we have an insufficient number of guns. There are so many points to be defended at this time–Vicksburg, Grand Gulf, Port Hudson, Snyder’s Mill, and Fort Pemberton–that I have only twenty-eight guns at Vicksburg. Of these, two are smooth-bore 32s, two 24s, one 30-pounder Parrott, one Whitworth, and one 10.inch mortar. Vicksburg and Port Hudson, and if possible Grand Gulf, ought to be greatly strengthened in guns. I have also sent 4,000 men from Port Hudson to General Johnston. The enemy has eleven armed vessels between Vicksburg and Port Hudson. A large supply of ammunition and projectiles should be constantly forwarded.
J. G. Pemberton

The “passage of batteries” mentioned in Pemberton’s report were the gunboats and transports of Admiral David Dixon Porter, which ran past Vicksburg on the nights of April 16 and 17.

There are some interesting similarities between the situation at Vicksburg and that at Charleston (which I have been sawing over the last several months). First off is the shortage of heavy guns. Richmond forwarded some guns to fill the need. But not enough. Just as with the Charleston defenses, it’s possible to trace some of the guns used at Vicksburg back through receipts to J.R. Anderson & Company (Tredegar Foundry). For instance, in March 1863, Tredegar a couple of large guns to Jackson, Mississippi. Those guns were among the deliveries tallied on a March 1863 receipt for Tredegar deliveries:

Page 697d

This section of the receipt is for items shipped to “Gen. J.C. Pemberton, Jackson, Miss”. The first two items are 10-inch Columbiad number 1772 and 7-inch “Banded & Rifle Gun” number 1731, or in other words – a Brooke. These guns were cast in February 26 and January 6, 1863, respectively. The Tredegar gun book lists the rifle as an army type, presumably with a ratchet breech. Neither of these guns are known to survive today. So the receipt is all we have to work with here. Notice that Tredegar sent along carriages, sights, and other implements for these guns.

So was that Brooke in use when the Federals ran past the batteries?

Well, likely not. On April 17, Pemberton complained to Colonel Josiah Gorgas, Confederate Chief of Ordnance, that, “The Brooke gun arrived here yesterday without a solitary projectile. Where am I to get them?” The following day Pemberton followed with a sharply worded message:

If ammunition for the three 9-inch guns is not sent with them, they will be useless to me. Have heard nothing from you of bolts for the Brooke gun now here. Without bolts it had as well been left in Richmond. I have no coal, and am unable to get any.

So, for all practical purposes, Pemberton had a 15,000 pound rifled paperweight. And he feared having three more of the 9-inch, 9,000 pound variety delivered in the next few weeks.

This brings us to a second similarity to the situation at Charleston – shortage of ammunition. On April 17, Major-General Carter L. Stevenson wrote that “Our ammunition for heavy guns is nearly exhausted. We have some en route from Mobile and Selma. Please send some one to hurry it on.”

To hedge bets, on April 19, Pemberton sent a request to Mr. J.O. Stevens, running a foundry in Jackson, Mississippi, to:

… cast in the shortest possible time, working day and night, one hundred solid bolts – diameter, 6.95; weight, 128- and would urge on you the utmost energy, as the need for these projectiles is very great.

A bit of background, Stevens supplied ordnance from field artillery calibers up to 8-inch. So the firm had some experience, at least. However, I’ve not run across positive proof that Stevens delivered the desired rifle projectiles.

Just as at Charleston, a critical shortage of guns and projectiles factored into the situation. Beauregard could lean on Eason & Brothers for projectiles. Pemberton had to rely upon Stevens. But both commanders had to wait for Richmond to send heavy guns.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 24, Serial 38, pages 756, 759, 760, 766, and 767.)