When documenting the artillery on site at a battlefield, I’ve found there are often stories behind how the guns got where they are which are worthy of note. For instance at Gettysburg there are six rifled 12-pdr Model 1857 “Napoleon” pieces on display. All cast in 1862, these were used for experiments, never used in combat, and thus escaped dispersion and scrap drives. Externally they look just like any other smoothbore Napoleon. Its only when examined up close the markings don’t line up with standard examples, and of course the rifling is apparent. They are an oddity that one in a thousand visitors would notice. At Antietam, there are eight 10-pdr Model 1863 Parrott Rifles on display, all of which are numbered low in the registry count. The tally includes the near contiguous entry of 1,2,3,5,7,9,10, and 11. So of about 280 manufactured, eight of the first eleven are still together at Antietam.
Before going deeper, allow me to explain the difference between the 10-pdr Parrott Models of 1861 and 1863. It can be summed up as 2.9-in compared to 3-in bore. Doesn’t take General Henry Hunt to figure out with all those ammunition chests on the battlefield, having a 2.9-inch bore Parrott and a 3-inch bore Ordnance rifle is an accident waiting to happen. Want to know what a 900 pound pipe bomb looks like? Ever try to remove a lodged round in a gun tube? Let’s just say that’s a third echelon maintenance support task and leave it at that. So in the middle of the war, the great minds at the Ordnance department decided to standardize the 3-inch bore. In the fall of 1863, the directive went forth to stop issuance of 2.9-inch bore Parrotts. Presumably, a similar directive was sent to West Point Foundry (where the Parrotts were produced) to cease the 2.9 inch production and switch to a 3-inch version.
So the West Point Foundry made the tooling changes, and a few new design changes were made. Then the Model 1863 started rolling out of Robert Parker Parrott’s works in 1864. The “New” Parrott 10-pdrs lacked the muzzle swell of the older version. But since this was a rather gradual change, the breech was marked with “3 IN BORE” in large font, and the muzzle markings likewise listed the caliber as “3 IN.” Interestingly about half of the “old” 10-pdr Parrotts were taken in hand for reboring to 3-inch. Considering the depth of rifling on the orginal, this had to be a very deliberate process. A simple tenth of an inch isn’t much to work off when working a bore depth of nearly six feet on a gun tube weighing nearly 900 pounds. To the best of my knowledge, none of these “reworks” has been located. Officially, the “new” Parrotts were called 3-inch rifles, as opposed to the weight of shot designation.
Secondary sources indicate the weapons were in a batch delivered in November 1863, the first lot of the “new” Parrotts. The registry numbers were 1 to 18. Confusingly, the next batch from February 1864 started anew at registry number 1 again. Thus explaining two number 11s, one at Antietam and one at Gettysburg.
Getting back to the guns at Antietam, in the late 1890s, the Antietam Battlefield Commission placed a monument by the railroad station south of Sharpsburg. In the monument were eight Parrott Rifles. A photograph from a historical marker at that location shows weapons in the size range of 3-in or 10-pdr Parrotts. The caption from the marker’s photo indicates the cannon were removed when the monument was dismantled in the 1930s, but the base remains beside the railroad today.
Now for my speculations:
- Logically, if the cannon at the monument survived the scrap drives of the 1940s, the pieces should have ended up on display at the battlefield or national cemetery.
- These guns were part of an early production batch or pre-production batch for proofing, testing, or evaluation. Although why an already proven design would need eighteen proofing examples is up for debate.
- These guns were, following any trials mentioned above, placed into storage and not issued to combat units. When suitable weapons were required for the monument, these eight identical pieces were selected.
Beyond the simple tracking of the pieces, there’s another question that I could raise. The old saying goes that the Parrott rifle was so widely used the parrot bird should have replaced the eagle as the national bird. Yet here are eight, possibly more examples that, at the height of the war, were arguably held back from issue (not to mention the 100 plus re-bored examples). One then wonders if the Ordnance department officers had grown suspicious of the Parrott system. The larger bore weapons, such as the Swamp Angel, displayed well known tendencies to burst. With 900 of the more durable 3-inch Ordnance Rifles produced, perhaps the Parrott 3-inch models were rendered superfluous, to a degree, after 1863.