A Rare Make of Cannon

While touring around Petersburg Battlefield last weekend, I took some time to get re-examine one of the park’s rare artillery pieces.  Quiz of the week – Name the make and model of this Civil War field gun:

Name that gun!
Name that gun!

Looking at the profile, one might guess James 14-pounder Rifle.  It is definitely bronze.  Very smooth lines.  The breech is almost hemispherical.  The barrel tapers smoothly, without any reinforce steps, to the muzzle.  Well there’s one problem…

It is a smoothbore.
It is a smoothbore.

Look, smoothbore.  Well those well acquainted with Civil War field guns will note the James used the “ordnance department” profile, which was not only used on Iron 3-inch Rifles, but also on a set of 6-pdr Smoothbores produced by Ames Manufacturing.  But this piece is not of U.S. manufacture.

Nice Big "C.S." over the Trunions
Nice Big"C.S" over the trunnions

Looking at the trunnion faces, this piece’s origins are clear.

Right Trunnion Face
Right Trunnion Face

This weapon was made at Brierfield Arsenal, from Selma Alabama, in 1963.  A stamping on the upper muzzle face denotes the weight measurement of 982 pounds.  The length of the piece is right at 77 inches.  Muzzle diameter is close to standard 6-pounder sizes (I measured it at a shade under 3 and 3/4 inches).  Trunnion measurements are similar to regulation 6-pounder also.  By comparison, the very similar looking Ames smoothbores mentioned above are 68 inces long, weighing about 860 pounds.  (Examples of those Ames smoothbores can be seen on Matthew’s Hill at Manassas National Battlefield Park.)

Left Trunnion Face
Left Trunnion Face

Brierfield, sometimes spelled Briarfield, was not exactly a prolific producer of ordnance.  The arsenal was first established in Columbus, Mississippi, but relocated to Selma by early 1863.  This lone example at Peterburg, displayed at the Battery No. 5 exhibit near the Visitor Center, is the sole survivor of the arsenal’s work.  While one might think there should be is some connection to the Brierfield Iron Works in Brierfield, Alabama (also known as the Bibb Furnace), none is apparent.  The ironworks provided iron to the Confederate Arsenal some 45 miles to the south (in Selma of course).   At any rate, the Brierfield Arsenal’s sole example is a bronze piece.

This piece seems to leave a lot more unanswered questions.  Why would the Confederates continue to produce 6-pdr smoothbore bronze guns at a time when most field officers were urging the production of 12-pdr types similar to the Federal Napoleons.  Perhaps the manufacturing facility only had boring equipment for the 6-pdr caliber?  (Not withstanding that 12-pdr lathes for field howitzers of that class existed elsewhere in quantity.)  In fact, it would have logically followed that Brierfield, after producing this advanced looking field piece, would switch to Napoleon production later in the year.

There’s probably more to the story of this gun than meets the eye.  Like nearly all the old 6-pdr, and particularly the Confederate types, it survived calls for melting down to more adequate pieces during the war.  It survived storage for many years as a “trophy.”  Even while at Petersburg, it survived scrap drives and the weathering of time.  Now it stands as the only known example of an obscure Confederate gun founder.


HMDB Civil War Update – Week of 24 November

An even forty marker entries and updates this week.  All east of the Mississippi, and yes Virginia hit the list this week.  Here’s some highlights:

– From Florida, we have a monument at the Olustee Battlefield.  The battle, fought in February 1864, was a stinging defeat for the Federals, blocking attempts to install a Unionist government in the state.  It is one of the few battlefields I know of where Union soldiers are said to remain buried in a mass grave.

– As mentioned on Friday, I entered a marker for the Battle of Natural Bridge.  Starting to get that “snowbird” feeling?

– One of our frequent contributors added several entries from Westminster, Maryland, including a Civil War Trails marker for Corbit’s Charge.  The June 29, 1863 action in Westminster was a challenge to Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart’s ride to Gettysburg.  The charge was made by elements of the 1st Delaware Cavalry.  A nearby marker at the Almshouse continues the details of the action.  In the following days of July, supplies bound for the Army of the Potomac staged through the town.

– From Mechanicsburg, Ohio a marker tells the story of escaped slave Addison White, from 1857.  Local residents rallied to defend White from Federal Marshalls.  The incident expanded with some of the citizens taken into custody for obstructing the Marshalls.  A local sheriff was even shot opposing the Marshalls.  Eventually White’s freedom was bought, and charges were dropped.  White later served in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry during the Civil War.

Camp Circleville in Circleville, Ohio was the muster point for the 90th and 114th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

– Before leaving Circleville…No in spite of what the plaque says, there isn’t a 12-pounder Napoleon on display.  Hard to believe in the “learned” days of the 21st Century we can’t sort these things out.

– A Pennsylvania entry not associated with Gettysburg (yes there is more to the state than Adams County!) explains during the Civil War the state made use of the grounds of Paoli Battlefield from the Revolutionary War.  A camp of instruction was run at the site during the Civil War.

– But back to the heart of Pennsylvania… umm… Gettysburg, the marker project continues up Culp’s Hill, this week completing the lower crest.

– In downtown Chattanooga, a marker briefly discusses the Chattanooga Daily Rebel, “published in three states, five towns and, for several months, in a boxcar traveling with Confederate armies.”

– Another Tennessee marker, from Hartsville, explains the December 7, 1862 around the town.  The action was a clash between Federal troops and Colonel John Hunt Morgan.

– If you visit my fair city of Leesburg, stop by Morven Park on the north edge of town.  The park contains some reconstructions of winter cabins, similar to those the 17th Mississippi would have used in the winter of 1861-62. (Yes shameless promotional plug.)

– Further south in the Old Dominion, a set of markers from the Civil War Preservation Trust’s Reams Station Battlefield.  The field interpretation is focused on the Second Reams Station fought primarily between Hancock and A.P. Hill on August 23, 1864.  Nearby Civil War Trails markers (here and here) discuss actions at the station related to the Wilson-Kautz Raid in late June 1864.  We completed the set just in time to be included with a new preservation effort from CWPT.  One note, the Trust lists three more markers at the site.  I didn’t see them while making the loop.  There might be a few more additions for the set, or maybe some “missing” markers.

I plan to post my trip notes for Reams Station in upcoming days, once refined to a point of coherent thoughts.  However I did want to post a note with regard to the preservation opportunity there.  Fourteen acers of ground to the east of the current battlefield plot are targeted.  The view below looks from the intersection of Halifax Road (CR 604) and the old Depot Road (CR 606) to the east.

Gibbons Line at Reams Station
Gibbon's Line at Ream's Station

The ground was the anchor point for General Gibbon’s defense on the south section of the Federal lines.  Hampton’s Cavalry broke through these works, nearly precipitating a route.  Of note, Battery B, 1st Rhode Island Artillery was positioned not far from this tract.  A Napoleon captured from that battery is on display at the Petersburg Visitor Center today.  Perhaps it is just misty eyed thinking, but wouldn’t it be nice to have that gun in place where it was captured along the Weldon Railroad someday?

Lastly, the folks at Gettysburg Daily posted (or is the word inflicted?) this piece of “interpretation” yesterday.  Since I cannot seem to brush Dr. Fennell’s song out of my head, I must pass it along like a virus.  Does the old saying “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere,” have a corollary?  Perhaps, “if you can’t make it on Broadway, try being a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg”?   Sadly I can relate to the “off season” doldrums.  We seem to be in an ebb on HMDB also!

Natural Bridge Battlefield Preservation

I noticed this morning a blog entry on Civil War Florida concerning some recent preservation successes at Natural Bridge Battlefield.  The site was listed earlier this year in CWPT’s list of most endangered battlefields.  The good news, those 55 acres mentioned by the Trust have been purchased by the State and included under a program known as Florida Forever.  The additional land will be added to the existing State Park.  The battle, fought in March 1865, was among the largest actions in Florida during the war, and was one of the last major Confederate victories.   The operation’s aim was to isolate a Confederate garrison at St. Marks, at the coast.

It has been years since I visited the site, in the mid-1990s.  The park is a short trip from Tallahassee, with  the closest major highway being I-10 to the north.  I preferred the drive along the Coastal Highway (US 98) to the south.  The unique geological (or topographical) feature, for which the site is named, is a “bridge” formed where the St. Marks River passes under a rock formation.   So this isn’t just a “Civil War” site but also an interesting natural history site.  Looking at recent photos of the park, it appears on site interpretation has expanded.

The threat to the site has been, as with other localities, the growth of subdivisions out from a large urban area.  With the purchase by the state, it appears this endangered battlefield can be moved to the “saved” column.

UPDATE:  Against my preference not to use old 35mm photos from days past, I posted a marker entry for the Battle of Natural Bridge.  If anyone out there has better photos, I would be happy to post, with proper credit of course.

A few additional points about this battle.

– Federal forces were commanded by Gen. John Newton.  Newton took command of I Corps on July 2 at Gettysburg (as Meade did not prefer Doubleday in that position following Reynold’s death).

– The Federal Navy, which was unable to provide the planned support for the march on St. Marks, was commanded by Commander R. W. Shufeldt, who had a rather colorful career both pre- and post- war.

– Most of the US Troops engaged were USCT – 2nd and 99th USCT.

– Brig. Gen. William Miller is listed as the commander of Confederate forces at the battle.

Spangler’s Meadow by Markers

One of my goals while entering markers and monuments for HMDB is, where possible, to weave together the stories which serve to relate these “items” on the battlefield in order to convey the greater meaning.   Unfortunately, the material does not always cooperate.  All too often there seems to be a dangling thread or threads, left untied to the greater context.

This weekend while entering some of the tablets, monuments and markers around Spangler’s Meadow, I hit on one of those good veins, where the history pretty much wrote itself through the photos.  Spangler’s Meadow sits at the south base of Culp’s Hill, adjacent to the spring by the same name.  Today Colgrove, Slocum, and East Confederate Avenues all converge in the open field.  From a historical setting, it is bounded by the springs and the lower crest of Culp’s Hill to the west; McAllister’s Woods to the south; Rock Creek to the east; and a stone wall to the north.

The Union XII Corps first moved into the area to anchor the Federal lines.  McDougall’s and Colgrove’s (Ruger’s) Brigades occupied portions of the lower crest, the meadow, and McAllister’s Woods, building breastworks starting early on July 2.  Specifically the 107th New York Infantry (Photo 7) and 1st Maryland Regiment (Potomac Home Brigade) (Photo 5) built works on the south spur of Culp’s Hill, overlooking the meadow. These regiments, with their parent brigades, moved out of the works, and marched to the Federal left in the afternoon.  Their numbers were needed to shore up the line after the collapse of Sickles’ salient.

In their absence, “Maryland” Steuart’s Brigade wrapped around the lower crest and occupied the works.  Nearly every Federal monument from Colgrove’s and McDougall’s Brigades read to the effect, “upon returning from the left, found the breastworks occupied by the enemy.”   Colgrove’s Brigade occupied the high ground inside McAllister’s woods.  Through most of the morning, Federal artillery, including Kinzie’s Battery K, Fifth U.S. posted along the Baltimore Pike near the new Visitor Center, provided effective support.  One regiment from McDougall’s Brigade, the 20th Connecticut, held an advanced position to the southwest of Culp’s Hill.  This single regiment held the Confederates attention while the remainder of the infantry in this sector were held back waiting for an opening.

Sometime between 9 and 10 a.m. Corps Commander (and essentially the “wing” commander) Maj. Gen. Henry Slocum thought such an opening existed.  Bypassing the chain of command, he sent an order down calling for Colgrove to send two regiments across the open meadow against the lower crest of Culp’s Hill.  The two regiments selected – the 2nd Massachusetts (photos follow the regiment’s advance and retreat) and the 27th Indiana.  Colonel Charles R. Mudge, commanding the 2nd Mass., when hearing the order said, “Well it is murder, but its the order…”  While the Massachusetts troops were able to gain some lodgement at the rocks near Spangler’s Spring, the Indiana regiment was surprised to find what Slocum couldn’t see – Smith’s Brigade of Virginians positioned along a stone wall to the north edge of the meadow (see photos 3, 4, and 5).  The Virginians caught the 27th on the flank, arresting their advance in the middle of the open field.   Taking advantage of opening, Smith’s men advanced to flank the 2nd Massachusetts.  Col. Mudge was among those killed before the regiment extracted itself.  The attack cost the Federal regiments a third of their fighting force in killed, wounded, and missing.

The target of this ill-timed attack, the southern spur of Culp’s Hill, finally fell to Federal forces roughly an hour later.   Partly as the Confederates had spent their forces in the Pardee Field sector.  Geary’s Division advancing behind the Confederates finally cleared the breastworks.

The contest for Spangler’s Meadow is but a small part of the larger battle.  What tickled my fancy, I guess, was seeing all the stories of these regiments and brigades as told on the monuments and markers, fit so easily into each other.  Like pieces of a larger puzzle, a whole section of the story slid into place, and now can be connected to the stories of adjacent units.  The result, is a quick tour by markers of Spangler’s Meadow (Map).

HMDB Civil War Update – Week of 17 November

A good crop of markers this week from our contributors.  Sixty-five new or updated entries from Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Tennessee.  Yes, no Virginia this week!  I’ve got several in my queue that will resolve that issue next week.  Here’s some of the highlights:

– Our Delaware entry is a memorial to Admiral Samuel Du Pont.  Du Pont, of the famous family,  became the scapegoat of the failed ironclad attack on Charleston, S.C. in April, 1863.  However, like many, he was vindicated after the war, and memorialized at Wilmington and Washington, D.C.

– From Georgia, we are told the Atlanta Campaign started at the intersection of Tunnel Hill Road and Catoosa Parkway. 

– Three entries of note from a memorial park in Malta, Ohio.  First a stone recognizing the service of Federal Generals Joseph Bailey and Jeremiah Rusk.  Bailey is well known for his engineering on the Red River Campaign, enabling the Federal flotilla to escape.  Jeremiah Rusk moved to Wisconsin and served with the 25th Wisconsin Infantry, later brevetted to General.  He’s best known for his post war political career, including service as Governor, congressman, and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. 

– Nearby, and serving as a counterpoint to the Federal generals is a similar stone to Brigadier General Otho Strahl, Confederate General who was killed in action at the Battle of Franklin.  Strahl had relocated to Tennessee, and hailed at the time of the war, from Dyersburg in West Tennessee.

– Lastly at Malta, we have a boulder removed from Gettysburg and relocated to Ohio.  Normally I wouldn’t have published as its own entry, but the memorial seemed interesting.  Perhaps someone can uncover how the Phil Sheridan Post of the G.A.R. managed to acquire the rock?  Too big for one to conceal in a travel bag.   (Likely, the fine folks at Gettysburg Daily will tomorrow post the story, complete with a video from a Licenced Battlefield Guide, pointing out the hole left behind by the rock, as well as the asphalt recently laid over the hole.  Kidding, of course!)  This is not, however, the only Gettysburg Rock relocated and used for a memorial.  In Frederick, Maryland, there is a rock, or more accurately a quarried block, from the Devil’s Den used to mark the spot that General Meade took command of the Army of the Potomac.

– And in the sub-heading of “Places Visited by Jeff Davis while on the Run” we have the General William Wallace house in the inappropriately named town of Union, South Carolina.  No details as to the main course enjoyed by the President, or if an after dinner brandy and cigar was offered. 

– Nick provided a score of early morning, first day position tablets from Shiloh this week. 

– For my Gettysburg Project, this week’s entries were along East Confederate Avenue and the Culp’s Hill sector.  I’ll continue the march up Slocum Avenue to the top this upcoming week.

I’ve been working a few side projects over the last few days.  In addition to cataloging some photos for the 3rd Winchester, I took the time to start a couple of new related sets covering Lee’s Retreat from Petersburg and the site of Appomattox.  These will eventually be dressed into a page on the “Battlefields by Markers” heading.

John T. Edmunson Grave

While photographing a couple of Virgina State markers along the John S. Mosby Highway (U.S. 50) between Middleburg and Upperville a year and a half back, I was intrigued by what appeared to be either a mile stone or grave stone on a nearby tree.  Without any clear markings or indicators, I wrote it off as odd and filed it away in my list of “things to look into,” which promptly gets filed into the attic of my memory.

Then this week when browsing our Loudoun County weekly, an article stepped out to clear out the mystery:

Middleburg gravestone mystery solved

By Elizabeth Coe

For 145 years, a plain gravestone has stood under a tree along U.S. 50 near Atoka Road, a few miles west of Middleburg.

Childs Burden, a local preservationist, noticed the headstone more than 30 years ago, but not until this year was he able to identify whose grave it was.

Burden had given up hope of discovering the person buried there after years of talking to locals who had no idea.

“Everyone knew it was there,” he said, “but they didn’t know anything about it. They just knew it had always been there.”

With the publication of a new book in 2008, “The Memoirs of the Stuart Horse Artillery Battalion” by Robert Trout, a leading Civil War historian, Burden was able to figure out the truth behind the mysterious grave marker.

The book included firsthand accounts pulled from a diary written during the Civil War, which contained information about the headstone near Atoka Road.

It turns out the grave dates to June 21, 1863, the Battle of Upperville, which occurred between the cavalry forces of the north and south during the Civil War.

The Battle of Upperville was the final battle in a series of three in which Confederate Gen. Jeb Stuart’s brigades fought to prevent Union Gen. Alfred Pleasonton’s cavalry forces from crossing the Blue Ridge mountains at Paris or Snickersville, now Bluemont.

During the battles, 18,000 to 19,000 troopers and 1,500 infantrymen fought, and nearly 1,400 men and just as many horses were killed.

The man whose grave is marked by the mysterious headstone was one of those who died in battle.

John T. Edmundson was a member of the Confederates, buried by Union forces.

Burden said he is not sure why this happened — “Out of respect maybe?”

But he does know that the landowner there, Nelson Gibson, disinterred Edmundson, placed him in a pine coffin and buried him again at that same site under the tree.

Today, a metal marker identifies the grave. It was installed about two weeks ago, Burden said.

Since this grave is on private property, it is safe as long as the property owners protect it, but there are other Civil War sites in Loudoun that local preservation organizations are fighting to maintain.

“It is surprising to me that Loudoun, with its wonderful history of over 200 years, has not done more to ensure that our hallowed ground, our battlefields, which have a national as well as local interest, are not destroyed with ill-advised development,” Burden said. “We want to get some historic protection built into the county’s Master Plan.”

Contact the reporter at ecoe@timespapers.com

Times Community © 2007 | Loudoun Times-Mirror

Here’s some photos from the site.
Gravesite Under Tree
Gravesite Under Tree
Metal Plaque
Metal Plaque

The date listed on the metal plaque actually corresponds to the delaying actions fought around Rector’s Crossroads and at Goose Creek Bridge nearby.

Battle of Unison

Another example of local “grass roots” preservation efforts here in Northern Virginia – The Three Day Battle of Unison.  According to the article, the Unison Preservation Society is working with Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the U.S. National Park Service to document the 1862 battle.

Unison sits along County Route 630, winding through the western part of Loudoun County.  The route is a back road path through Loudoun Valley spanning just short of the distance between Snickersville Turnpike near Philomont and Ashby’s Gap Turnpike (modern U.S. 50) near Upperville.

The battle of Unison is one part in a larger campaign that unfolded through Loudoun Valley in late 1862.  During McClellan’s belated advance following the Battle of Antietam in 1862, Federal cavalry under General George Bayard advanced into the area from the east (Fairfax).  Bayard ran into Confederate Cavalry under General J.E.B. Stuart on October 31, 1862 near Mountville, Virginia, to the east of Unison.  Stuart had a force numbering under 1,000 to face Bayard’s Brigade.  Over the next three days, both sides sparred, with the contest centering on Unison.   The only historic marker to the operation, located near Aldie, Virginia, mentions just brief details.

The action around Mountville was only a precursor to additional actions in the following days, including the battle of Unison.  I do hope that historical markers are erected in due time to orient visitors to that battlefield.

One might say JEB Stuart once again bested his Yankee counterparts.  General R.E. Lee was warned of the Federal advance and was given time to maneuver.  On the other hand, Bayard ensured routes south were open for the Army of the Potomac.   I can not help but draw parallels (and contrasts) to the larger and more involved actions which took place the following June across some of the same fields of Loudoun Valley.

While I have not toured through Unison with an eye toward the battle, I have spent some time matching Official Reports with the terrain.  During this post-Antietam (or pre-Fredericksburg, if you want) period, the Union cavalry performed, well…, credibly.  Not yet perhaps at the level it performed during the Gettysburg Campaign, but the indicators are there that the right leaders are emerging.  Secondly, Stuart’s command was operating at a severe disadvantage.  Much of his command was worn out from the hard campaigning of August and September.  A sizable number of mounts were down with “greesed heel.”  In short, here’s an early example, be it small in scale, of the Federal cavalry growing in effectiveness while their Confederate counterparts were being diminished by attrition.

The area around Unison has been defined a historic district, with over forty structures listed as contributing resources.  The rural setting has not been significantly altered since the time of the Civil War.  For those interested in more details than space permits on this blog, the Unison Preservation Society offers copies of the Battle of Unison report for a $25 donation.