Monthly Archives: November 2008

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.