Often imitated, never duplicated?
The Parrott 10-pdr/3-in Rifle, in either of its two forms, was indeed a widely used type in the Civil War armies. All told West Point Foundry produced 276 of the 10-pounder type and 279 of the 3-inch model. Yet in the 1890s when all the first generation battlefields were being populated with cannon, the War Department came up with a shortage of Parrott rifles. Not enough Parrotts had survived the war and post-war. And of those that did survived, a good quantity had already been released to veterans organizations for use as memorials in towns across the country.
So what were the options? Ask the folks at West Point to kick in another batch? Well by that time the foundry was in receivership and on its way to closure. Instead the Gettysburg Commission opted to have other sources produce some crude castings. Calvin Gilbert, himself a veteran of the war and a captain from the 87th Pennsylvania, produced several batches of Parrotts and Ordnance Rifles. Gilbert is also identified in the Commission journals as the contractor who modified 6-pounder Field Guns into “False Napoleons.”
These Gilbert replicas must have met expectations. Unlike the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association procured replicas (which we see on a lot of photos of the battlefield from the 1880s), the Gilberts are still on the battlfield today. At a glance, from a distance, the Gilbert guns pass muster.
It is only close up that the “cat is out of the bag.” As with the 10-pounder and 3-inch Parrott, perhaps it is best to compare these guns where they are side by side for good effect. A good spot for that is next to the 4th New York Independent Battery (Smith’s) at the Devil’s Den.
First the authentic Parrott:
Note the same form as seen on the venerable Number 241 over by the Pennsylvania Memorial – typical 10-pounder Parrott with muzzle swell and the “step.” Now compare the real gun to this replica a few feet away:
At first glance, this passes muster. Perhaps a hybrid type, without muzzle swell, but with the step past the trunnions. But if you double click the image to “zoom” and examine a bit closer, you’ll start seeing some casting lines running longitudinal.
Aside from the visible seams on the sides, the muzzle shows no traces of markings. While some authentic Parrotts are weathered to the point the markings are hard to locate (and many authentic Confederate copies lack markings completely), this reproduction clearly was not marked. Compare to a the muzzle of the real Parrott:
Two other visible attributes that betray the replica. First, but not always an easy call, the rifling. The real Parrotts had machined rifling, running the length of the bore to the chamber. The replicas had the “rifling” as part of the casting and thus is not a clean cut. Furthermore, the rifling often only extends a foot or so down the bore. Either the Park Service or the War Department plugged the bores of many replicas (and many real Parrotts) over time, so this is not always an easy check to make.
The other attribute to check are the sights. The real Parrotts had a rear sight socket to the upper right, fixed into a tapped hole in the reinforcing band. Going back over by the Pennsylvania Memorial, take a look at the breech of an authentic Parrott next to the 9th Michigan Battery (Battery I, 1st Artillery) Monument.
Note the rusted “hole” to the upper right. Some Parrotts have the socket still attached, with the appearance of a node or lump sticking out of that section of the band. And yes the “3 Inch Bore” is crisp and clear. On the other hand the replica shows no stampings, nor any place to fix the rear sight.
Also in this view, the seams run across the knob. The knob itself is flatter than the real Parrott, but I find that a rather subjective measurement for the field. Notice however, even with the absence of the rear sight, the front sight blade over the right trunnion was reproduced in the replica. Go figure.
At any rate, just as a consumer advisory, should someone try to pass off one of these “seamed” Parrotts, you might want to ask for pedigree papers. However, considering the origin of these replicas, and their tie to the history of the battlefield park, these “fakes” have a story to tell just like the authentic Parrotts. Granted not as glamorous or glorious as their “real” stable mates, as the replicas’ story is a bit more of the dry administrative history of the park. Still tells us how we got where we are.
Aside from on site notes, sources consulted for this post were:
Hazlett, James C., Edwin Olmstead, and M. Hume Parks. Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War, Revised Edition. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.
Smith, Timothy B. The Golden Age of Battlefield Preservation: The Decade of the 1890s and the Establishment of America’s First Five Military Parks, Knoxville, Tenn.: The University of Tennessee Press, 2008.