James Rifles, Part V – Rifled 6-pdr Cannon

This last section on the James field guns includes weapons that retained the standard 6-pounder bore size, 3.67-inch, but were rifled.  And there is no real standard as to rifling pattern or external shape.  I label these “tentatively” or in some cases “incorrectly identified” as James Rifles.  Other than having the capability of firing a James type projectile, these weapons cannot be definitively traced to anything Charles T. James worked on.  Some were likely experimental conversions used for testing.  Others were modifications of existing stocks for service issue.  And some were new production. If nothing else, because these guns were bronze weapons introduced around the same time as the true James rifles, there is some similarity to their story and classification.

Of those which were pressed into service (early war in particular), contemporary designations span from “6-pdr Rifled” to “12-pdr Rifle” to “James Rifles.”  Personally I try to avoid contradiction and confusion on the subject.  As such I propose these weapons are best called “6-pdr Field Guns, Rifled,” or Rifled 6-pdr for short.  This attributes the bore size, regardless of rifling pattern. Unless some new documentary evidence comes to light, in my opinion these should not be called true James Rifles.

Those disclaimers noted, the Rifled 6-pdr fit into three broad categories for identification:

– Guns cast to standard patterns prior to the Model 1841 6-pdr Field Gun which were rifled.

– Non-standard 6-pdr types which were rifled either for testing or potentially for service.

– Model 1841 6-pdr Field Guns which were rifled or ordered as rifled guns, and of course retained the 3.67-inch bore (and thus are not James Type 1).

And within those three categories, there are variations in rifling.

Of the first category, only two have ever been identified, both from Ames Manufacturing of Massachusetts and both reported in private hands – a Model 1835 with the registry number 23 and a Model 1840 with registry number 70.  The Model 1835 was recorded with 20 groove flat rifling, but reported observations of the Model 1840 example used an odd form of rifling.  Instead of evenly spaced lands and grooves, the Model 1840 example is said to have 20 narrow and 4 broad grooves.  Some historians have considered this an example of “Atwater” rifling, which was an experimental system based on some flawed assumptions about projectile behavior.   It would be easy to assume both were machined as part of early rifled cannon experiments.  But with both guns out of public view for further scrutiny, and a complete lack of pedigree documentation, nothing can be confirmed.

Four 6-pdrs, from a non-standard pattern, are on display at Shiloh National Military Park.  These I affectionately call “Alger Eagles” and have covered in detail in another post.  The ten groove rifling hints there is some connection to the other rifled 6-pdrs, at least in terms of technical application.  As with the older models mentioned above, a lack of documentation leaves the story of these weapons speculative.  In addition to not being “true” James rifles, these may have been purely experimental.  Other rifled cannon using the 3.67-inch bore size but not the Model 1841 pattern were produced by Parrott, Sawyer, Wiard, and Delafield.  But these are pattern designs which fall outside of the discussion of James Rifles.

Perhaps a little less speculative, and certainly more accessible, are several Model 1841 pattern 6-pdr Field Guns which were either pulled from stocks and rifled or ordered from the manufacturer with rifling.  From a distance, these look exactly like James Type 1.  One must closely examine the bore to note variations in rifling and bore size (which is why I carry a tape measure in my day pack!).  The difference between the two types is rather small – by draft measure 0.13-inch.  So that standard is difficult to apply in the field.  More precise is to count the number of grooves. All James Type 1 have 15 grooves.  However the 6-pdr rifles varied between 6 and 10 grooves.  Four different manufacturers produced Rifled 6-pdrs – Cyrus Alger of Massachusetts, Ames Manufacturing, Miles Greenwood of Cincinnati, and William D. Marshall of St. Louis.  Of twenty-nine surviving cataloged examples, seventeen are on display at Shiloh.

One of the remainder is at Gettysburg, the sole example on an “Eastern” battlefield, and has been altered to a False Napoleon (at the Peach Orchard if my notes are correct).  Including that “False Napoleon,” eleven of the survivors were produced by Alger.  All have ten groove rifling.  Two examples stand on the line of artillery near the Shiloh visitor center.    Registry number 831, produced in 1861 by Alger, represents Dresser’s Battery (Battery D, 2nd Illinois Lt. Arty.)  A quick look at the muzzle confirms the number and the rifling.

Rifled 6-pdr, Registry Number 831
Rifled 6-pdr, Registry Number 831

In profile the piece looks no different than a standard smoothbore Model 1841, save the rear sight arrangement.

Rifled 6-pdr at Dresser's Battery
Rifled 6-pdr at Dresser's Battery

Offering an excellent comparison, the other gun representing the battery at this location is a James Type 1, 3.80-inch Rifle.

James Type 1, Greewood Registry No. 108
James Type 1, Greenwood Registry No. 108

With the similarity in form, one must examine the bore for a positive identification.

Another Rifled 6-pdr stands next to the tablet for Stone’s Battery (Battery K, 1st Missouri Lt. Arty.) further west on Grant’s last line at Shiloh.

Rifled 6-pdr Registry No. 1107
Rifled 6-pdr Registry No. 1107

The registry number (1107) and weight (887 lbs.) are clear in this view, thanks to some powder mix applied by an unknown (or unknowing?) cannon hunter.  Other markings confirm Alger production in 1861.  On the muzzle, the front sight post is protected by a shroud.  Few other field pieces have this.  It appears to be iron, and is slotted into cuts on the muzzle lip.  Hard to say if this was an official modification, one done for experimentation, or a field modification.   As both these Alger weapons were produced in 1861, but retained the same registry number sequence as smoothbore weapons, likely these were pulled from  production batches and rifled.  Five other Alger weapons, identified only through ordnance records, were ordered and produced as rifled guns, receiving registry numbers from a new sequence.

However, three Rifled 6-pdrs from Ames were more likely smoothbore weapons pulled from service stocks and rifled.  And keeping with the “tour” all three stand along Grant’s last line at Shiloh today.

Rifled 6-pdr, Ames Reg. No. 436
Rifled 6-pdr, Ames Reg. No. 436

Somewhat difficult to make out the last digit, but this pieces carries the registry number 436.  It stands in Mann’s Battery (Battery C, 1st Missouri Lt. Arty.) along with two James Type 2 rifles.  As with the Alger guns mentioned above, this piece features 10 groove rifling.  Tracing the registry number, it matches to a production batch cast in 1853 and inspected by Louis A. de Barth Walbach. Upon inspection of the breech ring, some of the history of the piece is revealed:

Inscription on Breech Ring
Inscription on Breech Ring

The inscription reads “Rifled by C. Alger & Co. // Boston, Mass.”  Pretty good indication this weapon was taken in hand for rifling well after production, although the date of the processing is not indicated.  A piece at nearby Welker’s Battery (Battery H, 1st Missouri Lt. Arty.), registry number 431, carries a similar inscription.

But not all of the Ames rifled 6-pdrs have 10 groove rifling.  A few steps away at the position for Schwartz’s Battery (Battery E, 2nd Illinois Lt. Arty.) on Grant’s line is an example with eight groove rifling.

Ames Reg. No. 433 with 8 Grooves
Ames Reg. No. 433 with 8 Grooves

Other than the number of grooves, this piece differs little from the two mentioned above, even originating from the same production lot.  Another Ames weapon on display at Chickamauga-Chattanooga Battlefield Park has six groove rifling.  Clearly these were modifications of existing weapons.  However, a “clean” set of six weapons are listed in the acceptance sheets for Ames which indicate at some point in 1861, the factory reset the registry number sequence, perhaps indicating weapons produced as rifles from the start of casting.  All six survive today and are on display in the National Parks.  Unfortunately I do not have a photo of the one example at Shiloh.  These six weapons used 10 groove rifling.

Also produced as rifled 6-pdrs from the start were a batch of six produced by Marshall & Company of St. Louis.  One of these at Shiloh represents the initial Day 2 position for Terrill’s Battery (Battery H, 5th U.S. Artillery) (Recall the same battery is represented by James Type 3 at the second position).

Marshall Rifled 6-pdr Reg. No. 35
Marshall Rifled 6-pdr Reg. No. 35

Marshall’s guns, ordered in September 1861 and delivered by May 1862, featured seven groove rifling.  Also from the “Western” foundries, Miles Greenwood’s factory in Cincinnati produced a batch of rifled 6-pdrs, but these used eight or nine groove rifling.  Two other vendors, who’s weapons have not been located among survivors, contracted to produce rifled 6-pdrs early in the war.  G.H. Penfield, of Illinois, contracted to produce enough weapons to fill fourteen batteries, but only delivered twelve guns.  And A.J. Richardson (location unknown) is credited with one piece.

Of course, as alluded to in the opening for this (long) post, the story of the Rifled 6-pdr is incomplete at best.  Some of these weapons were clearly intended to fill experimental roles.  Yet, others were apparently produced with clear intentions of field service.  Tactically, as with the James Type 1, very little benefit was gained in range or capability over the smoothbore weapons.  And with the mass production of better iron rifles, these pieces were superfluous to the Union Army’s needs.   And there is scan mention of the pieces in Confederate service.   The question arises then if ANY of these weapons saw active service.  Parker Hills makes a convincing argument for the weapons use at the 1863 Battle of Raymond, in an article posted to the Friends of Raymond website.

In summary, no these weapons were not “true” James rifles.  Nor do they fit within even a loose definition of a single “type” given the variation in form, rifling, and manufacture.  Some of these were undoubtedly experimental steps along an evolutionary path, which quite well have led to the James rifles and other contemporary weapons.  As such, they warrant a cursory examination.

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Aside from on site notes and links provided above, 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.

Olmstead, Edwin, Wayne E. Stark, and Spencer C. Tucker. The Big Guns: Civil War Siege, Seacoast and Naval Cannon. Alexandria Bay, NY: Museum Restoration Service, 1997.

Ripley, Warren. Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, 4th Edition. Charleston, S.C.: The Battery Press, 1984.

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