Monthly Archives: June 2010

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of June 28

For the first week of summer, we had twenty-four new entries in the Civil War category of the Historical Marker Database.  These are from sites in Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.  Here’s the run-down:

– The Wilton Veterans Memorial, Wilton, Connecticut, placed by the American Legion, honors veterans from all wars from the Revolution to Vietnam.

– A state marker in Midville, Georgia (known as Burton during the war) provides an overview of the March to the Sea, and indicates the Seventeenth Corps spent the night of November 30, 1864, along with General Sherman’s headquarters, in Burton.

– 268 Confederates lay in Oak Hill Cemetery, Newnan, Georgia.   The men were patients in nearby Confederate hospitals during the war.

– A memorial in Shelbyville, Indiana notes that 3,261 men from the county served in the war.  The memorial also lists the regiments in which these men served.

Eutaw, in Waldorf, Maryland, was the home of Captain William Dement, commander of the 1st Maryland Artillery Battery, CSA.

– Several entries from Elmira, New York this week.  A large metal marker in town details the Federal muster camp, later transformed into a prison camp.  A monument next to the marker mentions one of the few reminders of the camp still on site – a flagpole.  In Woodlawn National Cemetery, a memorial honors the Confederates who died at the prison and buried in the cemetery.  According to another memorial, the Confederates were not reinterred due to the honorable way they were buried.  The story, which deserves more treatment than the space I have, involves a former slave named John W. Jones.

– Another memorial in Woodlawn Cemetery, at Elmira honors the dead, both Federal and Confederate, from the Shohola Railroad Accident (July 15, 1864), who were reburied in the cemetery.

– A memorial at the county courthouse in Elmira, New York honors the 107th New York Volunteers, which served in both Eastern and Western theaters during the war.

– A forty-foot tall memorial in Antwerp, New York, honors that locality’s veterans.

– A marker in Hattaras, North Carolina notes the loss of the USS Monitor on December 31, 1862 off Cape Hatteras.  The marker also lists other  ships and men lost off the cape during the war.

– Two markers from downtown Gettysburg, Pennsylvania this week.  One discusses the Gettysburg and Harrisburg Railroad, which brought early tourists to the battlefield.  Another discusses the adjournment of classes at Gettysburg College as the battle started in July 1, 1863 and the subsequent use of the buildings as a hospital.

– In Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania a memorial to the soldiers and sailors from Carbon County mentions five campaigns of the war – Wilderness, Hampton Roads, Antietam, Gettysburg, and Appomattox.

– In Orangeburg, South Carolina a state marker notes the house used by General Sherman on February 12, 1865 during his march through the state.

– A stone marker on the shores of Fort Loudoun Lake, outside Knoxville, Tennessee indicates the birthplace of Admiral David Farragut.

– Confederate Park in Fayetteville, Tennessee features a Confederate Memorial and two 8-inch Rifled Rodman Guns (which were produced as 10-inch smoothbores under wartime contracts).

– A plaque in Richmond, Virginia notes the location of the Second Alabama Hospital.

– A Civil War Trails marker on the Glendale Battlefield, outside Richmond, Virginia, details the charge of the 69th Pennsylvania in the battle.

– The Ridge Baptist Church in Henrico, Virgina served as a hospital during the war.

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Rowsers Ford, Part 2

In the first post on Rowsers Ford, I focused on General J.E.B. Stuart’s crossing on the night of June 27-28, 1863.  Now I turn to discuss what I know of the site’s history and look at the landmarks that can aid with interpretation of the site.

Rowsers Ford Vicinity, McDowell Map

First off, the location of Rowsers Ford had much to do with Seneca Falls.  The river drops between 7 and 10 feet over the span of a mile as it passes over an erosion resistant section of bedrock.  While not as impressive as Great Falls, the rapids at Seneca Falls were an impediment to river traffic.  As mentioned in the first post, the Patowmack Canal Company built a skirting canal on the Virginia side of the river to get boat traffic upstream.  The abutments for the canal still stand at some points along the river bank.

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Abutments of the Potowmack Canal, Virginia Side

When the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal began construction beyond Great Falls in the late 1820s, it built Dam No. 2 at the head of Seneca Falls, taking advantage of the rock as a foundation.  The main section of the dam ran perpendicular to the river flow, but angled downstream near the Maryland shore.  There River Lock No. 2 allowed water to pass into the C&O Canal.

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River Lock No. 2

The river lock fed water to locks down stream from Canal Lock 23, also known as Violettes Lock.

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Canal Lock 23

The company had grand plans to utilize the dam for mill works.  “Rushville” on the Maryland side appears as a cluster of buildings on the McDowell map.   The river lock also drew in traffic from the Virginia side of the river (in a similar arrangement to that at Edwards Ferry).   The only trace of such activity are several old road traces leading down to the Potomac today.

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Trail / Road Trace leading from Seneca Road to Rowsers Ford

Down stream from the locks, and dominating the waterway, is Blockhouse Point.

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Seneca Falls from Blockhouse Point

Overlooking the maze of islands and the rapids of Seneca Falls, Blockhouse Point is named for the guard installations placed there during the Civil War.  The view at that time was perhaps even better, because fewer trees stood along the river.  But as related earlier, the position was unmanned at the time Stuart crossed.   In the view above notice the high ground on the opposite (Virginia) shore.  This prominence stands just downstream of Lowes Island and what is called the Old Channel of Sugarland Run on the McDowell map.   The high ground sits in the way on the Virginia shore where potential crossing points existed.

All of these landmarks – river, hills, falls, dam, canals, and locks – existed at the time of Stuart’s crossing.  And each to some extent can tell us where Stuart did or did not cross.  The location of the high ground on the Virginia side is important in that regard.  As one can see from even a distance, the ground slopes down sharply to the river bottom.   The crossing site, or sites, had to be on either side of that hill.  I’ve annotated the location of the landmarks and added the trace of road traces and foot trails on a Google Earth image below:

Vicinity of Rowsers Ford Today

The key landmarks are noted in red.  To the lower left are parts of the road and trail network on the Virginia side.  Seneca Road ends just above the bottom edge of the map, but a foot trail (indicated in green) continues down the slope and around the hill in question.  A modern access road joins the trail there, traced in blue.  Near that intersection an old road trace leads down to the river (indicated in yellow).   Another trail leads from Seneca Road, down the east slope of the hill, to the Potomac (marked in purple).

Star # 1 is the approximate location of the Potowmack canal abutments seen above.  That is the furthest upstream anyone might have made the first “jump” into the Potomac, assuming the men used an “island hopping” approach.

Star #2 is at the junction of the old skirting canal and the old channel of Sugerland Run. If you follow the road on the McDowell Map as a reference, then Rowsers Ford was here.

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Mouth of Old Channel Sugarland Run and Potowmack Canal

Looking downstream from the same position illustrates the earlier point about the slope of the hill.  Look at the right side of the photo below.

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Downstream on the Potowmack Canal

Clearly horse-drawn artillery would have issues maneuvering around and down that hill.

Stuart’s account does not say specifically that all of the command crossed at a single point, and in fact almost infers that two paths were used – one for the cavalry and one for the artillery.  (Personally I believe all of the command crossed at point #2.)   If indeed the artillery crossed downstream as alluded to, my guess is that point was near that indicated by star #3 on the map above.  Unfortunately, at the time of my last visit the underbrush had grown enough to prevent a good photo of the channel.   (I’ll endeavor to brave the elements in the fall to secure a proper photo!)

Regardless of where the Confederates stepped into the river channel, they had roughly 800 to 1000 yards to traverse.  If the river bottom has not changed significantly in the years since the war, the troopers and gunners contended with rocks, a maze of river channels, and suck-holes.  The river was, as noted both in Stuart’s report and that of the Union forces crossing at Edwards Ferry, high due to recent rains.  But at least Stuart’s troopers benefited from good illumination that night.

You’ll notice I have tagged this post as “Needing a marker.”  Sadly, for all the significance to the Gettysburg Campaign, Rowsers Ford is poorly and confusingly interpreted by historical markers.  One Maryland marker stands along Violettes Lock Road, and in my opinion that is the only properly placed marker.   A Civil War Trails marker titled Rowsers Ford stands at Seneca Aqueduct and Lock Number 24, nearly a mile away, and has confused more than a few visitors.   Worse yet, on the Virginia side, state marker number T-38, titled “Gettysburg Campaign,” stands near the Northern Virginia Community College – Loudoun Campus along Potomac View Road.  According to the marker, Stuart passed by on his way to Gettysburg.  By my estimate, Stuart got no closer than three miles from that marker!

I would hope some day we can have a set of interpretive markers in place along the trails at the end of Seneca Road.

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Rowsers Ford, Part 1

In the winter, after the big snows had melted off, I took a trip, with my friend Jim Lewis out to the site of Rowsers Ford along the Potomac River.  Jim is a valuable partner on these hikes, as he knows the old road traces better than anyone I know of.   And he is not afraid to get down in the weeds, literally, in his quest to find history.   We were in search of landmarks that could help identify the site where Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart cross the Potomac on the night of June 27-28, 1863, during the Gettysburg Campaign.

The events which brought Stuart to Rowsers Ford are fodder for what is among the hottest topics in the study of the American Civil War – Stuart’s ride to Gettysburg.  After the battles in Loudoun Valley, June 17-21, Stuart received orders to move north in support of the Army of Northern Virginia and its invasion of Pennsylvania.  Fate, situation, and other factors perhaps including personal preference dictated that Stuart would sweep around the rear of the Federal Army of the Potomac, skirting past the Washington defenses.

Allow me to briefly discuss the route that brought Stuart to Rowsers Ford, as the subject deserves more space than I have (and is fully discussed in Chapter 1 of Plenty of Blame to Go Around:  Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg, by Eric J. Wittenberg and J.D. Petruzzi).  After crossing Occoquan Creek at Wolf Run Shoals on the morning of June 27, Stuart continued toward Fairfax Courthouse, sending General Fitzhugh Lee’s Brigade toward Burke Station and Annandale.  Stuart’s main command proceeded up Hunter Mill Road toward Dranesville and the Leesburg Turnpike, reuniting with Lee’s Brigade in the afternoon.

Stuart was practically on the heels of the rear elements of the Federal Sixth Corps, noting evidence of the passing throughout the day’s march.  Somewhat limiting Stuart’s options, that corps was still crossing the Potomac at Edwards Ferry while the Confederate cavalry occupied Dranesville.   The only reasonable crossing site for Stuart was Rowsers Ford, at the mouth of Sugarland Run on the Potomac.  And as fate would have it, the unit designated to guard that particular crossing point, the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry, had been redirected due to confusion in command.

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Seneca Road (straight ahead) looking across Georgetown Pike, Route taken by Stuart to Rowsers Ford

Leading Stuart’s column, the Brigade of General Wade Hampton reached the ford but reported the river difficult to ford, being higher than normal due to recent rains.  Stuart’s report leaves the exact location open to some interpretation.  While implying that Hampton’s cavalry crossed at the ford, he mentions a lower ford downstream considered for crossing artillery.  That second ford site he described as “impracticable from quicksand, rocks and rugged banks” in his report of the Gettysburg Campaign.  But he “determined not to give it up without trial, and before 12 o’clock that night, in spite of the difficulties, to all appearances insuperable, indomitable energy and resolute determination triumphed; every piece was brought safely over, and the entire command in bivouac on Maryland soil.”  (OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part II, Serial 44, p. 693)

Every reference to Rowsers Ford indicates it crossed the Potomac  just downstream of Dam No. 2, which provided water for Lock Number 23 (or Violettes Lock) on the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal.   Downstream from the dam is a section of river known as Seneca Falls.  While not as impressive as Great Falls, the river drops over a section of exposed rock and around several islands before rounding Blockhouse Point.  The result is an area laced with river channels and small islands.

On the Virginia side of the river, Sugarland Run splits around Lowe’s Island, with the old channel reaching the river just downstream of the dam.  Cut into the banks of the Virginia side, the predecessor of the C&O, the Patowmack Canal Company placed a skirting canal to allow boats to avoid Seneca Falls.  Paring with Blockhouse Point, several ridges on the Virginia side restricted access to the river.  However, an expanse of timber-less bottom land, laced with side channels off the river, covered the area immediately next to the river.

Referencing the wartime “McDowell Map” the vicinity of Rowsers Ford appeared as such:

Rowsers Ford Vicinity, McDowell Map

I’ve added red lettering for key landmarks.  What is today named Seneca Road, following the trace of the road to Rowsers Ford, appears traced in gold.  Dam No. 2 and Locks 23 and 24 are marked in blue.  The possible locations of the different fording points mentioned by Stuart are dashed yellow.   Note the map’s dashed boundary line running from the lower left to the vicinity of the ford at the river.  That is the county line dividing Loudoun and Fairfax County.  Either county can rightfully claim the “ford.”

As mentioned in some other posts, there are some minor issues with water course traces and roads in the McDowell map survey.  The depiction of the island in the middle of Seneca Falls does not match current day maps, nor does it provide any reference to the old Patowmack trace.   And the river channel is not well-defined around Blockhouse Point.  Still there are several key points with which to reference in order to pinpoint the location where Stuart crossed.

In tomorrow’s post I’ll provide some photos of the site and provide my two-cents on the crossing site.

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30-pdr (4.2-inch) Army Parrott Rifle

I mentioned the 30-pdr Parrott Rifles during the previous post on Fort Pulaski.   Five of these guns pounded the fort from Battery Sigel.  Throughout the Civil War, the type served well in siege and garrison roles, accompanied field armies, and even served the Navy afloat.  A versatile gun to say the least.

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30-pdr Parrott, Reg. 392, Appomattox C.H., Va.

The story of the 30-pdr starts before the war with the development of Robert P. Parrott’s system for rifled guns.  As related in previous articles, the 10-pdr was developed first (and the 20-pdr actually followed the 30-pdr).  While the 10-pdr, with the 2.9-inch bore, were sufficient for field duty, the Army needed larger calibers for siege and garrison roles.   Parrott chose the standard 9-pdr sized bore, then a dormant caliber in the Army’s system, with a 4.2-inch diameter.

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Breech Band of Reg. No. 333, Fort Pulaski, Ga.

The 30-pdr’s featured a 19-inch band over the breech.   The band added 550 pounds to the cannon’s weight.  The gun tube itself was 131.5 inches long, with a 120 inch deep bore.  Scaling up from the 10-pdr, the 30-pdr utilized five groove rifling, 1.3-inches wide.  As with all genuine Parrotts, the rifling was right-hand gain twist, increasing in pitch closer to the muzzle.  Overall the 30-pdr rifle weighed 4,200 pounds.

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30-pdr Bore - Reg 333, Fort Pulaski, Ga.

The 30-pdr used a modified 18-pdr siege gun carriage.  The Parrott’s trunnions were 5.3 inches in diameter, 4.75 inches long.  Distance between the rimbases was 16.8 inches.   This matched corresponding dimensions of standard 18-pdr siege guns.  However the Parrott was two inches longer from trunnion to breech face, necessitating modifications to the placement of the elevating screw.

At a pace which indicates bureaucracy was sidestepped, the Army rushed the larger Parrott into service.   The War Department ordered the first six 30-pdrs from West Point Foundry, New York in April 1861.  In an odd arrangement, Parrott, who designed the rifle and supervised the production, also inspected and accepted the weapons on behalf of the Army in June 1861.   The following month one of that first batch, in a crew directed by Lieutenant Peter Hains, fired the first shot of First Manassas.   The Federals were unable to get “Long Tom,” as it came to be called, off the field and the Confederates took possession.  The Confederate ordnance manual of 1862 provided ample detail of the piece, listing the weight as 4,190 pounds.   (Secondary references listed below match that weight to West Point registry number 2, which has unfortunately been lost to history.)

By the time West Point Foundry produced the last 30-pdr in April 1866, the Army had accepted 391.  Roughly half have survived the years as reminders of the war.  A survey of these indicates at least four pattern variations.  (West Point Foundry produced six additional 4.2-inch or 30-pdr Parrotts in 1864-5 to a modified pattern.  Based on trunnion dimensions and weight, these were probably used for comparison trials against the 4.5-inch siege rifles.  As such I don’t consider them “standard” Army 30-pdr Parrott rifles.)

All of the 30-pdrs with registry numbers below 52 feature a muzzle swell and “shoulder” in front of the trunnions, somewhat like the early production 2.9-inch Parrotts.  One of these is on display at Fort McAllister, Georgia.

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30-pdr Parrott, Reg. 52, Fort McAllister, Ga.

The other notable feature of the early production 30-pdrs is the knob.  The photo below is the breech of an early production 30-pdr, whose markings have been lost to corrosion.

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Breech and Knob of early Production Parrott, Fort Pulaski, Ga.

Compare the early production knob with the later production knob on registry number 333 (above, second photo from top).  Early production featured a simple flattened knob.  Later production had a more robust knob with a hole or “piercing” of the knob.  This hole facilitated the use of navy style elevation screw fixtures.

While we are looking at the breech, notice the location of the elevating screw on the reproduction siege carriage.  Granted, reproduction tolerances are somewhat forgiving.  Still the screw head is very close to the base of the breech.  At high elevations, the breech might slip off the head and damage the screw.  The issue was a common complaint of the 30-pdr.

The early production 30-pdr pictured above also has faired rimbases.  Only two examples of such are known, and may indicate a simple casting variation.

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Faired Rimbase on Early Production Parrott, Fort Pulaski, Ga.

All other 30-pdrs, both early and late production, featured cylindrical rimbases.

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Cylindrical Rimbases, Reg. No. 333, Fort Pulaski, Ga.

This view also shows the gentle curve of the shoulder and lack of muzzle swell on late production 30-pdrs.  The lowest registry number with these features known today is 88, which was produced in 1862.

Another variation sometimes reported is the presence of breeching clevis as used on some Navy 20-pdrs.  I’ve not run across any of these in the field.  This sounds like the logical modification for Army contract 30-pdrs issued to the Navy while that service waited for Parrotts cast specifically for shipboard use.

None of these variations significantly impacted the performance or handling of the rifled guns in action.   The 30-pdr was credited with phenomenal (for its day) ranges during operations around Charleston, South Carolina in particular.  In his report of operations on Morris Island, General Quincy Gilmore noted the ranges for the 30-pdr firing 29 pound shells as 4,800 yards at 15 degrees, and 6,700 yards at 25 degrees.   For hollow shot, the range was 7,180 yards at 25 degrees and 8,453 yards at 35 degrees!  (Gilmore, Engineer and Artillery Operations Against the Defenses of Charleston Harbor, p. 83.)

Although the “Swamp Angle” got all the headlines, Gilmore mentioned a 30-pdr which more than matched it’s 8-inch (200-pdr) cousin.  A 30-pdr recorded as registry number 193, placed on Cumming’s Point fired shells into Charleston starting in December 1863.  Over sixty-nine days, the rifle fired 4,606 rounds.  Some were fired at 40 and even 50 degrees of elevation.  The range from Cumming’s Point batteries to Charleston was well over 6,500 yards.  Gilmore did not provide a reason for the failure, but the gun finally burst into several pieces (Gilmore, pp. 85-87).  Fragments of this remarkable gun are in the West Point collection today.  Still the failure underscores one of the main complaints about the Parrotts in general – the tendency to burst.

The big 30-pdrs served the Army through the Civil War, and into the last decade of the 19th century.  Along with the 4.5-inch siege rifle, the 30-pdr Parrott was considered the heaviest weapon that could follow the field armies on campaign.  And with a far more useful payload than its 20-pdr cousin, the 30-pdr was highly regarded for siege operations.  From firing the first shots of great battles to reducing fortifications at great ranges, the 30-pdr Parrotts more than proved themselves during the war.


Aside from on site notes and links provided above, sources consulted for this post were:

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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A Different Kind of Comparison, Maybe?

NOTE:  I, like Harry Smeltzer, adhere to the “no politics” rules for blog content.  However today I wish to brush against that rule slightly, but not violate such.  While I will mention some current events in this post, my intent is to use those events as a prop to look back at the Civil War in historical terms and draw a parallel.  Please do not consider the inclusion the prop as license to cross the “no politics” boundary.

You can’t avoid it in the news today – Mc, Mac, and Mc.

That is McCrystal, MacArthur, and McClellan.

Most of the commentary is focused on how military leadership and civilian leadership should interact under our form of government.  Or to be blunt, if a general can voice disrespect toward a president in pubic.

But there is another aspect of this story, and one that also has a Civil War angle beyond McClellan and Lincoln.  Consider the relations between a reporter and a general during wartime.  The “war” is the news, and the “general” is the news-maker.  In order to report the news, the reporter must look beyond the press releases and conferences.  And at the same time, the military, even if they won’t admit it, wants the reporter there in order to authenticate, or shall we say legitimize, the story.

How close should a reporter be?  During operations after 9-11 the military instituted a program of embedding reporters into tactical units.  The proximity and familiarity between the reporter and the troops has in some ways pushed aside many decades of hostility between the two professions.  While some have doubts as to the embed’s impartiality, by and large the program is considered successful.

And the proximity at the lower echelons has opened doors at the headquarters on more than one occasion.  Having spent some time around headquarters in the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, I know a few reporters who were allowed a bit more access than in the old post-Vietnam days.  Of course, the reporters were expected to consider both security and candor before passing information on to their outlets.

Reporters sitting with the “general” for lunch or dinner is not a new occurrence, of course.  Consider an early “embed” from the Civil war – Sylvanus Cadwallader.  Practically at Grant’s side through the great campaigns in both east and west, Cadwallader had greater access to the General than perhaps many of the military staff.   Grant, by most accounts, respected Cadwallader and granted him many privileges, including the services of military transport on occasion.   In return Cadwallader covered the war in a balanced manner.  While never betraying Grant’s confidence, Cadwallader also did not become Grant’s mouthpiece.

Years after the war, Cadwallader summed up his wartime experience in an unpublished 1896 manuscript (later edited and published by Benjamin P. Thomas).  In that manuscript, Cadwallader provided an eye-opening account of Grant on a drunken romp during the Vicksburg siege.   While some dispute the account,  the point I’d make is Cadwallader included the account in the manuscript, knowing full well the story would at best tarnish Grant’s reputation.

Now if we fast forward to McChrystal for a moment, consider Michael Hastings (Rolling Stone reporter who wrote the piece), in a similar role to Cadwallader, abbreviated though it was.   Like Cadwallader, Hastings apparently knows the General’s beverage of choice.  And Hastings was granted access to the General’s inner circle, and allowed to interact with those people at least for a while.   But unlike Cadwallader, Hastings offered his recollections of his subject without waiting.

I’ll leave the discussion of Hastings work to the pundits and journalism classrooms.  But clearly Hastings violated some of the trust offered by McChrystal (or as I suspect one of the General’s staff members).  Perhaps Cadwallader did too, but years after the fact.

I would submit that Hastings will likely get more than a cold shoulder next time he ventures onto an Army installation.  Times have changed a bit.  Had this been the 1860s, perhaps Hastings would be sent home as “a warning to his tribe” with a sign inscribed “Libeler of the Press.”

Edward Crapsey or William Swinton, anyone?

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of June 21

A short list of entries for the first day of summer.  Typical of the seasonal nature of “marker hunting” – when the weather is good, the folks are out on the roads or in the fields looking for markers.  Twenty-three additions to the Civil War category at the Historical Marker Database this week, from sites in Connecticut, Georgia, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia:

– The Ridgefield, Connecticut Veterans Memorial lists members of the community who served in the Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, and World War I (simply “World War” revealing the age of the memorial).   The Civil War section covers the entire northern side of the memorial.

– A marker in Newnan, Georgia notes the birthplace of William T. Overby, who served in Mosby’s Rangers.  Overby was one of six rangers executed in Front Royal on September 23, 1864.

– The Weatherly, Pennsylvania Civil War memorial features a soldier, armed with a sword, guarding the colors.  In front of the memorial is an 8-inch Rodman gun.

– A state marker in Waterford, Pennsylvania stands in front of the home of Colonel Strong Vincent, a hero of Little Round Top.

Eleven entries from Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina this week, all from Fort Moultrie.  Most are along the fort’s interesting artillery display.  (Will have a “tour by markers” up shortly.)

– A state marker in Lexington, Virginia summarizes the history of Virginia Military Institute.  And for some reason, a state marker for Stonewall Jackson’s house stands outside the city.

– Two Civil War Trails markers entered this week stand in Chester Gap, on the Blue Ridge of Virginia.  The first discusses military activities in the gap throughout the war, with emphasis on actions in 1862.  The other details the actions there in July 1863 during the retreat from Gettysburg.

– Near Huntley, Virginia is a state marker discussing Albert Willis, another of Mosby’s Rangers hung by Federals during the war.

– According to local lore, soldiers met at two mills near Washington, Virginia to trade.  The Civil War trails marker there also notes the burial ground for Federal soldiers who camped there in July-August 1862.

– A Civil War Trails marker in Woodville, Virginia explains a relatively minor episode of the war.  In November 1864, as the armies maneuvered on the Mine Run Campaign, Mosby’s rangers captured Robert K. Sneden, and others, near Brandy Station.  The rangers led the captives south through Woodville on their way eventually to Andersonville, Georgia.  Sneden is noted as one of the war’s best map-makers and landscape artists.

– A new Civil War Trails marker in Wardensville, West Virginia details the wartime activity in the town, aptly called a “crossroads of war.”  The town witnessed the passing of the armies several times due to its proximity to the Shenandoah Valley.

Charleston Arsenal Napoleon Gun

While touring in May, I ran across many rare and interesting artillery pieces.  One of these is a rare field piece on display in the visitor center of Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina.

Charleston Arsenal Napoleon

This Confederate 12-pdr Napoleon field gun bears the stamp of “Charleston Arsenal” on the left trunnion.  The right trunnion indicates manufacture in 1863.   While Confederate sources provided an estimated 535 Napoleons during the war, Charleston Arsenal produced just over a dozen.  The Moultrie gun is one of two known survivors. Poor lighting in the theater foiled my attempts to collect close up photos of the markings.  However, aside from the trunnion stamps the Napoleon offered only a small weight stamp on the muzzle indicating 1218 pounds.

The profile matches the familiar shape of other “late” model Confederate Napoleons, a form often called Type 5 by secondary sources.  From a distance, the Confederate Type 5 is easy to pick out as it lacks the muzzle swell of the standard Federal Napoleon.   The knob of the Confederate field guns differs in profile from the Federal type.

Knob of Charleston Napleon

While the Federals have what I call a “door knob” profile, the neck of the Confederate weapon seems thicker and does not offer a consistent sweeping arc.  Some call the Confederate knob a “rolling pin handle” because of the profile.  This Confederate variation did not impact performance.

The Charleston Arsenal pre-dated the Civil War.  Established in the 1840s, the arsenal was seized in December 1860 by state forces.  Later, under Confederate government direction, the arsenal expanded and produced munitions for the war effort.   Shops at the arsenal repaired weapons used around the Charleston area.  The shops may have rifled and banded some smoothbore field pieces, or at least supervised the contract work.  The Arsenal’s only known artillery piece production are the Napoleons mentioned here.

Muzzle of Charleston Napoleon

No records I know of have ever surfaced to document the arsenal’s production.  Correspondence between General P.G.T. Beauregard, then commanding the area covering South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and his chief of artillery and ordnance, Colonel A. J. Gonzales mentions the arsenal in connection with Napoleons.  Dated May 21, 1863, Gonzales indicates four Napoleons being cast at Charleston Arsenal were slated for issue to the Beaufort Artillery  (OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, p. 946).

The Fort Moultrie Napoleon came to the park in a round about way.  According to Mike Ryan in The Historic Guns of Fort Sumter and Moultrie, the gun was originally a war trophy in New York.  Given to the National Park Service  in the 1970s, it remained in storage at Fredericksburg.  In 1982 the gun arrived at Fort Moultrie as part of a swap, sending an early production Cyrus Alger Napoleon to Fredericksburg.   So in a round about way, the gun returned “home.”

In terms of tactical considerations, this Charleston Napoleon was no different from any other in its class.  Perhaps most, if not all, of Charleston’s small production of the type were employed in South Carolina.  This gun might not relate stories of great battles, but were it to speak it would carry a distinctive low-country accent.


Aside from on site notes and that mentioned or linked in the text, sources consulted for this post were:

Daniel, Larry J., and Riley W. Gunter.  Confederate Cannon Foundries.  Union City, Tennessee: Pioneer Press, 1977

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.