Monthly Archives: June 2010

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.