Monthly Archives: July 2010

Who Rifled this Gun?

In the last post discussed four Mexican-American War trophies at the U.S. Navy Yard. There are several other artifacts from that war scattered about the nation’s capital. One is on display at Fort McNair’s flagpole.

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Spanish Gun - War Trophy from Mexican-American War

The gun matches the form of the Navy Yard’s Spanish guns with the same moldings and profile.   Again, typical Spanish adaption of the Gribeauval pattern.

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Seal on Reinforce - Foundry and Date on Base Ring

My on-site notes and measurements leads me to identify this as a 4-pdr (but I may be off on the bore diameter).  The seal of King Charles IV is on the first reinforce.  Weathered somewhat, the base ring indicates this gun was cast at Seville in 1789.  And following Spanish custom, the gun was assigned a name.

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"Name" of the Cannon in Weathered Scroll

However the lettering in the scroll is difficult to read today.

The plaque next to the cannon indicates the U.S. Army captured the piece during the war with Mexico, but offers no further details.

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Muzzle Showing Six Groove Rifling

Where the Army’s trophy gun differs is at the muzzle.   Six rather deep, well-formed groves.   The form reminds me of the Austrian rifled cannon (mentioned in a previous post) on display at the Navy Yard.  But the rifling pattern is not a “fingerprint” for weapon identification.

So who rifled this gun? Assuming the plaque next to the gun is correct, there are a few possibilities.  (SEE UPDATE)

Was this an early experiment by the Spanish?  In the decades of Spanish decline, particularly during the Napoleonic era, the country was not at the fore of weapons development.  And for such an experiment to find its way to Mexico (assuming the plaque is correct) is unlikely.

Perhaps a Mexican modification?  If so, I would expect to see references throughout the contemporary discussions of U.S. ordnance personnel.  Instead all references to rifled cannon are in regard to domestic or European experiments.

Maybe another European source?  Unlikely.  As mentioned, by all indications the gun was captured as a smoothbore in 1848.  Why would the new owners send it back across the Atlantic for testing?

So was it an American experiment?   This sounds most plausible.  In the 1850s ordnance officers and other parties modified bronze guns during their efforts to reach the best design for rifled cannon.  A few of the old rifled 6-pdr field guns have 6 groove rifling.  But most survivors have more, and shallower, grooves.  Indeed the depth of the grooves on the Spanish gun is such that standard Civil War era projectiles (James, Parrott, Shenkl, or Hotchkiss) would not work.  My guess is this rifled gun was designed for “studded” or “flanged” projectiles, a form used in limited quantities on both sides of the Atlantic.

Maybe the Army used this old gun, which was otherwise only good for adorning the parade field, for a few experiments.  If so, the records of the test are unknown to this researcher.

And this gun remains silent, offering no further details, of what may be an interesting story.

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UPDATE:   Found a posting on the Company of Military Historian’s Message Board.  It may well be a piece captured in the Spanish-American War.  The best argument for this is the rifling.  Historian John Morris identifies the piece as a 4-pdr gun.

Spanish-Mexican-Confederate-Federal Guns?

I submit these cannon as the record holders in the “changes of ownership” category.

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Spanish 12-pdr Field Gun

The gun is a Spanish 12-pdr field gun.  A companion 12-pdr along with two 9-pdr guns of similar vintage are part of the Leutze Park collection in the Washington Navy Yard.

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Spanish 9-pdr Field Gun

The exact dates of manufacture are known, as Spanish practice of the time called for inclusion of the date and foundry name.

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King Charles III's Seal - Barcelona - 6 de Jvlio 1767

The 12-pdrs and one of the 9-pdrs were cast in 1767, and the remaining 9-pdr in 1790. Notice that the guns made in 1767 had the particulars inlaid, perhaps even set as part of the casting.  The 9-pdr from 1790 appears to have stampings.

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King Charles IV's Seal - Barcelona - 3 de Diciember de 1790

Another aspect of Spanish markings included “naming” the gun by way of an inscription on the chase.  Those at the Navy Yard include “El Toro,” the Bull, a 12-pdr:

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"El Toro"

“El Tosico,” the poisonous one, the other 12-pdr:

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"El Tosico"

“El Galgo,” the greyhound, a 9-pdr:

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"El Galgo"

and “Cambernon,” a feminine name for the other 9-pdr:

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These Spanish guns conformed to the Gribeauval system borrowed from France in the 1760s.  Features included round cascabel attached to the breech with a fillet.  The breech face had a slight raised ring around the cascabel, but is generally simplified compared to ornate predecessors.  The breech ring, as mentioned, contained the date of manufacture and foundry.  In line with the French pattern, the first reinforce extended almost to the trunnions, with the royal seal applied.

That of King Charles III was placed on the 1767 guns.  And the 1790 gun received the seal of Charles IV.

A ring separates the first and second reinforces, where the trunnions and handles were mounted.  A ring then separates the second reinforce from the chase.  The chase ended with an astragal.  From the astragal forward was a conventional  muzzle swell.  An echinus and a cavetto connected the muzzle face.

The only other particulars indicated by the markings are the weights of the 9-pdrs – about 1390 pounds.  One of the 9-pdrs has an inscription “Cobre de America” indicating the use of copper from South American mines.

These would easily pass for weapons used by Napoleon’s Army, so close was the Spanish pattern (in fact the French impressed many Spanish guns during the wars).   However, according to the trophy documentation, these four guns were captured by the Navy during the Mexican-American War.  The assumption is these armed Spanish colonial forces before Mexico took ownership after independence in 1821.   At some point in the Mexican-American War (1846-48) the Navy acquired these guns as trophies of war.  So the U.S. Navy became the third owner of these guns.

In early 1861, when the Confederates occupied Norfolk and surrounding navy facilities, among the many cannons that fell into their hands were these four old bronze guns.  (A fourth ownership change.)

Unlike other ordnance at the yards, the Confederates probably found little use for the Spanish-Mexican trophies.  The 12-pdrs weighed near 2200 pounds, compared to 1800 pounds for an American 12-pdr Model 1841 “heavy” Field Gun or 1200 pounds for a 12-pdr Model 1857 “light” Field Gun (or “Napoleon”).  The Spanish guns used slightly different diameter projectiles from the standard American ordnance.  And recall these guns were cast in the 1700s, three of which nearing 100 years old at the time of the American Civil War.   Three strikes against use, even for the Confederates.

Given that, why didn’t the Confederates melt these down into something useful?   There’s enough metal for three, perhaps even four field pieces.  Perhaps the Confederates impressed the guns in defense of the harbor.  Or perhaps they also respected the “trophy” status, retaining them as prizes.

For what ever reason, these four guns were recaptured by Union forces at Norfolk on May 10, 1862.

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Trophy Inscription on Breech of "El Toscio"

So a fifth change of ownership for four tired old guns.

From there, the guns eventually found their way to the Navy Yard.  Take a look at this photo of the Navy Yard just after the war.

Washington NY, ca. 1866 (US Naval Historical Center)

The “trophy” gun in the foreground looks very similar in profile to the Spanish guns.  And mounted on a similar (if not the same) mount.

Imagine the stories these guns could tell.

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HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of July 12

This week we have thirty-eight additions to the Civil War Category of the Historical Marker Database.  These come from Civil War related sites in Alabama, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.  Here’s the list:

– From Florence, Alabama, a marker points out the home of Colonel Richard O. Pickett, of the 10th Alabama Infantry.  Another marker in Florence recalls the Wheeler Rifles formed during the Spanish-American War, named for Congressman, U.S. General, and former Confederate General Joseph Wheeler.

– Union General James Wilson headquartered outside Gravelly Springs, Alabama during the winter of 1865, as he prepared for his “blitzkrieg” raid launched at the end of the war.

– A Civil War Memorial in Plainville, Connecticut is guarded by a 3-inch Ordnance Rifle.

– In 1995 a plaque listing 37 men who served and died in the war was added to the Weatoque Soldiers’ Memorial, in Simsbury, Connecticut.

– In New Haven, Connecticut a memorial honors Cornelius S. Bushnell, directed the construction of the USS Monitor.

– A Cultural DC marker in Washington, D.C. relates that President Lincoln attended the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.  Lincoln’s hitching post still stands at the street edge.

– In Augusta, Georgia, an interpretive marker discusses the extensive powder works that supplied the Confederate armies during the war.  The chimney of the works was converted into a memorial after the war.

– Texas volunteers captured in the New Mexico campaign of 1862 were held at Fort Riley, Kansas.  Seven were buried in the post cemetery.

– The St. Paul Civil War Memorial was erected by the city’s G.A.R. chapter in 1903.

– A paragraph on an interpretive marker in Bamberg, South Carolina relates the destruction left behind by General Sherman’s visit to the town in 1865.

– Among the many statues decorating the Shelby County Courthouse, in Memphis, Tennessee, is a bust of Andrew Jackson, with a quote “Our Federal Union, It must and shall be preserved.”  During the war, the inscription was defaced.  But as the plaque indicates, the words were restored afterward.

– The town of Triune, Tennessee was a flourishing center of commerce before the war.  Fifteen engagements were fought around the town, which was occupied by Federals from 1863 to the end of the war.  Union occupiers burned the Methodist Church in town.   Forty-eight Confederates are buried in the town cemetery.

– Confederate General Joseph Wheeler captured a Federal wagon train in Nolensville, Tennessee on December 30, 1862 as part of a raid that factored into the Battle of Stones River.

Anderson’s Mill, near Cedar Park, Texas, was used as a powder mill during the war.

– Several new markers refreshing the interpretation at the Richmond fortifications in Henrico County, Virginia.  The new markers at Fort Harrison include a marker for the bombproof, one discussing the surprise attack in which Union troops captured the fort on September 29, 1864, and another discussing the transformation to Union Fort Burnham.   Also attacked at the same time as Fort Harrison was Fort Gilmer, where the Federals were not successful.   After the loss of Fort Harrison, Fort Johnson became an anchor to the Confederate defenses.  Markers at Fort Brady discuss how that fort allowed the Federals to guard the James River, preventing a Confederate ironclad sortie.  Guns of the fort included several large-caliber Parrott rifles.

–  Straddling the Virginia – West Virginia border, east of Bartow, West Virginia, is a series of markers interpreting the site of Camp Allegheny.  Confederates occupied the camp, suffering from exposure and disease, during the winter of 1861-62.  Federals under General Robert Milroy attacked the fort unsuccessfully on December 13, 1861.  The site is one of Civil War Preservation Trust’s 10 most endangered battlefields listed earlier this year.

Keyser, West Virginia changed hands fourteen times during the war.  In late 1863, General William Averell launched an important raid from Keyser, aimed at railroad connections in Salem, Virginia.  (Yes, two identical markers in different locations.  Actually happens quite a bit.)

– A 30-pdr Parrott Rifle guards the Soldier’s Memorial in New Lisbon, Wisconsin.

– A very simple memorial in Necedah, Wisconsin honors that town’s Civil War veterans.

– A memorial in Viroqua, Wisconsin relates the career of Jeremiah M. Rusk, of the 25th Wisconsin.  Rusk was brevetted to Brigadier General for his action at Salkehatchie, South Carolina, in February 1865.  Rusk later served as a congressman and governor of the state.

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Austrian 3.75-inch Rifle

Among the many cannon in Leutze Park in the Washington Navy Yard, two Austrian 6-pdr field pieces remind us of the U.S. Navy’s blockade of the Confederacy and of technical innovations made in the era.

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Austrian 3.75 inch Rifle

The plaque at the base of the cannon identifies it as a “Austrian 6-pdr Rifled Howitzer.”  Short for its caliber, the weapon can pass for a howitzer, but I’d like to see the chamber profile before fully accepting the designation.  According to inscriptions on the breech of one piece, the cannons were captured from the blockade runner Columbia on August 3, 1862.

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Trophy Inscription

The Columbia was a 500 ton steamer, typical of the British-built blockade runners of the time.  Making her first run the Columbia left Bermuda on August 2, it is unclear where the blockade runner was headed, as pilots from the Bahamas, Charleston, and Savannah were onboard.  The maiden voyage was cut short when the U.S.S. Santiago de Cuba, captained by Commander D.B. Ridgely, intercepted the Columbia the following day.  After a six-hour chase at sea, Ridgely finally overtook the blockade runner about 75 miles north of the Bahamian island of Abasco.

USS Sandiago de Cuba (US Naval Historical Center Photo)

In his report, Ridgely noted the Columbia was loaded out with munitions, cannons, rifles, iron plate, blankets, and other supplies.  No detailed inventory was offered, but a contemporary newspaper sketch depicted the cargo.

Columbia's Cargo (US Naval Historical Center)

Notice the rifled shells in the upper right.  Apparently the Columbia carried “studed” projectiles matched to rifled cannon.  On the lower left are “brass rifled guns composing the fieldpiece battery, 24-pdrs found on board the Columbia.”  The cannon depicted on the near end resembles the 6-pdr.  The caption is not exactly clear if the line of cannon depicts a field battery AND some 24-pdrs, or 24-pdrs IN a field battery.  The 24-pdr howitzers presumably were of a well-known Austrian type used by the Confederates.  Diagonally up and to the right is a “Brass 12-pdr Austrian Howitzer,” an Austrian caliber not attributed to Confederate service.  So I’m not sure of the accuracy of  the captions and the sketch in general.

After its capture, the Columbia was pressed into service with the blockading fleet.  She met her end off Masonboro Inlet, North Carolina in January 1863, running aground and then burnt.

So we have these two cannon (be they guns or howitzers) as the artifacts recalling the blockade runner’s brief career.  The weapons themselves are an oddity – bronze rifles of foreign manufacture.  Both trophies have stamps on the base ring.  One displays “No. 142. 732 lb.” on one side.

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Left Side Base Ring Stampings

And “Wien 1852” on the other.

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Right Side Stampings

The other cannon shows “No. 242. 715 lb.” and “Wien 1854” as its respective stampings.

The piece without trophy inscription has a stamped “S” on the breech, likely a foundry or inspection mark.   If the weights were measured in a system comparable with English measure, the Austrian guns were about 150 pounds lighter than U.S. regulation 6-pdr Model 1841 Field Guns.  Pre-war manufacture dates may indicate these were surplus weapons from Austrian stocks, sold to the Confederacy in need of weapons.

It is the rifling that makes these weapons unique.

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muzzle Showing Rifling

Note the very deep grooves.  Deeper than James or other pattern US rifled guns. Six equally spaced grooves.  Hard to measure because of the wood block, but about a half-inch wide and easily an eighth-inch deep.  The diameter of the bore from land to land is about 3 and 3/4 inches.  The other example has a cover over the bore, preventing examination.

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Slot for Rear Sight

The Austrians used an off center-line sighting system.  On the upper right of the breech is a slot for fixing the rear sight.  On the right rimbase is a mount for a blade post.

Sadly, little is known of the design, production, and service (if any) of these cannon.  But these are physical proof that other nations besides the U.S. and England produced rifled cannon in the middle of the 19-th century.  Although the US Army’s 1855-56 Military Commission visiting Europe did not mention Austria, they do note French, German, and Piedmontese weapons in their report.  The plaques at the Navy Yard allude to some service in the Confederate army.  However, I have yet to locate a primary source that identifies operational Confederate use of these type weapons.  (As opposed to the 24-pdr Austrian howitzers which saw considerable use around Charleston.)

In designating these weapons, I prefer to use the Ordnance Manual standards for foreign pieces.  These would be Austrian 3.75-inch rifles, leaving off any decision as to gun or howitzer.

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New, Good Practice, I Guess

A few weeks back I started pulling in photos from my “sort of dormant” Flickr account.

Several fellow bloggers have gone that route.  I should give a nod to Jenny at Draw the Sword, who uses Flickr to showcase her always impressive photos.   At first I was concerned about pulling photos from across another site, creating multiple dependencies.  But all appears to function without any issues.   In fact, better than WordPress image behavior (I’ve had a recurring issue where photos get re-sized within posts, and don’t render correctly.)

Just have to switch from visual to HTML mode and drop in the code snip.   WordPress offers support to directly blog a Flickr photo.   But I’m more of the type to use several photos in a post.  The HTML appeals to the geek in me anyway.

I’ll admit it, just looking for ways to pinch a more “free” out of the internet.  Perhaps I can avoid capping out on my WordPress storage limits for yet another year.  But I have noticed the photos render much better when pulled from Flickr.  Crisp and clean.  Makes me wish I’d started the practice in the beginning.

Please let me know if you notice any issues, have a comment about Flickr use, or a suggestion to improve.

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of July 5

Thirty-one new Civil War entries from the marker hunters this week.  These are from war related sites in Alabama, Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.  Here’s the brief:

– In Huntsville, Alabama, one state marker notes the birthplace of Confederate General John H. Morgan.  Another marker discusses the Leroy Pope Mansion, near where Federals built defensive works during the war.

– Near Florence, Arizona, a memorial honors Granville H. Oury, delegate to the Confederate Congress.

– Several volunteer regiments used Camp Curtis, in present day Arcata, California during the war.

– The Du Pont fountain in Washington, D.C. replaced statue (see here) honoring Admiral Samuel DuPont (moved in 1920).

– At the Washington Navy Yard, a marker and a plaque indicate the spot where Ulric Dahlgren’s leg was buried.  Dahlgren lost his in action at Hagerstown, Maryland on July 6, 1863.

– A G.A.R. memorial in Pontiac, Illinois honors the Livingston County veterans who died in the war.

– Near New Berlin, Illinois, a plaque notes the camp where Colonel U.S. Grant wrote orders for the 21st Illinois Infantry, early in the war.

– A plaque near Eddyville, Iowa introduces Curtis King, reportedly the oldest man, at age 80, on Union muster rolls during the war.

– A memorial in Morristown, New Jersey honors Morris County’s veterans.

Eleven new entries this week relate to Civil War landmarks in downtown Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  These include the Wills House and railroad depots.

– During the Civil War, the part of the Paxon-Croasdale Building in Newtown, Pennsylvania was used by a company making coats for the Union army.

– In February 1865, some of Sherman’s troops used the floorboards of the St. Johns Baptist Church, in Ehrhardt, South Carolina to make a bridge over the nearby Salkehatchie River.

– A state marker at the Parker’s Crossroads battlefield in Tennessee discusses the December 31, 1862 battle involving Confederate General N.B. Forrest’s command and two Federal brigades.

– Markers in Memphis, Tennessee note the early home of General Forrest and the city’s 1862 Post Office.  A single shot, aimed at soldiers hoisting a flag over the post office, was the token resistance when Union forces entered the city in June 1862.

– Two “Trails to Freedom” markers this week.  One in Fredericksburg, Virginia notes a point where at least one slave, named John Washington, crossed the Rappahannock to freedom.   On the northern bank, near Falmouth, another marker indicates after crossing that Washington found work with the Union army.

– A Civil War Trails marker in Mount Jackson, Virginia discusses the Confederate hospital which operated there.

Union Park in Manitowac, Wisconsin honors the 2467 men from the county who served in the Civil War.

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Old Cannon – Old Scar

Another short break from the Civil War.  This time to look at a field piece which dates to the time of the Revolutionary War, and likely back to the French and Indian Wars.

Overlooking the parade field at Fort McNair, in Washington, D.C. is this British field howitzer.

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British Field Howitzer, produced in the 1740s

The howitzer, somewhat weathered with time, displays a few marks from which to determine part of the weapon’s history.  British practice at the time required the royal monogram over the chase, that of the ordnance master over the breech, and the date of manufacture in Roman numerals on the breech ring.  The monogram on the chase is that of King George II.

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King George II's Monogram on the Chase

Over the breech, difficult to make out, is what might be the monogram of the Duke of Montague who served as a Master-General of Ordnance from 1740 to 1749.

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Monogram on Breech

Furthermore the Roman numerals, while weathered, on the base ring indicate the howitzer was cast in 1744.  The plaque next to the howitzer offers only a few details of the piece’s history.

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Plaque behind Howitzer

This piece was cast in 1744 in England, the deep depression on the chase behind the right trunnion, indicates a “cannon ball hit” which probably killed the entire gun crew.

Here’s a close up of the scar:

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Scar on Howitzer

The form of the gun tube matches that described by John Muller in his Treatise of Artillery, from 1780.  And the rather wide bore allows easy examination of the chamber.

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Bore and Chamber

The weapon is of vintage to have seen action in the French and Indian Wars, and likely was in America at the time of the Revolution.   By the War of 1812, the British Army had largely discarded the mid-1700s ordinance in favor of newer models.  But the American army used many of these colonial-era field pieces until the 1820s.

How did the howitzer get that scar?

Was it while defending some remote frontier fortification?  Or perhaps while laying siege to a French fortification?

Perhaps while serving on the British or Continental Army gun line during one of the great battles of the Revolution?

Or was it, contrary to the plaque, a scar due to mishandling?

If only this cannon could talk.

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