6.4-inch Parrott Rifle – Part 1

Unlike the smaller Parrott rifled cannon used during the Civil War, the larger models – 5.3 inch, 6.4-inch, 8-inch, and 10-inch – had no significant design evolutions during the course of production.  The Navy used a 5.3 inch (or 60-pdr) model but did not use the 10-inch model.   But the Army and Navy shared a standard pattern for both 6.4- and 8-inch models.    These monsters, largest of rifles to see active service for the Federals, were designed for seacoast, garrison, and naval roles.  In service, the big Parrotts punched holes in fortifications and served as deterrent against Confederate ironclads.

As the Army and Navy used different “pounder” designations for some of their guns, I opt to identify the weapons by the bore diameter to avoid confusion.

The 6.4-inch model followed the basic Parrott form.  Just like the smaller weapons, it had a plain, tapered external form, generally complying with the “Ordnance shape” in profile.  Over the breech was a wrought iron band.

Fort Pulaski 5 May 10 210
Reproduction 6.4-inch Parrott Rifle, Fort Pulaski, Georgia

(The Parrott shown above is on display at Fort Pulaski, Georgia.  According to markings it is a Navy model.  But the registry number corresponds to a gun last reported on display in Lisbon, Ohio.  Either Fort Pulaski acquired the weapon from the city, or It is a rather well done reproduction!)

The manufacturing method for these large-caliber Parrotts generally followed that of the smaller rifles.  As indicated on the chart above, the 6.4-inch Parrott’s band was 22 inches long.   The band was formed by coiling a hot iron bar around a mandrel, then mechanically hammering the stack to form the band.  While still hot the band was slipped over the barrel.   The entire assembly then cooled while being turned to prevent the hot band from sagging, and thus creating a weak point.

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 197
Reinforce Band - 6.4-in Parrott, Fort Sumter

While the early 6.4-inch production batches were cast solid then bored in the traditional manner, later production was cast hollow.  The hollow casting allowed the “Rodman” water cooling method.  Some guns are thus stamped “Water Core.”  (See photo from Waymarking.com)

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 189
Left Trunnion - Army 6.4-inch Parrott, Fort Sumter

Trunnions for the 6.4-inch rifles were technically compatible with carriages used for 8-inch Columbiads or Navy guns.  However, it seems both services produced carriages specifically for the Parrotts.

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 195
Right Trunnion Army 6.4in Parrott, Fort Sumter

While looking at the trunnions, note the markings.  The Army marked the guns in the manner prescribed in the Ordnance manuals, and familiar from the smaller bore Parrotts.  On the left trunnion, is “100 Pdr” and on the right, barely visible are the familiar initials of Robert P. Parrott (R.P.P.).

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 190
Muzzle of 6.4-inch, Fort Sumter

Muzzle markings on the Army guns conformed to standard practice.  In this case, despite corrosion, registry 183 was inspected by Richard Mason Hill (R.M.H.).

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 216
Left Trunnion - Navy 6.4-inch Parrott, Fort Sumter

Navy markings conformed to that service’s standards.  On the left trunnion was a “P” for proofed along with the initials of the inspecting officer and year of manufacture.  On the right were stamps for the caliber, in this case “100 Pdr” and “6.4” to avoid any ambiguity.

Fort Pulaski 5 May 10 214
Reproduction Reinforce Markings - Navy Parrott, Fort Pulaski

At the base of the reinforce band of Navy Parrotts were the foundry name (oddly in most reported weapons this is simply “R.P.P” instead of “W.P.F.”), the registry number, and recorded weight.

6.4-inch Parrott production, all from West Point Foundry, the only source for Parrotts, totaled 233 for the Army and 352 for the Navy.  The Army credited the first example in October 1861, with the last credited in June 1865.  Such numbers made the caliber the most prevalent heavy rifle at the end of the war.  The 100-pdrs remained in the inventory for quite some time.

Today over fifty Army 6.4’s and thirty Navy examples survive.  The largest grouping is at Fort Sumter, where eleven of the rifles were buried in 1898 when the fort was reconfigured for modern seacoast guns.  Recovered in 1959, the collection provides a window to the past in the casemate displays at Fort Sumter.

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Parrotts in the Casemates - Fort Sumter

In a later installment I will look at the operational aspects of the 6.4-inch, or if you prefer the 100-pdr, Parrott Rifles.

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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.


11 thoughts on “6.4-inch Parrott Rifle – Part 1

  1. UPDATE: Revised the “Heavy Parrott” particulars chart. I’d inadvertently used the wrong figures to determine the thickness of the bands, originally citing a figure double the actual thickness.

  2. I just think ooops, the Parrotts were recovered in 1959 not 1859 as it states in error. I worked in 1989-91 on the West Point Foundry Cove EPA remediation archaeology and we found RPP wooden gun platform, rails and pintle, on grillage at the end of railroad, along with the apparent range tower seen in a stereo pair in the WPF School Museum. The pintle casting and other artifacts, have been placed in curatorial storage in the local Cold Spring Highway Dept. We left the over 600 friction primers out. It was found under the remains of the Chicago Bridge and Steel Co., there until about 1912, when the 500′ Bridge Shop burned. Nickel-cadmium contaminants from the batteries for NIKE missiles, removed both factory and marsh. Great info, underwater survey handled by Gordon Watts who found the USS Monitor and worked on the CSS Alabama, now at Jamestown, Virginia. “Swamp Angel” prototype, I wonder?

    • I seriously doubt there was a “swamp angel” prototype made at West Point. The gun was a standard production 8-inch type. What made the weapon unique was the engineering work on the battery to place it in the marsh without sinking. Such is rather well documented.

  3. Thanks for the reply. The wooden platform, with sectional rails for the carriage wheels defined a partial arc that it could have traversed. and at the time I thought. it may have been aimed at the West Point Academy across the Hudson, “Target Rock” or towards “Crows Nest” near Storm King Mountain. I saw and recorded it on some sort of grillage, stacked “fresh” trees and smaller branches it seems. The bottom of the bedrock there was about 70 feet below the surface I was told, and the whole area filled for the later gantry crane and rail for the Chicago Bridge and Steel Co. ops that ended 1912. Before, among others after the war, they made cast iron columns for architecture. Some were bolted together placed on a barge, charged with dynamite and fired a wooden projectile about 2.5 miles up the Hudson River it’s reported, the testing of a “dynamite gun” whose more recent designer in Vermont was thought assassinated in Holland and a large giant one found partially disassembled in Iraq, which he had helped design I think I’ve read.

    The wooden platform looks just like the one in the photos (National Archives?) from the “Swamp Angel” battery in South Carolina, and that’s why I wonder if it was a testing of it, before or after the “Swamp Angel”. Two large empty shells were also found nearby, EOD cleared. The EPA Region 2 Archeologist was John Vetter and the Principal Investigator was Joel W. Grossman, PhD. The original foundry research was done by Edward Rutsch, et al, a noted industrial archeologist. Recently Michigan Technological Universty has had at least five field seasons of industrial archeology conducted in the Foundry core, a “sea of bricks” where we were not permitted, our part of the Superfund heavy metal remediation was of the marsh and the so-called “Workers Houses” in the “Haul Road” for the earthen dam construction.

    • The Swamp Angel was mounted on a barbette carriage. The traces were standard for that type. What made it unique was the foundation for the gun platform. The engineers worked the details for foundation through trial and testing conducted on Morris Island. The actual innovation involved the use of counter weight in the form of sandbags, to ensure the pilings remained fixed and did not slip into the mire. The sandbags were not just for defense, and certainly were not just for looks. That pile was a functional component of the mounting.

  4. In Bristol, Vermont we have a 100 Pdr Parrott Rifle mounted on a decretive base. Tube is in very good condition and states it is registry No, 4. dated 1862. are you aware of this gun?

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