Monthly Archives: September 2010

The Forgotten Theaters?

I started out to title this post “Eastern Theater Exclusivity,” but felt that rather bias, and off the direction of my thoughts.  Since my relocation to Virginia a few years back, I’ve been attracted to these great eastern battlefields.  As any Civil War enthusiast would, I love the “anniversary” events in the parks (and yes I missed the Antietam hikes this year – double darn it).  But leave it to Lee White to remind me more than one of the war’s great battles shares the September 17 date.

As I’ve mentioned before, my focus for years was towards the western theater (with I would argue the trans-Mississippi thrown in).  Perhaps because I grew up near those battlefields.  Or perhaps the Army opted to station me at installations in Georgia and Texas.  Regardless, my exposure to the eastern theater was through books, reinforced during furloughs crammed full of stops and tours.  (I fondly recall a “monsoon rain” day at Manassas in 1993, with nothing but my Army issue poncho for protection.  You do learn a lot of about battlefields in adverse weather, I suppose.)  Still, I strove to understand the eastern theater, if not in detail at least to be conversant.

Yet, I’ll often hear from my comrades here in the east something to the effect, “Oh, you mean there was activity west of the Shenandoah?”  Sure, it is always in jest.  But the comment is usually accompanied with, “I really need to read up on the western theater.”  Not a knock on those folks, but personally, when I’ve admitted a lean area in my study as such, then I am inclined (if not outright challenged) to resolve such a gap with further studies – to round out my understanding.   Sure, none of us are likely to achieve the mastery of the subject to the level of Ed Bearss.  He’s one in a million, and spent most of his life in pursuit of greater understanding of the topic. But my goal is to continue to push the boundaries of my understanding, conceding I’ll never cover it to that level of mastery.

I would say the same applies outside of the military aspects, in particular to the social, political, and even financial subject areas as pertaining to the war.   History is not a linear study, but one of connections and associations.  Hard to say what influences played upon a particular event unless one approaches the study with a broad view.   (Hey, just who exactly was this Jay Cooke guy, and how did his bond/note sales effect the war effort?)

Yes, I feel the turning point for the Federals came when Grant chose to renew battle on April 7, 1862 at Shiloh.    And yes, Confederate defeat was sealed when The Army of the Cumberland overran Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863.  But I won’t let my opinions limit my studies. I’d be a fool not to capitalize on my location here in the “seat of the war,” as it may be.

I’ve been in a “western” mood lately, mostly due to recent visits out that way.  I’ll get back to “eastern” topics at some point.  But there are so many interconnected threads between the theaters and topics.  For now, I prefer to be unfettered by faceted studies.  I’d prefer to work that whole field of “high cotton.”

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of September 20

A lot of activity in the Civil War category of the Historical Marker Database this week.  Seventy-four entries from eleven states – Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia:

– Burned by Federals in April 1863, LaGrange College near Leighton, Alabama never reopened.

– A marker in Tuscalosa, Alabama adds more details to the April 1865 defense by the city’s Home Guard, led by Benjamin F. Eddins.

– A state marker in Rockmart, Georgia notes the passing of Federal troops on their way to attack the Dallas Line in May 1864.

– Speaking of Dallas, three markers from the Dallas, Georgia vicinity.  One notes the site of the Robertson House, used by General William Hardee as a headquarters.  Two other state markers indicate the arrival of McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee on May 24, and the advance to Pumpkin Vine Creek on May 25-26.

– Two markers in Atlanta, Georgia discuss the Battle of Moore’s Mill fought on July 19, 1864.

– Two markers from Millidgeville, Georgia discuss March to the Sea. A junction of the Federal 20th and 14th Corps occurred outside Millidgeville on November 23, 1864.  The 20th Corps continued on to Milledgeville to produce a bit of damage to say the least.

Four markers at the Cumberland Gap discuss untested fortifications, built by both sides, defending that strategic gap.  On the Virginia side of the gap is a state marker noting the advance of General Burnside in 1863.

Cumberland Ford, outside Pineville, Kentucky, was used by both sides during the campaigns in eastern Kentucky.  Pineville is the county seat of Bell County, named for Joshua Fry Bell.  Bell was the state’s delegate to the unsuccessful 1861 peace conference.

Fort Clay was a component of the Federal defenses of Lexington, Kentucky.  Jefferson Davis lived in Lexington while a student, 1821-24.

Two battles were fought at Cynthiana, Kentucky.  Both associated with raids, one in 1862 and the other in 1864,  by General John H. Morgan.

Four markers interpret the Battle of Barbourville, Kentucky.

– A marker in Port Gibson, Mississippi discusses the battle fought there on May 1, 1863, as part of Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign.

– Speaking of Vicksburg, an entry this week cites the engine of the U.S.S. Cairo as a mechanical engineering landmark.

– I only managed to document one of the dozen interpretive markers for the Battle of Springfield, Missouri on my recent visit.  Hopefully a “marker hunter” out that way can finish the task.

Eminence, Missouri, situated in the scenic Spring Region of the state, was burned by guerrilla bands during the war, and rebuilt at the present day site.

The Grubb Cottage in Burlington, New Jersey was built for General Edward Grubb, of the 3rd, 10th, 23rd and 37th New Jersey.  The architect was his friend Frank Furness, who earned the Medal of Honor for actions at Trevilian Station.

– A simple plaque near Sunbury, Ohio indicates the birthplace of General William Rosecrans.

– Jay Cooke, known as the financier of the Civil War, built a grand mansion near Put-in-Bay, Ohio, on Lake Erie.

Fourteen entries from western Ohio this week covering Morgan’s 1863 Raid.  Many are bronze plaques without attribution.  I would appreciate hearing from any reader who might know what organization placed these.

– A state marker at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania reminds us the town was raided in 1862, occupied in 1863, then burned in 1864.

– A state marker and a U.D.C. memorial recall the Battle of Dingle’s Mill fought in the closing days of the war near Sumter, South Carolina.

– A Civil War Trails marker in Harrogate, Tennessee notes Lincoln Memorial University was founded based on the wishes of President Lincoln, expressed to General O.O. Howard.

Eighteen entries this week from the Lookout Mountain battlefield, overlooking Chattanooga, Tennessee.

– A memorial in Fayetteville, Tennessee honors the women of the Confederacy.

– A Civil War Trails marker relates aspects of Libby Prison, Richmond, Virginia.

– A marker in Amelia Court House, Virginia provides a brief biography of John Banister Tabb.  Tab served on a blockade runner and later the 59th Virginia during the war.  Post-war he was a noted poet and priest.

– A Civil War Trails marker near Smithfield, Virginia orients visitors to Fort Huger which defended the James River.

– A marker in Windsor, Virginia relates the remarkable story of the Roberts brothers.  Seven brothers served from 1861 to the end of the war (six in the 16th Virginia and one in the 11th North Carolina)… and all survived the war.

20-pdr, or 3.67-inch, Navy Parrott Rifle

Yesterday I mentioned a 20-pdr Navy Parrott Rifle on display in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.   Having discussed the Army’s version of this caliber in an earlier post, perhaps it is time to properly introduce the Navy model.

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20-pdr or 3.67-inch Navy Parrott Rifle

The Navy received 336 of the 20-pdrs from West Point Foundry during the Civil War.  The main difference between the Army and Navy model was the breeching jaws in place of the Army’s knob.  Here’s what the Army’s looked like:

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Breech of 20-pdr Army - Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg

Compare to the profile on the Navy Parrott in the same caliber:

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Breeching Jaws of 20-pdr Navy Parrott

A set of jaws, with a block spanning the opening, forms a “loop” through which passed a breeching tackle rope to restrain the gun when fired.  A pin held the block in place.  You can see the join between the block and jaws, which I would assume is welded in place today.  Also note the rear sight socket on the right side of the breech band.  Normally the socket, which is the same used on Army models, was set with the hole oriented vertically.  I would guess during repairs or other work, the sight socket was twisted, and is out of alignment today.

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Muzzle Profile - 20-pdr Navy Parrott

The gun displayed at Cumberland Gap has a slight muzzle swell.  At present, I cannot confirm if this was a “Navy” standard, or (as with other model Parrotts) this was simply a feature of early production batches.

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Muzzle and Bore of 20-pdr Navy

Hard to make out the rifling, but just enough to count five lands and grooves.  Unlike the Army, the Navy did not mark the muzzles of the guns.  Instead the particulars were stamped on the trunnions and top of breech.

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Right Trunnion - 20-pdr Navy

On the right trunnion was the date of manufacture, projectile size, and diameter of bore.  In this case – 1861 // 20 pdr // 3.67.  I failed to get a good photo of the left side trunnion, but regulations required a “P.” stamp indicating successful proofing, along with the initials of the inspector.   In this case “R.B.H.” for Robert B. Hitchcock.

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Breech Stampings - 20-pdr Navy Parrott

Over the breech band were the initials of the manufacturer, registry number, and weight.  Here those appear as “R.P.P   No. 83  1695 lbs.”  These stand out crisp even after nearly 150 years, even better than marks of some later day “inspectors” who attempted to leave a mark.

The Navy normally placed an anchor over the barrel between the trunnions.  But that mark is not visible today.

Other than markings and the breeching jaws, the Army and Navy models were interchangeable.  Tallies from West Point production show on occasion production batches were reallocated to meet service requirements.  While the breeching jaws caused little impact on the Army’s use, when the Navy received an Army model a wrought iron shackle or clevis was attached over the knob.

While the story of this particular piece is undocumented, 20-pdrs of this sort saw service in both the blue- and brown-water fleets.  The Navy often provisioned lighter gunboats with 20-pdrs, where heavier rifles could not go.


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.