8-inch Parrott Rifle, Part 2

Earlier I introduced the 8-inch Parrott rifle and discussed the design and production particulars.  Time to look at the functional and operational aspects of the weapon.

The 8-inch Parrotts used projectiles designed by Robert Parrott, of course, along with those of Charles T. James and John Schenkl.  However, those of Parrott were obviously better adapted for the guns.  Modern historians have identified three general variations among the Parrott projectile designs, differing with regard to the construction of the brass sabot.  For the big 8-inch projectiles, only Types II and III are known, with high and low attachment points for the brass band over the base of the round.  While the Army apparently ordered both types, the Navy preferred Type II.  Although when stocks were low, the Navy used Type III projectiles either from Army sources or direct from the vendor.

Like the smaller 6.4-inch Parrott, the 8-inch model’s solid bolt projectiles were designed with warships or fortifications as primary targets.  For anti-ship use, the Navy preferred a lighter bolt than the Army.  Navy ordinance officers focused on Confederate ironclad targets.  Typically such engagements were close range affairs.  Navy instructions called for the use of light weight bolt with “chilled” noses.   Such projectiles accelerated rapidly maximizing penetration under 1000 yards, at the sacrifice of accuracy and effectiveness at longer ranges. Thus shot for the Navy’s 8-inch Parrotts weighed between 125 and 150 pounds and between 12 and 14 inches long.

The Army, however, preferred to engage enemy ironclads at greater ranges.  Heavier bolts offered better accuracy, and penetrating force, at those ranges.  Army bolts weighed 200 pounds and was about 17 inches long.

The 8-inch Parrotts also used “long” and “short” Parrott shells, but the service distinction appears less explicit.  The Navy used anything available at several points in the war, particularly during the 1864 bombardment of Fort Fisher, North Carolina.   But perhaps the most famous of the 8-inch shells were those hurled by the “Swamp Angel” into Charleston, South Carolina in 1863.   A few 8-inch shells, either from the famous gun or fired at later points in the war by less famous Parrott guns, have been recovered over the years in Charleston.

Charleston 4 May 10 115
8-inch Parrott Shell - Charleston Museum

Other Parrott shells fired into Charleston included incendiary rounds.  West Point Foundry produced 500 of these in 1863, in both single and double cavity shells.   A hexagonal-headed bolt in the base of the shell covered an opening into which the incendiary mixture was loaded.

Besides Parrott shells, the Army used Schenkl shells in the Charleston area.  Due to concerns about Parrott Projectile performance, the Navy placed large orders for Schenkl 8-inch projectiles.  However, after Schenkl died in an accident, Parrott came back into favor.

Charleston 4 May 10 137
8-inch Schenkl Shell - Charleston Museum

The Army ordered 100 8-inch James shot, although none survive today.  However, a few James shells in the caliber survived the war.  Except for some experimental rifles, the only the 8-inch Parrotts could fire these projectiles.

During the war, the Navy also issued grapeshot to some monitors armed with 8-inch Parrotts.  Originally intended for 8-inch shell guns, the grapeshot provided a means to repel boarders or for use in close quarters combat.

Army instructions indicted the 8-inch Parrott could use the same carriage as a 10-inch Rodman gun.  Arrangements were similar, although scaled up, from the 6.4-inch Parrotts for center and front pintle mountings.   The Navy used the 8-inch rifles on pivot mounts or in turret mounts.   On the pivot, the big rifle required a crew of 25.  However, in the monitor turrets, mechanized handling gear reduced the crew to between 7 and 14.

The projectiles and carriages allowed the 8-inch Parrotts to batter enemy ships and batter fortifications.  In my next post in this series, I’ll look at the instances where the big rifles were used in those capacities.


Sources, aside from field notes, consulted for this post:

Ordnance Instructions for the United States Navy.  Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1866.  (See page 102-104 for discussion of Navy projectiles in particular the light weight shot.)

John C. Tidball. Manual of Heavy Artillery Service.  Washington:  James J. Chapman, 1891.  (See page 2 for references about use of carriages.)

Bell, Jack. Civil War Heavy Explosive Ordnance:  A Guide to Large Artillery, Projectiles, Torpedoes, and Mines. Denton, Texas:  University of North Texas Press, 2003.

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.

Tucker, Spencer.  Arming the Fleet:  U.S. Navy Ordnance in the Muzzle-Loading Era.  Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 1989.

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