8-inch Parrott Rifles – Army Coast/River Defense Use

Having looked at the Navy’s use of 8-inch Parrotts, it is time I turned to the Army’s use of the type.   Like the Navy, the Army purchased these heavy Parrott rifles with Confederate ironclads and fortifications in mind.  Unlike the 6.4-inch Parrott, the Army did not employ the 8-inch in a “garrison” role to counter potential siege activity.

The anti-ship role in mind, the Army placed a few 8-inch Parrotts in the Washington defenses.   Wartime photographs show an 8-inch rifle next to a 15-inch Rodman smoothbore.

[Alexandria Va.  Battery Rodgers at Hunting Creek and the Potomac; 8-in. Parrott gun in foreground; a Rodman gun beyond] Date: c. 1860
Battery Rodgers - 8-inch Parrott and 15-inch Rodman
The view offers a good comparison of the types, and the two primary carriage types used.  This particular Parrott used a front pintle barbette carriage, while the Rodman used a center pivot.   Battery Rodgers included five 8-inch Parrotts.  Across the River at Fort Foote, two more 8-inch Parrotts, along with another 15-inch Rodman, sealed the river approaches to the capital. [Note 1]   A never called upon defense.

 

Another Army use of the 8-inch Parrott in the river defenses was at Plymouth, North Carolina.  With the threat of the CSS Albemarle operating on the Roanoke River, an 8-inch and a 6.4-inch Parrott.  However, neither gun could deal with the Confederate ram on April 19, 1864. [Note 2]    With the surrender of the garrison at Plymouth on April 20, Confederates came into possession of both heavy Parrotts.   As mentioned before, based on Federal reports, the 6.4-inch rifle went to Fort Fisher, North Carolina.  But the Confederate Navy received the 8-inch Parrott.  Federal reports mention a “200-pounder” rifle used in the Confederate defenses along the James River, specifically Howlett’s Battery.[Note 3]

Of course, the Army used the 8-inch Parrott in other defensive positions during the war.  But except the action at Plymouth, rarely (if ever) were these fired in anger.   Engineers requested 8-inch rifles to arm the forts along the Pacific coast during the war.  Although in May 1864, the chief engineer in the Department of the Pacific reiterated a request for heavy ordnance including “200-pounder Parrotts” for San Francisco and the Columbia River.[Note 4]

The 8-inch rifle remained on the Army’s inventory well into the post war era.  Two examples displayed today in the Charleston, South Carolina area, along with two at Fort Gaines, Alabama, likely owe their survival to use at those forts after the war.

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 277
Muzzle of 8-inch Parrott No. 58 at Fort Sumter

Even counting the post-war service, the 8-inch rifles used to defend America’s shores was a mundane service life at best.  From the standpoint of a Civil War historian, those used in siege operations against Richmond and Charleston offer the more interesting stories.  I shall turn to those stories in future installments.

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Notes:

1. Benjamin Franklin Cooling III and Walton H. Owen II, Mr. Lincoln’s Forts: A Guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc, 2010) pp. 52-54, 244-245.

2. OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60.  See correspondence from Major General John Peck, dated March 20, 1864, p. 707.  Report of General Peck on the Battle of Plymouth, dated April 25, 1864, p. 293.  Report of Brigadier General Henry Wessells, dated April 17, 1864, p. 298.

3.  OR, Series I, Volume 36, Serial 69, Confederate War Department Special Orders No. 132, p. 879.  OR. Series I, Volume 40, Part 3, Serial 82, Report dated July 5, 1864, p. 21.  Naval OR, Series I, Volume 14, Report of Commander Colhoun, U.S.S. Saugus, dated December 6, 1864, p. 146.

4.  OR, Series I, Volume 50, Part II, Serial 106, Correspondence from General Richard Delafield dated May 26, 1865, p. 1242.

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