Monthly Archives: February 2011

Loudoun County Civil War Roundtable Site

I’m pleased to direct your attention to the Loudoun County Civil War Roundtable web site.

We’ve actually had the site up since December, but held off an “official” opening until the spring.  Our aim is to use the site as a complement to our normal monthly newsletters, and also reach out to many in the Northern Virginia area who might not know about the roundtable.  If you are associated with other Civil War and preservation groups in the area, please contact me about link exchanges.  The more the merrier.

From a technical side, you’ll note it is… yes… another WordPress site.  Other similar organizations have opted for the platform.  WordPress is cheap (free) and offers a great number of flexible theme options.  I plan to document what features work, and those that don’t really apply to the “roundtable” venue.  Later on I’ll post some lessons learned for those also interested in applying social networking and web 2.0 to support roundtable or preservation groups.

While I don’t think we’ll start any “twitter revolutions,” I think Civil War groups and the preservation community can use many of the inexpensive tools out there to establish a significant public presence.  Not Madison Avenue significant, perhaps, but enough to get recognition in the audience where these subjects resonate.  Certainly cheaper than could be done just a few years ago.

After Action Review: 12th Annual Civil War Seminar

Another outstanding Civil War Seminar at Longwood University on Saturday.   I’m a little late posting my “after action review,” choosing instead to spend my day visiting Richmond area sites on the way home.  But here’s my take.

Let me say first, for those who didn’t attend but have in the past, the hosts moved the event to a larger auditorium with better facilities this year.  Jarman Hall has a full A/V suite to include a very large projection screen… which came in handy for several lectures.

After the introduction by Dr. David Coles, the first speaker, David Ruth, discussed Fort Sumter as the center piece of the secession crisis.   I thought Ruth’s presentation well-balanced.  At one point in the presentation, Ruth discussed the linkage between the South Carolina forces and Tredegar Iron Works – thus “bringing it home” to the predominately Virginia audience.

John Hennessy presented next, discussing many commonly held myths about First Manassas.  Of course he detailed the whole “Stonewall” Jackson bit.  For the Appomattox boosters in the audience, he quickly brought Wilmer McLean in proper perspective.  But Hennessy also covered the notion of civilians accompanying and impeding the army on the field.

Patrick Schroeder gave a rather detailed presentation centered on the 11th New York Infantry, better known as the Fire Zouaves.  He prefaced the history of the unit with an introduction to Zouave units, the National Guard Cadets, and of course Elmer Ellsworth.  But Schroeder spent considerable time detailing the movement of the Fire Zouaves on the field of First Manassas, to include action against J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry… which leads to the next speaker.

Jeffry Wert’s presentation was a year late.  Originally scheduled to speak last year when all things cavalry were on the slate, Wert could not attend due to weather.  Our loss, as Wert’s overview of J.E.B. Stuart’s military carer certainly would have complemented – or contradicted – those of Eric Wittenberg, Clark “Bud” Hall, and Scott Patchan. Always good to get different angles on the subject!

But I must say Mike Gorman’s presentation analyzing wartime images of Richmond stole the show.  In addition to a long list of credentials, Gorman also runs the Civil War Richmond web site.  What you see on the site is just a “tease.”  During the presentation Gorman “zoomed” down to the fine details of the photos, mostly taken in the days shortly after Confederate evacuation.  Perhaps the most important lesson I walked away with was the level of composition the photographers put into their work.  There’s a reason the state capitol often showed up in the frame with the ruined industrial heart of Richmond.

Yes, five good speakers with great topics.

Dr. Cole announced March 3 as the date for next year’s seminar, and the focus on 1862 subjects.  Speakers currently listed include John Hennessy (2nd Manassas), Tom Clemens (Maryland Campaign), Thomas McGrath (Shepherdstown), and Frank O’Rielly (Fredericksburg).

See you there next year!

Navy Museum faces Location Questions

Today I’m at the Civil War Seminar hosted by Appomattox Court House National Historic Site, at Longwood University.  So light posting today.  Hope to resume on Sunday.

While I’m down here along the banks of the Appomattox River hearing about the first year of the Civil War, there is one bit of news that may have escaped readers’ feeds.  The US Navy Museum’s future location faces some questions with proposals to either leave it as is, or move to a more accessible site along the DC waterfront.

Several of us Civil War bloggers have posted entries noting the Civil War related exhibits at the museum.  While dwarfed by the World Wars exhibits, the museum offers an interesting and important array of Civil War artifacts ranging from parts of the USS Hartford to guns captured during the course of the war.

Fascinating and well worth the side trip, the main problem with the current location of the museum is just that  – location.  On the plus side, the current site at the historic Navy Yard.  But it is several blocks from a metro station and not in the best part of the city.  In addition, the “Yard” is a functioning military headquarters and lacks space for museum expansion, and parking for visitors.   And as a functioning base, security restrictions sometimes prevent access.

Iron from Nashville – T.M. Brennan Howitzers

Standing near the Washington Artillery’s Clark and Wolff howitzers is a field howitzer from yet another Confederate arms maker from the western theater.  While those two types have the gray-green patina of bronze, the other howitzer is a black-painted, stumpy iron piece.

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12-pdr Brennan Field Howitzer

The Nashville based T.M. Brennan produced this cannon at a facility, known both as the  Claiborne Machine Works and Brennan Foundry.  Brennan’s work with field artillery began in May 1861 with contracts to produce four batteries worth of cannon for the State of Tennessee.  These were mixed batteries with both 6-pdr guns and 12-pdr howitzers.

In September 1861, Brennan wrote a letter to Confederate General Leonidas Polk outlining his firm’s capabilities.  Brennan bragged that his product was, “…a very superior cast iron gun from the best Tennessee cold blast iron thoroughly mixed and manipulated in an air furnace put up expressly for the manufacture of guns and combining all the recent improvements.”  Brennan went on to note the guns had survived testing with quadruple charges.

The phrase “all the recent improvements” offers a step-stone for some speculation.  As Brennan alluded to his cold blast furnace, along with the manipulation of the iron mix, clearly this references how his firm developed the iron for the guns.  In the two decades prior to the Civil War, extensive tests by the US Army provided several conclusions about the best mix of ingredients for gun metal.  The Army also identified the ills of using hot blast iron in cannon production.

Another point to consider is the shape of Brennan’s cannon.  The 12-pdr in the photo above features a smooth profile, not greatly different than the “ordnance shape” established on the eve of the war by the Army.

So when referencing “recent improvements” Brennan may have been applying new procedures conveniently borrowed from the US Ordnance Department’s summaries.  Or he may have acted under the guidance of ordnance officers or other knowledgeable authorities.   Or perhaps, Brennan is referencing tests conducted locally to refine gun design.  Perhaps a little of all three.

What ever influenced Brennan’s efforts, his firm produced a notable quantity of cannon for Confederate orders in the first year of the war.  In addition to field and siege guns (which I’ll cover in other posts), the foundry delivered eighteen to twenty 12-pdr field howitzers.  When the facility suffered a fire, Brennan sent batches of guns already cast out to a company in Clarksville for boring and finishing.  However, the course of the war permanently shut down Brennan’s facility in February 1862 as the Federals occupied Nashville.

The howitzer on display at Shiloh is one of three surviving 12-pdrs from the firm.  It measures 58 inches, with a diameter around the breech of 11 inches.  Again, using the “one size fits all” carriage as an indicator, note the position of the elevating screw.  About the same length as regulation 12-pdrs, the weight of iron around the breech required the trunnions further back on the howitzer for balance.  Markings on the left trunnion confirm the production year of 1861.

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Left Trunnion of Brennan Howitzer

On the right, barely readable, are stamps indicating the manufacturer.

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Right Trunnion of Brennan Howitzer

This reads “T.M. Brennan // Maker // Nashville // Tenn”.

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Muzzle of Brennan Howitzer

The muzzle offers no additional markings.  However the simple lip and flat face are similar to late Federal patterns, notably the 12-pdr Model 1857 “Napoleon.”  But of course in iron instead of bronze.

As noted, Brennan produced several batteries worth of field artillery before being overrun.  Some of the Tennessee batteries used Brennan’s guns and howitzers in the 1862 battles.  That raises the possibility the example on display along Ruggles Line at Shiloh stands today near the spot it was used during the war.


Aside from on site notes and links provided above, sources consulted for this post were:

Papers and letters for T.M. Brennan, Confederate Citizens Files.  (Access through

Daniel, Larry J., and Riley W. Gunter.  Confederate Cannon Foundries.  Union City, Tennessee: Pioneer Press, 1977

Hazlett, James C., Edwin Olmstead, and M. Hume Parks. Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War, Revised Edition. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Ripley, Warren. Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, 4th Edition. Charleston, S.C.: The Battery Press, 1984.

Balls Bluff Sesquicentennial Reenactment

A weekend with living history displays, weapons demonstrations, battle reenactments, and luminary ceremonies will mark the 150th anniversary of the battle of Balls Bluff in Leesburg, Virginia.  The event, scheduled for October 21-23, is months off, but organizers have posted many details on the event web site.

The reenactor section on the site includes a map of the march to Balls Bluff, over much of the same ground crossed in the battle.  And, yes Dick Stanly, the 13th Mississippi will be represented!  The web site also includes an overview of the battle by historian Jim Morgan.

“…The People have Spoken…”

Last week I dropped a poll out here asking what blog post topics most interested readers.  I’ll keep the poll running for a bit more so if you want to check your preferences (or add your opinion) feel free.

Still a “pick four” option, and feel free to offer your own suggestions for subject areas. Right now the trend is towards more examinations of the field artillery pieces and discussions of the tactics used.

Just to make sure we all are on the same page, I consider field artillery the guns which were used during operational maneuvers by the field armies (distinct from some guns that only appeared in the siege trains of those same armies).  While I’ve written quite a bit on the field howitzers used in the war and the various Napoleons, I’ve held off major discussions of the field guns.  Likewise on the rifled pieces, lots of stuff on the Parrotts, I’ve not covered the other types (particularly the Confederate rifles) in much detail.  In both counts, mostly because I figured the average reader is well acquainted with those types.  But.. if the order is for more, then I feel obliged to offer more!

Regarding artillery tactics, I’ve often found people tend to cast a wide net there.  At the individual gun level, there is “drill,” which as a purist, I don’t consider really “tactics” but rather the procedures for operating the gun.  The manner in which a gun was loaded differed little if it were employed on the front slope of the ridge or the back.  The employment of the battery – not only where it was positioned, but the type of projectiles chosen by the commander, desired effects, integration with other arms, etc. – are the “tactics.”  Of course there is also the operational matters of organization and command of the artillery which often overlap into the discussion of tactics. At any rate, ALL are good topics for discussion which I plan to present for review.

In the short term, I do have some subject threads I plan to tie up.  Mostly topics I started in relation to the 150th anniversary of events at Fort Sumter – several “in the works” posts on seacoast guns and columbiads, and a “gunner’s” perspective of the bombardment of the fort.  After that, figure on a drift towards the field guns, tactics, battle vignettes, and battery histories.

And in the mean time, I again encourage those out there with an interest in Civil War topics, not just artillery, to take the plunge into blogging.  You never know until you try it!

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of February 21

We continue with the slow winter cycle at HMDB.  Part of me appreciates short work weeks as the Civil War category editor, as my part in the process remains minimal.  On the other hand, I know there are many more entries out there that we’d like to have in the database.  But enough of my complaining!  We have ten entries to look at this week:

– I’ve always grinned at the story of how Fitzgerald, Georgia came into existence.  The town “was settled by Union veterans who, tired of Northern winters, flocked from 38 states and 2 territories to this benign and fertile land, which, only 30 years before, had been deep in enemy territory.”  Perhaps the only city in Georgia with a “Sherman Street.”

– A new marker in Quitman, Georgia notes a slave uprising instigated by John Vickery.  So little is known about Vickery’s motives, even to this day, and this event is hard to classify as “southern unionism” or “slave revolt” but the marker does label it “anti-Confederate” citing similar activity in the area.

– And another marker for the Jefferson Davis Memorial Park.  This one from Irwinville, Georgia.

– A state marker in Andersonville, Georgia provides details of both the infamous prison camp there and its commander, Captain Henry Wirz.

– Former slave Nathan London settled in Olive Branch, Illinois after the Civil War.  London attained the rank of sergeant during the Civil War.  “His war-time pact with God found him settling in the “horseshoe district” of Alexander County in 1879.”  London pastored two churches and influenced the founding of the London School.

– Two new wayside markers at the Pry House on Antietam Battlefield in Maryland.  One notes activities at Army Headquarters.  The other discusses how the Pry family dealt with the passing of armies.

– A state marker near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania notes the burning of that town on July 29, 1864.

– A marker in Harrisonburg, Virginia notes the June 6, 1862 battle there in which General Turner Ashby was killed.