From Statues to Cannon – The Washington Foundry

Among the varied, and often obscure, vendors who provided artillery to the Confederacy was the Washington Foundry based out of Richmond, Virginia.  Three field pieces from the foundry exist today.  And the story of the historian’s trail is perhaps more interesting than the guns themselves!

One 12-pdr howitzer displayed among Poague’s Howitzers at Gettysburg displays a string of uncommon markings on the right trunnion.

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Right Trunnion of Washington Foundry Howitzer - Gettysburg

The markings, which suffer from the exposure, are hard to read.  From top to bottom – “W.J.H.  // W.F. // S.& P. // 1861 // State of Va.”

Another 12-pdr howitzer, this one representing Rutledge’s Tennessee Battery along Ruggles’ Line at Shiloh, displays two of the same initials.

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Right Trunnion of Washington Foundry Howitzer -Shiloh

“W.J.H // & // S.&P.” On the right trunnion is a date stamp of 1862.

The identity of the manufacturer remained a riddle until cannon historians Warren Ripley and James Hazlett connected the initials “W.J.H.” to William James Hubard.

William James Hubard

Hubard, a portrait artist of the mid-19th century came to Richmond with a somewhat shadowy past.  Hubard claimed to be British born, but earliest records have him in New York at age 17.  He began his career as a silhouettist, but moved on to portrait work.  After marriage, he settled in Virginia and continued his work, but picked up a desire to reproduce sculpture.  Not just any sculpture, but one piece in particular – Jean-Antoine Houdon’s Washington.

Securing the rights to reproduce the statue, Hubard established a foundry outside Richmond to make bronze reproductions the famous marble statue.  Apparently Hubard sold a fair number.  (A copy of Hubard’s casting sits in the US Capitol Rotunda.  But that piece was cast in the early 20th century.)

One sits outside the state capital in Columbia, South Carolina (and was damaged by Federal troops in 1865).  Looking at the South Carolina statue, Warren Ripley noticed the stamp “W.J. Hubard Foundry, Richmond, Va. 1858” and connected it to “W.J.H.” on the howitzers.  From there historians pulled records in the Confederate “Citizens File.”  Hubard ran the Washington Foundry in Richmond, obviously named after subject of the statues and thus explaining “W.F.” on the markings.

Hubard first offered to produce howitzers for the State of Virginia in April 1861.  But Hubard did not have lathes or a machine shop to finish the howitzers.  This is where “S. & P.” enter the story.  Hubard sub-contracted to the machine shop of Samson & Pae to bore out the cannon and turn the pieces for final delivery.

Hubard may have produced a half-dozen for Virginia, of which two survive today.  One of those, as the last line in the trunnion stamp indicates, is on display at Gettysburg.

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Washington Foundry Howitzer at Gettysburg

In late 1861, the Confederate government ordered ten more howitzers from Hubard.  The Shiloh piece was among that batch.

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Washington Foundry Howitzer at Shiloh

The piece bears an identification number “3” on the muzzle and a weight stamp of “770” on the base ring.  The weight is not out of variance for Federal regulation Model 1841.  The form of the knob and muzzle are very close to that of the regulation type.

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Muzzle of Washington Foundry Howitzer - Gettysburg

The Washington Foundry howitzers, in spite of the weathering, have very few pock marks indicating casting flaws (often the remains of bubbles when the molten metal was poured into the mold).  In all these appear well finished, and might easily pass as Federal types unless closely examined.

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Washington Foundry Howitzer at Shiloh

Hubard’s career in ordnance manufacture came to an abrupt end in February 1862.  While experimenting with gunpowder, he was killed in an explosion.  Samson & Pae continued to produce munitions and a few field pieces during the war.  Regardless the Confederacy lost a vendor who could produce at least a small quantity of field pieces with some consistency.

The two pieces pictured here (along with a third survivor reported in Clinton, Louisiana) serve as reminders of the mobilization of the Confederacy.

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Two Confederate howitzers at Rutledge's Battery, Ruggles' Line at Shiloh

In the case of the Washington Foundry, facilities designed for producing artwork transformed to produce weapons.  And thereby the great work of Jean Antoine Houdon has a connection to Civil War artillery!


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

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.

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.

6 thoughts on “From Statues to Cannon – The Washington Foundry

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