Understanding War Through Imagery – USAHEC Civil War Conference

From the US Army Heritage and Education Center web site:

In conjunction with the Civil War sesquicentennial, The U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center & Army Heritage Center Foundation presents their Civil War Photographic Conference, Understanding War through Imagery: The Civil War in American Memory June 25-26, 2011. We invite you to join us for this conference focused on the events of the Civil War, early photography and photographic techniques and related historical and research resources. The USAHEC offers a unique setting that promotes interaction between speakers and attendees, scholars and enthusiasts. This year’s speakers include both established and new scholars, who will be discussing a wide range of topics surrounding the Civil War and photography.

An impressive list of speakers to say the least.  Perhaps the most impressive and important contributions in recent years to the study of the Civil War has been the more detailed interpretation of the photographs.

Throughout the sesquicentennial we’ll see photographs and images recalling the Civil War.  I’d submit understanding and appreciating the story behind those photos, along with the fine details contained within, is ever more important to the study of the war.

Certainly an event I’ll clear my schedule for!

8-inch Columbiad Walkaround

In January I ran a post about the 8-inch Columbiad Model 1844 but unfortunately could only use photos of a battered example on display at Fort Sumter.

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8-inch Columbiad Model 1844 at Fort Sumter

While fine for “talking” about the columbiad, the example does not do justice to the original form of the weapon.  I was in need of “walk around” photos of a less battered surviving example.

My pal Harry Smeltzer happened to spot one of these columbiads earlier this month while out looking at Prospect Cemetery in Brackinridge, Pennsylvania.

8-inch Columbiad Model 1844 at Brackinridge, PA

Note the pile of shot and the memorial in the background.   These cannon are part of a memorial display in the cemetery.  Compared to the battered Fort Sumter piece, the muzzle and chase ring are intact, allowing study.

Note also the un-battered trunnions.  These measured eight inches in diameter and 6.5 inches long.  The iron “carriage” mount appears to be a display cradle.  In service the Model 1844 used a wooden carriage – hence the long trunnions compared to later Rodman types.

Trunnion of 8-inch Columbiad

In spite of the frosty rain, the right trunnion stamp is clear –  R.P.P. for Robert P. Parrott and W.P.F. for West Point Foundry.

Muzzle of #51

Easier to read the muzzle marks.  One of these is registry number 51, inspected by Benjamin Huger (who later served the Confederacy).

Muzzle of #69

Huger also inspected registry number 69.  Harry reported the date stamps on the left trunnions were difficult to read.  From my reference books, these were included in 1855 production batches from West Point.

Breech of Model 1844

Saving the best for last, I was most impressed with the view of the breech, relatively intact after all these years.  This perspective shows the ratchet steps and split button type knob with good effect.  With a 635 pound preponderance on the breech, elevating the gun just a degree took some effort.  But imagine bringing the gun up to high elevation; firing the gun; lowering elevation to load the gun; then returning the gun back to desired elevation.

In April 1861, Confederates fired Columbiads like these two fired at Fort Sumter from the “ironclad battery” on Morris Island.  Photos taken after the bombardment confirm the presence of three Model 1844 columbiads in that battery.

On the defender’s side, Captain John G. Foster reported four 8-inch Columbiads on the barbette tier of Fort Sumter.  Four more 8-inch Columbiads sat on the parade ground, mounted as mortars to fire on Morris Island.  No good close up views of those guns were taken in the days after the fall of Fort Sumter.  (A few others may have lay unmounted in the fort.) From circumstantial evidence, likely the seven 8-inch Columbiads mounted in Fort Sumter were Model 1844.  However, with over three hundred of the type produced, the odds are against the two guns currently at Prospect Cemetery being part of the fort’s armament.

Again, thanks to Harry for the photos.  I’ll make a cannon-hunter out of him yet!

8-inch Seacoast Howitzer: Projectiles and Range Tables

Yesterday I presented the three different 8-inch seacoast howitzers produced before the Civil War, noting the similarity to the Model 1844 Columbiad in the same caliber.   Let me pick up discussion of those weapons now, noting the projectiles fired by those heavy howitzers and the weapon’s performance.

As alluded to in previous posts on the columbiad-seacoast howitzer family, the main employment of the seacoast howitzer called for the use of shells.  The 1862 Ordnance Instructions specified the 8-inch shell weighed 49.75 pounds and measured 7.88 inches in diameter.  While the shell could hold 2.5 pounds of powder, standard bursting charge was one pound.  The seacoast howitzer shell was about a quarter-inch thicker than standard mortar or siege howitzer shells (which weighed under 45 pounds).

There is no direct specification on case shot for 8-inch seacoast howitzers.  Presumably the cannon could use the standard howitzer case shot – weighing about 60 pounds, loaded with 486 lead balls and a 15-ounce bursting charge.

8-inch grapeshot consisted of nine six-pound, cast iron balls, each a maximum of 3.6 inches in diameter.  The entire stand, with the iron balls, a top plate, two rings, a bottom plate, and a retaining rod, weighed 75 pounds!  The other anti-personnel projectile, the 8-inch canister weighed 54 pounds.  The canister consisted of forty-eight iron balls packed in sawdust.

Both the Ordnance Instructions of 1862 and the contemporary Artillerist’s Manual provided range charts with charges ranging from 4 to 8 pounds.  However the listed service charge for the piece was 8 pounds.  The columns on this chart indicate the powder charge, weight of shell, elevation in degrees and seconds, and the range in yards:

The figures above likely applied to the Model 1840 Seacoast Howitzer.  The particulars listed for 8-inch seacoast howitzers in the 1862 Ordnance Instructions (table on page 20) match those for the 1840 model, and not the later 1842.  And note the same table lists the Model 1844 Columbiad as a “shell gun.”

In confined waterways, the seacoast howitzer’s heavy shell could deter wooden ships of the day.  But lacking the seacoast howitzer lacked the range to cover the wide channels common along the American shores.  The range also limited the value of the seacoast howitzers to the Confederates firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861.  While placing at least two of these howitzers on Morris Island, their role in the battle, if any, received little mention.

On the Federal side, three 8-inch howitzers covered the main harbor channel, deterring any ships approaching the besieged fort.  While not directly noted, likely these were Model 1840 Seacoast Howitzers.  More important for the fort’s defenders, one seacoast howitzer covered the sally port; and two more covered the esplanade and wharf on the south side of the fort.  These three guns could sweep the wharf and approaches to the fort if the Confederates had attempted to storm the works.  However these preparations proved excessive, as the Confederates compelled surrender without direct assault.

The employment of 8-inch seacoast howitzers at Sumter was perhaps the most noteworthy use of the weapon in the Civil War.  Reports list the seacoast howitzers at several coastal forts and in the Washington defenses.  However, these mostly provided close, anti-personnel defense until the 8-inch siege howitzer production picked up.  The Rodman guns completely replaced the seacoast howitzers in the anti-ship role.

8-inch Seacoast Howitzer

Turning from the “guns” that served both sides at Fort Sumter in 1861, another type of weapon in the batteries was the seacoast howitzer.  As mentioned in an earlier post tracing the history of columbiads, the seacoast howitzer filled a requirement to fire shells at enemy ships venturing too close to the friendly shores.

Earlier weapons, from the time of the War of 1812, that carried the “columbiad” resembled heavy howitzers.  But these fired solid shot.  By the 1830s tests indicated that shells would cause considerable damage to wooden ships of the era.  The Army wanted to complement conventional seacoast guns with “seacoast howitzers” firing such shells.  In 1839, the Army issued contracts to Columbia Foundry, in Washington, D.C., and West Point Foundry, in New York, for 8-inch seacoast howitzers (the term “bomb cannons” appeared on some documents) built to a “pattern of 1839.”  The contracts specified the use of hot blast iron.  Columbia Foundry delivered 38 of these; and West Point produced 20.

One of the later is on display at the memorial for General John Sedgwick in Cornwall Hollow, Connecticut.  Friend and fellow marker-hunter Bill Coughlin forwarded a few pictures of that howitzer.

8-inch Seacoast Howitzer Model 1839

The profile follows a familiar pattern for external moldings and fixtures.  But there is one extra “ring” on the reinforce just in front of the lockpiece.  This ring indicates the separation of the first and second reinforce.  Hard to determine without laying a level on the howitzer, but that first reinforce is a true cylinder, like those seen on the larger 32-pdr and 42-pdr models of the same time period.  The addition of the ring allows easy identification of the seacoast howitzer.

8-inch Seacoast Howitzer Model 1839

The muzzle itself incorporates a fillet and cavetto.  On the muzzle face of this piece are the initials of Rufus Lathrop Baker (R.L.B.) and the registry number 4.  Note the test scar on the muzzle.

Muzzle of 8-inch Howitzer

Aside from the example in the photo here, only one other 8-inch Model 1839 exists today.  However in 1840, the Army issued more contracts for a very similar Model 1840, but this time specifying the use of “cold blast” iron.

The difference between hot and cold blast is better left to a separate post, as it transitions easily into a larger discussion of the study of metallurgy in the 19th century.  But the short version is hot blast involved blowing pre-heated air into the furnace in the smelting process.  While reducing the cost to manufacture, this also changed the composition of the metal.  The Army later determined hot blast iron lacked the endurance to use with cannon and specified traditional cold blast iron instead.

Both 8-inch and 10-inch models appeared.  But for our discussions here, let me focus on the 8-inch model that was used at Fort Sumter.  I lack photos of any Model 1840 seacoast howitzers.   So in that place I’ll offer one of my tables indicating the dimensions of the various seacoast howitzers.

Notice the same dimensions for both the Model 1839 and 1840.  Other than a slightly reduced muzzle swell diameter, the two models were externally indistinguishable.  Columbia produced 43 of the Model 1840 and West Point added another twenty.  Cyrus Alger of Boston produced one experimental howitzer to this pattern.  Bellona Foundry initially received an order for twenty, which was later cancelled (occurring about the same time as many other issues at Bellona with cannon production).

Not content with the design, the Army again revised the howitzer design in 1842.  The improved model featured the ratchet bar in place of a traditional knob on the breech.  In place of the reinforce ring was a six-inch wide reinforce band situated over the mouth of the chamber.  The chase tapered gradually, with a chase ring, to a straight, un-swelled muzzle.  Cyrus Alger received a contract for thirteen 8-inch and seven 10-inch, delivering them in 1843-44.  Only one of the 10-inch howitzers survives today, and none of the 8-inch types.  But these served as transitional pieces to the Model 1844 Columbiad design.

By 1861, the Army had suppressed the use of the seacoast howitzers across the board (in the same order that also suppressed the 32- and 42-pdr seacoast guns in favor of the Rodman-type guns).  But with quantities on hand in April 1861, both sides used the seacoast howitzers.

Given the quantity of manufacture, likely the howitzers arrayed around Charleston were of the Model 1840 variety.  Although the Model 1839 would easily pass without much note on the inventories.  The South Carolinians captured a small quantity of these weapons in December 1860.  The Fort’s garrison positioned several of these guns in key positions around the fort.

In my next post I’ll discuss the performance of the 8-inch howitzer and discuss how these were used at Fort Sumter.


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

Ordnance Manual for Use of the Officers of the United States Army.  Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1862. (Google Books copy)

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

Birkhimer, William, Historical Sketch of the Organization, Administration, Material and Tactics of the Artillery, United States Army.  Washington:  James J. Chapman, 1884.  Particularly pages 275-9 discussing the evolution of the American systems of artillery.

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.

Fort Sumter’s Small Guns: 24-pdr Siege Guns

Continuing with my survey of guns used at Fort Sumter in April 1861, let me move down the scale to the 24-pdr Siege and Garrison Gun.  Yesterday’s trip to Fort Washington, Maryland allowed me to re-examine one of these gun again.

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24-pdr Siege Gun at Fort Washington

The 24-pdr class dated back to the American Revolution, but became the favored heavy-caliber in the American Army for several of the early decades of the nation’s existence.  Regulations of 1819 cited the 24-pdr as a multipurpose seacoast, siege, and garrison gun.  While modern readers would simply consider these “guns in forts,” the roles carried some distinction in the 19th century.  Seacoast guns defended coastlines and harbors from enemy ships.  Siege guns performed offensive battering of enemy fortifications.  Garrison guns mounted in the forts countered enemy siege operations.  But in 1819, the Army felt one pattern of gun satisfied the needs of all three roles.

Designated Model of 1819 (retroactively I might add), the 24-pdr pattern called for a weapon 124 inches long, weighing 5790 pounds.  The bore was 5.82-inches in diameter.

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24-pdr Siege Gun, West Point #89

The 24-pdr Model 1819 conformed to exterior patterns of the time.  The knob sat on top of a breech which had the form of a flattened cone.

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Breech Profile of 24-pdr Gun

After a two inch wide base ring, the reinforce gradually tapered down to a shoulder about five inches past the trunnions.  Overall the reinforce ran 57 inches from the base ring.

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Trunnions of 24-pdr Siege Gun

The chase tapered out to a rather abrupt muzzle swell.  The muzzle featured a flat lip facing, instead of blended sweeps.  The molding looks more like a fillet than any of the other molding structures used on cannons.

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Muzzle Face of 24-pdr Siege Gun

Production of the 24-pdr guns started in 1820.  Bellona Foundry delivered 258 by 1839.  Columbia Foundry, in Washington, D.C., produced 321, but received credit for 311 between 1825 and 1840.  Fort Pitt Foundry, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, received orders for 195 but received credit for 190 produced from 1825 to 1839.  The Army credited West Point Foundry with 366 of the guns in 1825 to 1839.  All told the Army received 1,125 of these guns.

Just like the heavier guns, the 24-pdr fired a variety of projectiles.  By regulations in 1862, the particulars for those projectiles were:

  • Solid shot 5.68 inches  in diameter (0.14 inch windage),  weighing 24.3 pounds.
  • Shell weighing 16.8 pounds which could contain up to a pound of powder (although bursting charge was slightly less).
  • Case shot weighing 12 pounds empty or 22.75 pounds when loaded. Containing 175 musket balls and a six ounce bursting charge. (Gibbon, Appendix 35)
  • Grape-shot used nine balls of 2.6-inch diameter weighing 2.4 pounds each.
  • canister round weighing 29 pounds filled with twenty-seven 1.85-inch diameter, 0.86-pound cast iron balls.

With such a long service life, other projectile types appeared but those listed are the common types used by the time of the Civil War.

The 1862 Ordnance manual credited the 24-pdr siege gun with a maximum of 1901 yards at 5 degrees of elevation.

Notice the designation of “siege and garrison gun” on the table.  After the 1830s, the manuals only referred to the larger 32- and 42-pdrs as seacoast guns.  Yet, the 24-pdrs remained in the seacoast forts, presumably pending replacement by larger types.  And large numbers of the 24-pdrs remained in the Army’s siege park inventory.

Although the most prevalent, the Model 1819 was not the only 24-pdr gun purchased by the Army.  In 1839 the Army ordered from Columbia foundry a single 32-pdr gun bored to 24-pdr caliber, for experimental tests.  In the same year, the Army ordered single 24-pdr “new pattern” guns from both Columbia and West Point.  And in 1841 West Point produced a small batch, likely just three, of 24-pdr guns of Model 1840.    The Model 1840 retained the same basic dimensions of the Model 1819, but incorporated a cylindrical first reinforce, akin to the larger guns produced at the same time.

Starting in 1845, the Army ordered small batches of 24-pdrs conforming to “pattern of 1845.”  Cyrus Alger of Boston provided 20.  Tredegar produced fifteen (and perhaps more for state orders).  West Point added 31 more.  The Model 1845 featured the two reinforce pattern, a more streamlined muzzle swell, a chase ring, and a raised lockpiece block over the vent.  Four guns conforming in dimensions to that type also sit at Fort Washington (but lacking marks and exhibiting some casting flaws, these may be reproductions).

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Possible 24-pdr Model 1845 Guns at Fort Washington

The 24-pdr siege guns not only appeared at Fort Sumter at the start of the war, but soldiered on through the war in several roles.  A battery of 24-pdrs formed on Grant’s last line at Pittsburg Landing on April 6, 1862.  And 24-pdrs fired into Vicksburg the following year during that siege.  The guns also appear in the armament of the Washington defensive forts.  Both Federals and Confederates rifled 24-pdrs to extend their usefulness.  Rifled “James” 24-pdrs, for example, fired at Fort Pulaski.

Seventy-three of the Model 1819 and at least fifteen of the Model 1845 (more if the guns pictured above are originals) survive today.  Perhaps the most interesting display of a 24-pdr gun is this example at Fort Moultrie.

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24-pdr Gun on a Gin at Fort Moultrie

On blocks below a garrison gun gin, the 24-pdr demonstrates the equipment used to handle a gun onto a carriage.   Consider that 150 years ago at Fort Sumter and the various positions ringing Charleston harbor laborers and gun crews handled the heavy ordnance using equipment just like this.  All in preparation, but perhaps hoping to avoid, the commencement of hostilities.


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

Ordnance Manual for Use of the Officers of the United States Army.  Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1862. (Google Books copy)

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

Birkhimer, William, Historical Sketch of the Organization, Administration, Material and Tactics of the Artillery, United States Army.  Washington:  James J. Chapman, 1884.  Particularly pages 275-9 discussing the evolution of the American systems of artillery.

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.

Priceless Day Trip

I took the Aide-de-Camp to a few Civil War sites in the DC area today.  Mostly stuff we’ve been to before.  Agenda moderated of course with attractions co-located with playgrounds with ample swings and slides. Weather here is a bit cool still, but not so much to preclude a good hike through the woods.  Although hiking along the Potomac, with the wind blowing across the river, required winter layers.

The tally:

Gas – $10

Packed lunch – $10

Souvenirs and books – $35

Getting to answer “Let’s see!” when my son asks, “Daddy, what’s over that hill?”   – Priceless.

He used my old camera during the day.  I’m rather surprised at some of angles he thought of shooting.  Several good profiles of cannons, portions of forts, and animals.  Only one photo looking down at his feet.    He even insisted on getting a picture of daddy beside a cannon.

Not bad for a five year old with a hand-me-down camera.

Update on Development Threat at Brandy Station Battlefield

Earlier I mentioned the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) plans to widen Virginia Highway 3 through Stevensburg, signing off with a “stay tuned for more information.”  The proposed road improvement runs through the Hansbrough Ridge section of the Brandy Station battlefield.

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Hansbrough's Ridge outside Stevensburg

The proposed road improvement project has stirred up a number of preservation groups.  Aside from the Brandy Station Foundation (full disclosure, I am currently a board member of that organization), the Germanna Foundation, Piedmont Environmental Council, and the Civil War Trust have all made statements about the proposed improvement.  Further, local residents in Stevensburg have expressed concern over the plans. The area in question lies within both the boundaries of an American Battlefield Protection Program survey of Brandy Station and an area included within a National Register Historic Places submission.  In short, ground long been identified for its historic significance and targeted for preservation efforts.

Earlier this week, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR) weighed in.   The Culpeper Star Exponent offered a summary of the findings and some reaction in an article posted on their website today.   In brief, VDOT originally dismissed the impact of road improvements as minimal.  VDHR now calls that assessment into question.  Writing the letter, Julie Langan, Director of VHDR’s Resources Services and Review division, stated that Hansbrough’s Ridge “is the most dominant and significant feature of the Stevensburg phase of the Brand Station battle.  It is also the feature with the greatest historic integrity within the project’s Area of Potential Effects.

Allow me use some visuals here to highlight the point about historic integrity.  Here’s a photo from just south of Fleetwood Hill, looking at the four lane James Madison Highway (US 15/29), on the other (main portion) of the Brandy Station battlefield.

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US 15/29 Crossing the Battlefield

Across where four lanes of traffic speed along, one of the largest cavalry charges in the Civil War, if not American history, occurred.  Hard to visualize that today.  That’s an understatement – impossible to visualize it today!  So should we do the same for this stretch of road?

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Virginia Highway 3 Looking towards Stevensburg

The photo above was taken at the intersection with Salubria Lane, which leads to a second point to consider with regard to the road improvements.  Salubria, a manor home dating to the 1700s, stands just south of the road.    Daniel Boone once worked around the plantation.  During the Civil War both sides used the grounds (particularly the Federals in the winter of 1863-4).  I run out of space just attempting to provide a brief history of this historic landmark!

The Germanna Foundation, which currently manages the property, plans to complete restoration and renovation of this historic home.  Should the road improvements proceed, this lane –

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Salubria Lane

– would be isolated.  Providing cross overs and turn lanes along with the proposed four lane widening project would impose an even greater asphalt footprint on the ground.   Further, to provide runoff and drainage for the expanded highways, VDOT would practically destroy a nearby spring documented from Daniel Boone’s time in the area.

Clearly VDOT should consider alternatives here that would provide for the safe movement of vehicles through the area but at the same time ensure preservation of these historic resources.