Pointed at Fort Sumter: The 8-inch “New Columbiad”

I know, more 8-inch caliber Columbiads?

Yes.  Perhaps no better illustration of the evolution of heavy artillery in America than to look at the varieties of 8-inch weapons present at Charleston in 1861.  Thus far I’ve discussed the Bomford “Seacoast Howitzers,” which evolved into the Columbiad Model 1844 (arguably more of a “shell gun”).  Now let me turn to the “New Columbiad” or Model 1857.  The reason for this evolution and multiplicity of models had much to do with individual cannon’s reliability and efforts on the part of the Army to solve problems with cast iron guns.

Starting in 1857, and concurrent with the last batch of contracts for Model 1844 Columbiads, the five active heavy artillery foundries received orders for “new pattern” Columbiads.  In terms of critical dimensions, as seen on the chart below, the “New Columbiads” (see the third data column) did not differ from the earlier Model 1844.

However not depicted in the dimensions were several design changes.  The New Columbiads dispensed with the base ring, introduced a hemispherical full caliber chamber, and smoother reinforce exteriors.

As indicated on the chart, five foundries produced quantities of the New Columbiads.  Cyrus Alger received orders for 41, which the Army later reduced to only three trial guns.  Bellona Foundry saw their initial order for twenty reduced, with only nine credited deliveries (and which apparently the state of  Virginia seized in 1861).  Tredegar’s order for 26 dropped to only 17 credited deliveries.  West Point delivered only 19 on the contract for 24.

Fort Pitt Foundry’s initial order carried the requirement “to be cast hollow.”  On the initial order for nineteen, the Army credited the foundry for sixteen.  And then the Army ordered additional batches, many of which “cast hollow,” between 1859 and 1861.  With these orders, Fort Pitt transitioned production techniques from the old style castings to that used for the highly successful Rodman guns.

Of just under a hundred produced, only two examples survive today.  Such reinforces the assumption that the Army expended most of the New Columbiads in destructive tests.  Some of those earmarked for tests lacked the elevation ratchets on the breech face, replacing them with a large knob cascabel.  Mounted on a test carriage at locations such as Fort Monroe, the gun crew only needed a quoin to change elevations and not the elaborate service mechanisms.  While sacrificed on the test range, the burst guns provided invaluable data leading to the fine, dependable wartime Rodman guns.

But at least a few of those New Columbiads saw active service, issued to the seacoast forts.  Photos of Fort Moultrie taken prior to the Federal evacuation (probably in 1860) show what appear to be the New Columbiads on barbette carriages (just right of center).

Sullivans Island, Fort Moultrie

Hard to make a certain call from this angle, but the three guns above the hot shot furnace are 8-inch Columbiads.  And likely the partially obscured gun on the far right is also.  The guns appear to have rounded breech faces, as used on the New Columbiads. Photos taken after April 1861 show two or three of those guns still in place.

I’ve seen photos from other angles which confirms the rounded breech faces, leading to a tentative identification of New Columbiads.

Of the two surviving examples, one apparently didn’t venture far from Fort Moultrie.

Fort Moultrie 3 May 2010 490
8-inch New Columbiad, West Point #89, Rifled and Banded

Confederates rifled and banded this gun during the war.  The story about this gun, and others like it which were similarly modified, is worth a separate post.  So I’ll hold off discussing the gun further at this point.

The other surviving 8-inch New Columbiad – from Tredegar – sits atop a memorial at Beatrice, Nebraska (don’t ask me how it got there!).

Gage County Courthouse Cannon (Beatrice, Nebraska)
8-inch Columbiad at Beatrice, Nebraska

I would also point out the 8-inch New Columbiads appear in many wartime photos.  Perhaps the most interesting are those taken at Yorktown, Virginia in 1862.

A few photos from the same time period, but at different locations, show 8-inch New Columbiads with knobs instead of ratchets.  But proper identification there runs into a trap – both Tredegar and Bellona continued production of the 8-inch New Columbiads for Confederate customers.  Those I will deal with in detail in another post.

Having completely exhausted the topic of 8-inch caliber weapons involved with the April 1861 Battle of Fort Sumter, let me next turn to the larger 10-inch Columbiads.


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)

Birkhimer, William, Historical Sketch of the Organization, Administration, Material and Tactics of the Artillery, United States Army.  Washington:  James J. Chapman, 1884.

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.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

4 thoughts on “Pointed at Fort Sumter: The 8-inch “New Columbiad”

  1. This info is very interesting. Cast hollow refers to casting with a bore mold piece and then cooling the canon from the inside out. This procedure was developed at Ft Pitt Foundry (maybe elsewhere also?). Testing showed major performance life advantage. Later, after testing, the military specifications included hollow casting. Performance improvement was due to cast porosity location and amount and the cast grain structure of the iron. The iron quality intself may have been a factor but I have no information about that effect.

    1. Actually, “cast hollow” is an ancient term. Gunfounders cast guns hollow in the days before the horizontal boring machine of Jean Martiz (early 1700s). The system perfected at Fort Pitt Foundry (under the direction of Thomas J. Rodman) offered a different twist to “cast hollow” which is actually termed “water core” in contemporary documents. Arguably, and this is not my argument but that advanced by Rodman’s contemporaries, the hollow “water core” technique was not the most important practice that improved gun durability. Metallurgy advances certainly contributed (as evidenced by the multitude of smaller caliber rifles which were not water core). And of course Admiral Dahlgren argued the shape of the gun’s pattern (interior and exterior) was the real strength of the design. Dahlgren sued the Army, and by extension Rodman, for “stealing” his design…. but his claim was thrown out.

      All topics I will address in later posts as time permits. My blog is becoming more a collection of notes every passing day!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: