Monthly Archives: June 2011

Fast Track Fort Monroe

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s visited Fort Monroe yesterday.  From the Virginian-Pilot:

This historic Army post may have won over a most important ally on Wednesday: Cabinet member Ken Salazar, secretary of the interior. Salazar toured the 570-acre base in Hampton before meeting with about 150 citizens, almost all of whom indicated strong support for making Fort Monroe a national park after the Army departs in September.

Fort Monroe sits on the easternmost end of the “Peninsula.”  From the earliest colonial days to the present, the location of the fort figures prominently in American history.  From the Civil War perspective of course, many story lines unfold as a visitor walks the grounds:  the a foothold retained in Virginia after secession; base for Federal operations against Richmond; place where the “contraband of war” became freedmen; and a prison that held Confederate leaders after the war… just to mention a few.

I would also point out the Fort Monroe also speaks to the “old Army” both pre-Civil War and post-Civil War.  The installation became the testing ground for new weapons, training ground for generations of soldiers, and (well before Fort Leavenworth) where the Army crafted warfighting doctrine.  The fort is in some ways a more fitting location for the National Museum of the US Army (although I would concede that a Fort Belvoir location will attract more visitors).

The Army identified the old installation as excess to its needs in 2005 and programed a closure date of September 2011.  Since the announcement, all sorts of plans have emerged ranging from resorts to state park.  Although the national park option remained on the table, most saw the normal process along that line as too lengthy given the 2011 deadline.   But there is the fast track option:

But with just 2-1/2 months remaining until the Army turns the property over to the state – in compliance with the 2005 Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission’s recommendation – a quicker option has become a priority: getting the president to declare the fort a national monument using powers granted to him by the Antiquities Act.

Since this is my soapbox –  there’s an opportunity here that would marry the proclamations to actions.  I think it is time for a Fort Monroe National Historic Site.

Castle Pinckney Sold for $10!

You read that right!  Ten dollars!

Charleston Harbor, Castle Pinckney

Castle Pinckney as it Appeared in the Civil War

The current owner, the South Carolina State Ports Authority, agreed to sell the fort and grounds to the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) Camp 1269 for what you must agree is a very, very fair price.

Charleston Harbor, Castle Pinckney

Castle Pinckney Today

The Ports Authority acquired Shutes’ Folly  back in the 1950s when the site fell off the list of sites under consideration for national monument status.  Facing budget concerns, the Ports Authority agreed to transfer the property to the SCV camp.

Charleston Harbor, Castle Pinckney

Wartime Photo Showing Troops in Formation at Castle Pinckney

I’ve visited Shute’s Folly many years back.  Certainly the remotest site of the Charleston, South Carolina forts.  Although the brickwork has crumbled and deteriorated, I was able to learn a great deal about the architectural aspects of the fort despite the overgrowth.

Charleston Harbor, Castle Pinckney

Exterior of Castle Pinckney Today

At one time the Ports Authority used the island as a dredging spoil site, but I don’t think any of the historical structures were affected.  Over the years I’ve heard a number of attempts by the Ports Authority to introduce preservation efforts.  But none seemed to take root.  Hopefully this time the SCV’s efforts will bear fruit.

Speaking to the Charleston Post and Courier the SCV Camp’s commander Philip Middleton stated, “We didn’t want to see something out there like a sports bar, with neon lights.”

Another camp member, Bill Snow, added, “Our ultimate aim is to preserve this facility in a respectful and dignified way, to provide a visible link to the past for future generations in the Charleston area.  The fort is a part of our Lowcountry heritage and will be honored as such by the Fort Sumter Camp of the SCV.”

The fort was the first such installation occupied by South Carolina troops, and a significant event in the road to war.  And at the end of the war, it was among the installations in Charleston manned by US Colored Troops.  Those are a couple of reasons I’ve always considered the photo below among the most telling from the war period:

Charleston Harbor, Castle Pinckney

African-American outside Castle Pinckney

I do hope the SCV is able to stabilize the site.  However I think restoration of the fort is out of the question for now.  But even in the current condition, the location might make an interesting “extended stop” for those on Fort Sumter tours.  Heck, I’d pay an extra $5 on the normal boat tour price for that stop.  Get one more of you to join with me, and the SCV camp breaks even!

(Photos and illustrations courtesy of Henry de Saussure Copeland, linked from a Flickr collection.)

148 Years Ago: Edwards Ferry

148 years ago this morning, just a few miles from where I am comfortably typing, engineers of the Army of the Potomac worked to retrieve pontoon bridges over the Potomac.  Over the previous three days those pontoon bridges supported the crossing of the Army as it shifted base from northern Virginia into Maryland, and thence to Pennsylvania.

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Edwards Ferry

The Army of the Potomac had crossed the river it was named for, and headed north in pursuit of General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.  The two forces would clash a few days later at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  The “road” to Gettysburg ran through Edwards Ferry.

I wrote a score of posts on the Edwards Ferry crossing over the last couple of years.  While the topic has been out of my blogging queue as I turn towards topics keeping in line with the 150th observances, I’ve continued research behind the scenes. I also have a few exciting projects regarding the Edwards Ferry crossing site.  Hopefully I’ll have something to announce in the next few months.

Gettysburg for the 148th

As the first days of July near, all Civil War enthusiasts, buffs, nuts, and wonks turn their eyes towards Gettysburg!

Scheduled for July 1, 2, and 3, the National Park Service hosts a series of battlewalks and “Real Time” programs.  And the Gettysburg Foundation hosts their Sacred Trust program.  Here’s the line-up of topics and speakers:

Friday, July 1

  • 10:30 a.m.  – “A Strong and Sudden Onslaught: The Cavalry Action at Hanover, PA” with Licensed Battlefield Guide/Author John Krepps
  • 11:30 a.m. “Gettysburg and Symbolic Truth: Monuments are Having Conversations in Broad Daylight” with NPS Park Ranger/Author Troy Harman
  • 12:30 p.m. “Robert E. Lee, Gettysburg and the Elements of Confederate Defeat” with Author Ethan Rafuse
  • 1:30 p.m. “Murder at Dawn: The Life and Death of Colonel Ellsworth” with Author Adam Goodheart
  • 2:30 p.m. “Who Was George G. Meade?” with Author Allen Guelzo
  • 3:30 p.m. “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been a Revisionist?” with Author Edward Linenthal
  • 4:30 p.m. “What is the New Birth of Freedom?” with Author William Morrisey

Saturday, July 2

  • 9:30 a.m. “I had been under fire…and had felt no inclination to run’” Patrick O’Rorke at First Bull Run” with Harry Smeltzer
  • 10:30 a.m. “The George Spangler Farm: 11th Army Corps Field Hospital” with Author Wayne Motts
  • 11:30 a.m. “Last to Leave the Field: Sergeant Henry Hayward’s Civil War” with Author Tim Orr
  • 12:30 p.m. “The Women of Gettysburg” with Author Bradley Gottfried
  • 1:30 p.m. “Varina Davis, First Lady of the Confederacy” with Author Joan Cashin
  • 2:30 p.m. “We Were There! The Smithsonian and the Civil War” with Author James Barber
  • 3:30 p.m. “A Filmmaker’s Journal Through the Civil War” with Director Ron Maxwell
  • 4:30 p.m. “From These Honored Dead”: The History & Memory of the Gettysburg Battlefield with Former NPS Ranger Jennifer Murray

Sunday, July 3

  • 9:30 a.m. “The Gettysburg Story: This Land Will Speak To You” with Authors Gabor and Jake Boritt
  • 10:30 a.m. “The Confederate Soldier at Vicksburg” with NPS Ranger/Author Matt Atkinson
  • 11:30 a.m. National Park Service Chief Historian Emeritus Ed Bearss
  • 1:30 p.m. “Antietam’s Bloody Prelude: The Battle of South Mountain” with Author John Hoptak
  • 2:30 p.m. “Lee and His Retreat from Gettysburg” with Author Kent Masterson Brown
  • 3:30 p.m. “Preservation By the Parcel: The On-Going Legacy of the Land By Citizen Volunteers” with Author Barbara Finfrock
  • 4:30 p.m. “A.P. Hill: From Confederate General to U.S. Army Base” with Patrick Falci

As you can see, the topics range far afield from Gettysburg.  Even Harry Smeltzer will be there making a pitch for his First Bull Run stuff!

I’m planning a trip up on Saturday, which might become Sunday.  We’ll see.  At any rate, more than a good reason to go visit Gettysburg this weekend.  I bet the Mine Saloon will be packed!

A Bore-ing Day at Manassas

Yesterday the staff and I took an afternoon trip to Manassas to burn off what energy we had left after a day of yard-work.  While on the Henry Hill trail, I took the opportunity to take “measure” of some familiar guns.

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Bore of 6-pdr Model 1841, Alger #111

I’ve always carried a tape measure and small ruler with my camera/field bag.  But until recently I never had a camera that would provide the close-focus resolution to make pictures worth posting.   The subject of this photo is a 6-pdr Field Gun produced by Cyrus Alger in 1854.

According to the 1862 Ordnance Manual, the 6-pdr’s bore measured 3.76 inches (that is 3.67 inches for the projectile plus 0.09 inches for windage).  In the photo my ruler stands at a slant, but I’d call the measure about 3 and 50/64ths, or 3.78 inches.  Considering this gun is over 150 years old, been in the elements for much of that time, and has scars to attest to heavy use – that’s not bad.

Moving down the line, another 6-pdr, this one produced by Miles Greenwood’s Eagle Foundry in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1861, has similar measures.

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Bore of 6-pdr Model 1841, Greenwood #11

Again, adjusting for the placement of the ruler, I’d call it 3 and 50/64ths.  Not as much scarring in the bore of this “western” gun, however.

On the other hand, the bore of a Model 1835 6-pdr now measures a bit more.

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Bore of 6-pdr Model 1835, Ames #11

This is Ames registry #11, cast in 1837.  It’s bore measures about 3 and 54/64ths in diameter.   Maybe it was fired more?  Maybe the inspector allowed a bit more windage?

Now how about the rifled field guns?

Let’s start with a gun that started life as a smoothbore.

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Bore of Rifled 6-pdr, Ames #176

Ames produced registry number 176 as a smoothbore in 1854.  Either just before, or in the early stages of the war, the gun was rifled.  The bore went from 3.76-inches to what I measure at 3.84 inches (3 and 56/64ths to keep on the same scale as the smoothbores noted above).  Note the rifling lands on the upper bore barely touch the “28” and “56” marks on the ruler.

Another gun on the line shares the same Model 1841 pattern, but was ordered from the start as a rifled gun.

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Bore of Ames #530, James Rifle Type 1

Ames Manufacturing produced registry number 530 against an order for 6-pdr rifled guns.  I’d measure this bore with a bit less windage at 3 and 13/16ths, or 3.82 inches.   Bore wear?  Or increased tolerance on guns produced as rifles from the start?  My field notes over the years lead me to believe this is a case of wear.

But compare to the wider bore of the 12-pdr field howitzers on the same line.

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Bore of 12-pdr Model 1841, Marshall #23

By the manual, the bore should measure 4.72 inches.  In this case, the ruler measures to the 46 mark past four inches, for 46/64ths.  That’s very, very close to the regulation measure.

I made some interesting measures of the Parrott rifles on the Federal side of the line, but I’ll save those for a post comparing Tredegar and West Point Parrott rifles.

Hundredths of an inch.  But every hundredth important to the weapons performance.

Confederate 6-pdr Field Guns

In my discussion of 6-pdr field guns, thus far I’ve focused on the Federal side with only a couple of posts citing the Confederate wartime production.  Not to slight southern manufacturing, but chronologically the “story” doesn’t fit until after the Federal designs.  As the northern armies phased the 6-pdr out of service in favor of rifled guns and 12-pdr Napoleons, the southerners continued to produce a substantial numbers, in relation to overall field gun production, of the 6-pdr class.  And as with Federal designs, the Confederate 6-pdrs offer some overlap with rifled field guns produced later.

As the war started, Confederate ordnance officers and gunmakers turned first to established design patterns and practices.  To some degree, the story of the Confederate 6-pdrs parallels that of the 12-pdr field howitzers, which I discussed at length for both bronze and iron types in earlier posts.  The manuals of the day called for 6-pdr guns and 12-pdr howitzers for the light field batteries.  So the Confederacy received batches of bronze cannons from each of those classes which generally conformed to the Model 1841 patterns.  As the war progressed, the southerners had less bronze to work with, so gunmakers turned to iron (or I should say, at least those gunmakers who’s facilities were not overrun by 1863).  And of course, by mid-war experience on the battlefield indicated the 6-pdr guns and 12-pdr howitzer lacked the performance needed to counter the Federal guns.   So production of the smaller smoothbore cannons dropped off by mid-war in favor of other types.

In the early months of the war Tredegar cast bronze Model 1841 types for southern orders.  As noted in an earlier post, Tredegar lacked previous government contracts for such bronze field pieces, but had access to the patterns.  Setting aside some slight deviations from the exterior form, the Tredegar guns followed the pattern faithfully.

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Tredegar 6-pdr Model 1841, #1443, at V.M.I.

Tredegar produced around 30 of these weapons during the sixteen months of the war.  Augmenting the Tredegar production, several new-comers to the ordnance business produced 6-pdrs for Confederate requirements.  These vendors generally followed the Model 1841 pattern, although some survivors exhibit notable variations in external form:

  •   John Clarke & Company, Leeds & Company, Bennett & Lurges, and Samuel Wolff & Company of New Orleans contributed around twenty-five bronze 6-pdrs before the city fell to Federals in 1862.
  • Quinby & Robinson delivered a dozen bronze 6-pdrs before the fall of Memphis, Tennessee.
  • A.M. Paxton, of Vicksburg, Mississippi completed some of the Quinby & Robinson guns, adding fourteen all told.
  • Also in Vicksburg, A.B. REading & Brother delivered thirty-five, making the firm among the most active 6-pdr sources for the Confederacy.
  • Skates & Company of Mobile, Alabama produced at least one Model 1841 bronze type, but this gun was rifled to the James system.
  • Congaree Foundry in Columbia, South Carolina produced a handful of bronze 6-pdrs.

In addition to the Model 1841 pattern types, several Confederate vendors delivered 6-pdrs cast to simplified designs.  Generally conforming to the “ordnance shape” these guns resemble the Federal Model 1861 bronze guns.  Noble Brothers & Company of Rome, Georgia cast at least seven of this form.  The Brierfield Arsenal, working from Selma, Alabama, may have cast some of their own, in addition to completing unfinished Noble Brothers guns.  One of the Brierfield guns survives today at Petersburg.

Brierfield 6-pdr

With a shortage of bronze, Confederate gunmakers turned to iron.  Tredegar, as the case with most Confederate production, dominated this field with cited quantities ranging from 40 to 70 guns delivered.  Three of these stand today near the Brawner Farm at Manassas, representing Confederate batteries from the second great battle at that location. Two of the guns have muzzle swells.

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Tredegar Iron 6-pdr, #1450, at Manassas

The third lacks the muzzle swell.

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Tredegar Iron 6-pdr, #1466, at Manassas

Note the rough dorsal seam on this gun, indicating Tredegar dispensed with machining to smooth the exterior.  All three guns exhibit a thick, bulbous reinforce over the breech.

T.M. Brennan of Nashville, Tennessee delivered thirty iron 6-pdrs before that city fell in early 1862.  These guns also resembled the “ordnance shape” with a smooth exterior.  Another Nashville firm, Ellis & Moore, delivered four iron 6-pdrs for the state of Tennessee.

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Brennan 6-pdr at Fort Donelson

Before falling into disfavor with the Confederates, the Noble brothers delivered over a dozen iron 6-pdrs, in addition to nearly two dozen iron 3-inch rifles cast to the same form.  As with Noble’s bronze guns, the iron pieces used a smooth exterior form.

Several other firms delivered small quantities of iron 6-pdrs, some of which are only known through receipts archived in the Citizens FilesBellona Foundry may have produced some 6-pdrs similar to those from Tredegar.  One surviving casting at the foundry site is definitely a field gun, but remained unbored or finished.  Quinby & Robinson received credit for one iron 6-pdr, which may have used the Model 1841 pattern.  Bennett & Lurges also produced six iron 6-pdrs in addition to its lone bronze gun prior to the fall of New Orleans.  The Alabama firm of Leech & Avery produced two 6-pdrs in 1861 for Captain W.H. Fowler’s battery.

A surviving piece in Marion, Alabama has the firm’s marks and clearly resembles the Model 1841 form.

Perry County Confederate Cannon (Marion, Alabama)

Leech & Avery Gun

Several other bronze and iron guns exist today, lacking little in the way of markings or documentation.  Without proper pedigree, many “cannon hunters” have considered these likely from Confederate sources.  One of which, standing along Ruggles Line at Shiloh, with a distinct reinforce, resembles the experimental Alger iron guns of the 1840s.

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Unknown 6-pdr at Shiloh

As mentioned above, Confederate gunmakers used the 6-pdr patterns for field rifles in both bronze and iron.  I’ll save details of those types for a separate post.  But such utilization matches, over a more compressed time line, the same evolution on the northern side of the 6-pdr story line.

All told, the south produced less than 250 6-pdr field guns during the war.  This was an insufficient quantity, of an obsolete type mind you, to arm the Confederate field armies.

Brandy Station Update: Hole in Ground, Controversy Remain

The July issue of Civil War news includes a cover story on Brandy Station and the Brandy Station Foundation.  The article sums up the issues that came up during the foundation’s board selection process in March, and events that transpired since then.  Most significant of those events was of course the massive landscaping project taken on by a landowner on designated battlefield ground, near Fleetwood Hill.  That development stopped when the Army Corps of Engineers issued a halt order.  But another issue mentioned in the article is the Virginia Highway 3 widening project.

I visited the site again today and snapped a few photos.   The bulldozers have stopped, but remain in position – presumably waiting the results of studies to determine the best way to repair the damage (if it can be).

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The intended “pond” has now become a “marsh,” as the water cannot properly drain.

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And huge mounds of earth remain exposed.  Who knows how many artifacts – or perhaps even human remains – were disturbed in this process.

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But at least the damage was halted with the timely intervention of concerned preservationists.

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But that is the physical damage.  Beyond the battlefield another “hole” remains.  Or perhaps a better way to say it, a vacuum.  The Brandy Station Foundation remains silent on the events at Fleetwood Hill and the potential problems with the Highway 3 widening.  And somewhat contradictory to the preservation mission, the foundation issued a policy statement which practically absolves the organization from taking action to preserve ground.

The silence broke briefly this week with some statements made by the foundation’s president in the Civil War News article.  Concerning the excavations, Joe McKinney said, “Are we supposed to jump in and say, ‘Me too’?  Is that going to accomplish anything substantive?

I’ll answer that question…. Yes a an organization dedicated to the preservation of that battlefield is supposed to jump in.  And the organization should not be saying “Me too” but rather “Follow me!

And yes it will accomplish something, even coming into the action late – lending support and legitimacy to those on the right side of the discussion.

My friend, and also a former Brandy Station Foundation board member, G. Michael Green, writing in an Op-Ed piece also running in the Civil War News, responded directly to the inaction by the foundation – “The BSF’s appeasement – if not outright support – of the landowner’s misplaced ‘property rights’ and his efforts to destroy a key part of Fleetwood Hill should reverberate through the historic preservation community.  And, we should not tolerate it.”

In the article, McKinney continued, “The controversy over the pond is already over.”

I disagree.  The controversy remains.  And until the scars on the ground are repaired and the preservation organization retracts its policy in support of land developments, there are two holes that need to be filled.