Battle of the Bands: West Point and Tredegar Parrotts

I mentioned the collection of Parrott rifles on Henry Hill, and that the varied lot affords visitors a “side-by-side” comparison of four major types of the 10-pdr Parrott guns.  Allow me to demonstrate such comparison by examining the breech bands on a West Point Parrott and two Tredegar guns.

Walking from the visitor center, the first gun in the line is a late production 3-inch Parrott rifle from West Point Foundry (registry number 236 produced in 1865).

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Band Measure of 3-inch Parrott from West Point

The band measures right at 13-inches.  Earlier 2.9-inch Parrotts likewise had a 13-inch band.  Notice the smooth appearance and rounded ends of the band.  This conformed with Robert P. Parrott‘s standard for breech bands.  The surface is smooth and was machined as per Federal requirements.

The next gun in line is an 1862 product of Tredegar Iron Works, Richmond, Virginia, bearing foundry number 1590.

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Band Measure of 2.9-inch Parrott from Tredegar

The band measures about 14.5 inches, including a 1.5-inch bevel. Notice the “smooth” surface indicating machining done at the foundry before delivery.  But there are a few distinct vertical form lines in the band, not seen on the Federal Parrott.

After passing two replica Parrotts in the line, a Tredegar 3-inch provides an example of later Confederate production.  This is the band measure of a Tredegar gun likely produced in November 1862.

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Band Measure of 3-inch Parrott from Tredegar

Again about 14.5 inches, with the 1.5-inch bevel.  However this band has a rough exterior, and was not machined.  The vertical form lines are thus more distinct.  This band is actually a composite of several smaller bands which were welded together.

The band on the Federal 3-inch Parrott is just over one inch thick (secondary sources indicate 1.19 inches as a standard thickness, but my hasty placement of the ruler is not as precise as I’d like).

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Thickness of Band - 3-inch Federal Parrott

And you can barely make out a “spiral” grain in the band of the Federal Parrott if you look closely on the right.

The 3-inch Tredegar Parrott’s band is under 1 inch thick at the front by the bevel.

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Thickness of Band - Front Edge - 3-inch Tredegar

At the back, the Tredegar band is about 1-5/16ths inches thick.

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Thickness of Band - Back Edge - 3-inch Tredegar

The direct comparison shows the bands on Tredegar Parrotts longer than the Federal guns by 1.5-inch.  The band incorporates a bevel (some call this a chamfer, but bevel is easier for me to pass through the spell checkers!).  And away from the bevel, the Tredegar bands are thicker than the Federal Parrotts’.

As evidenced by the “lines” and “grain” on the bands, Tredegar built their bands from a set of individual bands, which were butt welded together.  Robert P. Parrott’s patent specification indicates his West Point Foundry used a spiral wound wrought iron bar to form the band.   The Tredegar banding method has more in common with Brooke Rifles and other contemporary rifled and banded guns produced in the Confederacy.  Indeed, one might impose a non-historical identification of “Tredegar-built, Brooke-banded field rifle” on the Tredegar Parrotts, and have a leg to stand on.

Tredegar lacked access to the high quality wrought iron bar that West Point Foundry enjoyed, which likely purchased it’s material from the Ulster Iron Works, Saugerties, New York.  Furthermore, Tredegar worked with casting iron of lesser quality.  Mitigating those shortfalls, Tredegar made the bands longer and thicker.

Some have said the bevel on the band was introduced by a clever Confederate ordnance officer in order to exact a little more elevation, and thus range, from the gun.  Well, the bevel did have something to do with elevation, but it was not an improvement over the Federal design. Rather it was a modification made in order to work around the longer band on Confederate Parrott rifles.  Note the narrow clearance of the band near the cheeks of the reproduction carriage at Manassas.

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Clearance of the Band over the Carriage Cheeks

The bevel was required in order to restore the gun’s performance, not improve it, after Tredegar’s change to the base design.

Just some of the fine points gleaned from a comparison of three guns on Henry Hill at Manassas.  Perhaps an example of how to coax these long silent guns into speaking a bit!

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

2 thoughts on “Battle of the Bands: West Point and Tredegar Parrotts

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