Monthly Archives: August 2011

Where I used my NPS annual pass this year

Around this time every year I purchase a new “Interagency Annual Pass.”  The pass costs $80 and covers entrance fees at sites run by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and the National Park Service.

Of course I end up using my pass mostly at national parks, and usually refer to the pass as such (“NPS pass” sounds “kewl” while “Interagency Annual Pass” sounds like some badge used to gain access to the office cafeteria).  Officially the program is “America the Beautiful – the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.”

Here’s a tally of places where my entrance fee was covered this year (from August 2010 to August 2011):

  • Wilson’s Creek – $10.
  • Pea Ridge – $10.
  • Shenandoah / Blue Ridge Parkway – four visits at $10 each.
  • Colonial National Historic Park (Yorktown) – $10.
  • Manassas – eight visits at $3 each.
  • Harpers Ferry – six visits at $6 each.
  • Antietam – two visits at $6 each.
  • Fort Pulaski – $5
  • Castillo de San Marcos – $18 (three adult passes).

I may have missed a few visits in the list.  But at a minimum the pass covered $165 worth of entrance fees.  Can’t beat a 200% return on an investment these days.  But as my wife is quick to point out, I end up blowing that “savings” in the park bookstore every single time!

Of course many (if not most) of the national parks have no entrance fee.  For those that do collect, 80% of the fees go to maintenance projects in the park where the fees were collected.  The other 20% goes to a larger fund for parks where fees are not collected.  It is my understanding that the money collected from the annual passes (such as the one I purchase) goes into that fund distributed to parks without entrance fees.

I figure with the sesquicentennial continuing over the next few years, the park pass will continue to pay for itself.  And that’s why I recommend these passes to others.  Nothing says “I’m a history geek who likes the great outdoors” better than an annual park pass!

Rifled 32-pdr Model 1845 Seacoast Guns

Back in March, I described the 32-pdr seacoast guns used by the Army prior to the Civil War.  The Army gradually shifted seacoast armament to the heavier columbiads during the 1850s, eventually suppressing the 32-pdrs (and 42-pdrs) on the eve of the Civil War.  But quantities of the 32-pdrs, particularly the Model 1829 and 1845, remained on hand and in service.   In an effort to make the most of these obsolete guns, both sides rifled some of the 32-pdrs.

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Rifled 32-pdr Model 1845, Tredegar #27

Three rifled 32-pdr Model 1845 Seacoast Guns sit on display in the city of St. Augustine, Florida.

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Right Trunnion of #27

All three were originally cast by Tredegar Foundry in 1846.

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Left Trunnion of #27

The guns are registry numbers 5, 27, and 30.

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Muzzle Face of #27

They range in weight from 7204 to 7256 pounds.

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Breech Face of #27

All three have the same nine-groove, flat, right-hand twist rifling.

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Bore of #5

Although some rifling patterns offer hints as to the weapon’s history, in this case the pattern cannot be attributed to a specific source.  And remarkably, none of the three have reinforcing bands, which also could help aid identification.

Other than the rifling, the guns conform with the Model 1845 specifications from muzzle to breech.

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Muzzle Profile of #27

A plaques near the displays indicate these guns were part of the armament of Fort Marion (a.k.a. the Castillo de San Marcos) “before, during, and after the Civil War.”

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Plaque at Gun's Base

But this story has several holes to fill.  First off, these guns were almost certainly not rifled before the Civil War.  Very unlikely that the Army would send relatively new rifled 32-pdrs to the much neglected backwater of St. Augustine (as opposed to the test ranges at Fort Monroe).

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Rifled 32-pdr Model 1845, Tredegar #5

Just as unlikely that when state forces overtook the Castillo in January 1861, they would send the guns off for rifling.  Not when every gun in place was a precious resource to fend off incursion by the Federal fleet.  Even more unlikely that the Confederacy would later rifle the guns, then redistribute them back before the Federals retook St. Augustine in March 1862.

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Rifled 32-pdr Model 1845, Tredegar #30

On the other hand, odds are rather good that Federals redistributed some of the less desirable guns, such as rifled 32-pdrs, from other forts or captured stocks, to the backwater of St. Augustine during the war.

One other 32-pdr seacoast gun is on display at St. Augustine.  A battered example, missing its left trunnion sits at the water battery at the Castillo.

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Battered 32-pdr at Castillo de San Marcos

This gun is a smoothbore, but with no markings to indicate its manufacture or exact model.  It could indeed pass for a Model 1840.

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Muzzle of 32-pdr at the Castillo

Even if the four 32-pdr seacoast guns at St. Augustine offer no great stories (that we know of), the weapons are worth examining as examples of the type.

The Civil War 150

Just in time for the Civil War Sesquicentennial, the Civil War Trust offers The Civil War 150: An essential To-Do List for the 150th Anniversary.  In an interview posted on the Trust’s site, Garry Adelman explained the motivation, purpose, and rationale for the book.  I won’t repeat those here – save perhaps for mention of the “three hour train delay” during which the first part of the list was compiled (Garry, I’ve been there!).  Instead I’d like to offer some of my reactions to the list.

Because of my “marker hunting,” I’ve acquired a fair number of Civil War tour guides.  But The Civil War 150 is different.  Instead of offering tour loops and back-road shortcuts, the list presents the Civil War as a collection of artifacts to experience.  And by artifacts, I don’t mean those “Indiana Jones” archaeology things – although some of these artifacts were dug out of the dirt.

I’m instead using the term artifact in the manner we do with software development.  In this sense, an artifact is a product, object, or item (or in a broader context a location) which substantiates the end product or result.  The first check in the Civil War 150 list is to hold a minie ball in their hand.  The list asks readers to consider the minie ball destructive power.  Then consider thousands of these fired by opposing forces.  The sum of those missiles is then measured as a battle.  The sum of all the battles, of course, is the war.  With that in mind, we can stand on the results.

As with any “list” there will be complaints about what was and was not included.  Some of us will complain that particular battles or points of interest were not included.  Others will point out the lack of emphasis on “artifacts” which press points about secession or emancipation or other more abstract subjects.  And there is an argument to be made in that regard.  Personally I would have added the site where the great Atlanta fires started, as it ties one of the “points of interest” into the larger narrative of civil rights (and gives a “real” counterbalance to Margaret Mitchell who has two checks in the list).

But I’d submit that the list was not presented as a way to forge some interpretation by way of rigid instruction.  Instead the list is an introduction to the artifacts, from which the reader and visitor should explore to reach the higher meaning of the events.  These 150 entries are not intended as the whole body of evidence, but rather the threads to start the exploration.  The list takes the reader out of the volumes of books on the Civil War to experience the physical reminders of the war – going beyond just “learning” and into “knowing.”

However, I must admit the full impact of the Civil War 150 is somewhat lost on guys like me.  After a cursory walk through the list, I find less than a dozen activities needed for completion.  But if you are a long time Civil War enthusiast (or buff, or what ever), I’d still recommend getting this book from Civil War Trust.  Get the book and pass it along to someone who’s interest is just at the sparking phase.  The list will kindle a life long interest coupled with deep understanding of the Civil War.

Secrets Buried at Fort Monroe

The official Army departure from Fort Monroe, after almost 200 years of use, is now scant weeks away. Formally, the Army leaves on September 15, but won’t actually convey the property over to the Virginia until 2012.  I’ve voiced my preference as to the final disposition of the fort.  Perhaps with this weekend’s focus on the Tidewater area, there might be some additional nudging.

Regardless of the final disposition of Fort Monroe, the deactivation of the base offers the chance to uncover parts of history.  Work at the post has already uncovered some of these buried secrets.  In 2009 workers conducting surveys noticed some magnetic anomalies.  After excavation, teams unearthed a burst 4.5-inch siege rifle.  That rifle is on display at the Casemate Museum today.

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Breech of Burst 4.5-inch Siege Rifle

The gun stood upright in the ground with a projectile lodged into the muzzle.  As to the placement and location, the interpretation behind the gun speculates the projectile either lodged in the bore when the gun burst, or was placed there when the gun was used in a static display.

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Burst 4.5-inch Siege Rifle at Fort Monroe

In addition, Civil War era projectiles ranging from 10-inch to 3-inch were also found during the surveys.

However archeologists are also looking for other buried secrets from the Civil War era at Fort Monroe.

Fort Monroe Contraband Archaeological Dig

Fort Monroe Contraband Archaeological Dig

In June of this year, scientists from the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Construction Engineering Research Laboratory conducted targeted excavation work attempting to locate sites associated with the “contraband camp” at the fort during the Civil War.  The team specifically sought artifacts or evidence of a cemetery for freedmen living just outside the fort during the war and just afterwards.

The Army and other agencies are approaching this correctly, in my opinion.  There is a standing requirement for “cleanup” of the facilities as the Army leaves the post.  That could be done haphazardly and without regard to the historical and cultural resources under the ground.  Given the intersection of so many threads in American history, the very soil of Fort Monroe is a lesson waiting for a classroom.

Let me plug it again – there’s still time to make Fort Monroe a National Park.

Earthquakes and Hurricanes! Natural Disasters and the Civil War

I’m sure someone has considered the impact of natural disasters on the Civil War, but apparently nobody has put forward a book length study of the subject.  Perhaps that’s because there just isn’t anything to write about!

And that is not to say there is insufficient data.  The US Geological Survey (USGS), Department of the Interior, National Weather Service (NWS), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) all retain mountains of historical data about these topics.  The information is there, but perhaps there just isn’t much of a story to tell.

The USGS offers some of its earthquake data directly through their website.  A list of magnitude 7 or greater earthquakes within the US shows none occurred during the Civil War. Indeed a search of the USGS earthquake database shows 143 entries for the years 1860-1865 for quakes outside California in the continental United States.  None of those have a registered magnitude.  A history of earthquakes in Virginia does note a significant August 31, 1861 shake centered in southwest Virginia / northwest North Carolina which damaged chimneys.  (And the USGS offers an interesting map to support the history of Virginia earthquakes.)

Trees near Reelfoot Lake show effects of Great New Madrid Quake

The Great New Madrid Earthquakes, which actually shaped several Civil War battlefields, occurred decades before in 1811-12.  On the other end of the time line, the Charleston, South Carolina suffered more damage during the 1886 earthquake than to combat during the Civil War.

How about Hurricanes?  Unisys’ weather division offers a rather nice interface for NOAA historical data.  From that, one can step through each hurricane season in sequence.  Here’s the track map for 1861:

Only four storms to worry about for coastal dwellers in 1861.  In mid August a category 1 storm ran the Florida Straits.  On September 27-28 another category 1 storm tracked up the North Carolina coast to the New England states (not dissimilar to what is predicted for Hurricane Irene today).  A small storm sputtered out on the North Carolina outer banks in early October.  The last storm of the season was a category 1 that moved up from Florida to Maine in the first days of November:

This hurricane was perhaps the most significant in Civil War events, as it disrupted the federal fleet then moving to attack Port Royal, South Carolina.  The storm is known as the “Expedition Hurricane” because of this.

If the Weather Channel was broadcasting during the Civil War, 1862 would have been a boring year.  In August and September, storms skirted the Atlantic Coast, perhaps disrupting the blockade for a few days.

And while the war reached a critical stage in 1863….

… hurricanes made landfall in the combat zones and skirted the coast but with little impact.  Two category 2 hurricanes came close to the Outer Banks in successive weeks in August that year.  On September 16-19 a tropical storm passed from Florida up to New York, but too far east to impact northern Georgia and things happening along Chickamauga Creek.  Another tropical storm rained on the coasts of Texas and Louisiana at the close of September.

Another off-year for storm chasers in 1864:

Storms of the 1865 season only made landfall after the formal surrenders of Confederate forces.  A category 2 made landfall along near the mouth of the Sabine River in mid-September.  Another category 2 crossed the Florida Keys and Miami in October.

So during the Civil War, only a handful of tropical storms made landfall.  While Americans fought each other in the nation’s deadliest war, nature gave us a break, waiting until 1871 t0 resume throwing the big storms inland.

Not listed in the data sets are any nor’easters that hit the East Coast during the war years.  Several sources indicate the terrible weather experienced during the January 1863 “Mud March” was due to a nor’easter.  But from the narrative of campaigns, it seems the “winter hurricanes” also abated during the Civil War.

Looking at the data, the United States had a break from major natural disasters while the Civil War raged.  I’d say the “man caused” catastrophes were enough during those years.

Short and Stubby – Old American 24-pdr Howitzers

Some time back I traced the origins of the 24-pdr field howitzer, which saw limited field service during the Civil War.   The type evolved from short, stumpy weapons used during the Revolution to, by 1841, heavy cannons requiring eight-horse teams to maneuver.  However, the role of these howitzers remained essentially unchanged – to place explosive projectiles on enemy positions firing at higher trajectories than guns.  In The American Artillerist’s Companion (1809), Louis de Tousard wrote:

[The howitzer’s] object is to first produce the effect of a ball fired à ricochet, and afterwards to burst like the bombs…. The howitzers are pointed at six, ten, and fifteen degrees, to produce the ricochet; at thirty and forty-five degrees the howitzers will not ricochet.

Similar descriptions appeared in the 1863 Course of Instruction in Ordnance and Gunnery used in the West Point curriculum and the 1865 Handbook of Artillery by Joseph Roberts.

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Revolutionary War Period 8-inch Howitzer at Yorktown

At the close of the Revolution, the American army possessed a variety of mostly European field howitzers.  Calibers inventoried included 3-1/2-inch, 5-1/2-inch, 8-inch, and 10-inch howitzers.  Of these American artillerists favored the 5-1/2- and 8-inch calibers as they fired projectiles with useful payloads, but not so heavy as to impair tactical maneuver.

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British 5-1/2-inch Howitzer at Yorktown

These European howitzers were a few calibers longer than mortars (usually 5 times the diameter of the bore) and generally conformed to contemporary exterior molding standards.  Internally, the howitzers used a sub-caliber powder chamber.  The bore size factored “windage” variations for the day and actually measured about 5-5/8ths (about 5.625 inches).

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Bore Measure of 5-1/2-inch Howitzer

Eventually, the US Army would phase out these old 18-th century weapons seeking to both standardize and improve the artillery arm.  While no surviving regulations or instructions (that I know of) state such, the Army likely adopted a slightly larger bore field howitzer to reduce the number of projectile sizes in the inventory.  The 24-pdr bore, at 5.82-inches, allowed the howitzers to share projectiles with the 24-pdr siege and garrison guns.

The design history of the 24-pdr field howitzer in the first half of the 19-th century parallels that of the 6-pdr field guns.   The Army and militia received some new production iron 24-pdrs prior to and during the War of 1812, but documentation of the particulars is non-existent.  Two howitzers at St. Augustine’s Castillo de San Marcos exhibit features that lead artillery experts to tentatively identify them from this period.

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Early American 24-pdr Howitzer

Resembling those British weapons in size, the American iron howitzers have a simplified, but certainly not plain, form.  These howitzers lack rimbases and show superfluous lines that are dispensed on later American artillery castings. The bore of these guns measure 5.90 inches by my ruler.

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Early American 24-pdr Howitzer

Photos of the bore and chamber didn’t turn out well.  So I cannot confirm secondary sources which indicate the howitzers have 6-pdr (3.67-inch diameter) powder chambers.

Next to these two pieces is a howitzer which is a bit easier to identify.

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24-pdr Model 1819 Field Howitzer

The exterior form of this howitzer is an extreme variation of its contemporary Model 1819 gun designs (a.k.a. the “Walking Sticks”).  Absent are the additional rings and lines.  But present are rimbases and a sharp muzzle swell.

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24-pdr Model 1819 Field Howitzer

I could find no markings on the piece, but secondary sources cite Columbia Foundry, in Washington, D.C. as the manufacturer and a foundry number of 420.

While the Model 1819 field howitzer demonstrated some evolution with regard to exterior form, the length of the piece retained the proportions of the Revolutionary period weapons.  At some point between 1820 and around 1835, ordnance officers altered the proportions.  Without doubt, the increased length was driven by requirements for better range and accuracy.  But that narrative is lacking proper sources to complete the picture.

And that is not all which is lacking.  Of nearly seventy-five 24-pdr field howitzers ordered by the Army from 1834 to 1841, none survive today.  Instead I must offer a dashed line between the Model 1819 and the Model 1841.

24-pdr Field Howitzer Model 1841, Alger #5 at Shiloh

Turning dashed lines, like those of the 24-pdr field howitzer’s design history, into solidly documented narratives is what keeps me engaged in the study of Civil War artillery.

Edwards Ferry Projects

I haven’t had much to post about Edwards Ferry in the last year.  My interest and research continue, but I’ve begun to stray a bit with focus more on how the Army of the Potomac moved through Loudoun County in June 1863.  And that of course is difficult to separate from the cavalry actions in Loudoun Valley.

But let me announce a side project I have to raise awareness about Edwards Ferry.  As a member of the Loudoun Sesquicentennial Steering Committee (officially as of this week), I’ve proposed a marker for that location.  In the process of “talking this up” around town, I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback.  And more importantly, a lot of inquiries about visiting the site.

In conjunction with that project, and with hopes to continue to raise more awareness, I’d like to host a “stomp” down along Goose Creek to visit the river crossing site.  This would be later in the fall or early winter, after the foliage has dropped down a bit (to allow an appreciation for the ground and surface structures).  I don’t want to make it some formal “tour,” so I’m avoiding such branding.  I’m thinking more so just a chance to discuss the 1863 crossing at the site of the crossing and perhaps share thoughts.  So maybe we’d call it a “gathering at the confluence”?

So if you are interested in such a gathering, drop me a line.