Monthly Archives: September 2011

Emerging Civil War

Here’s another blog to add to your daily feeds – Emerging Civil War.

Emerging Civil War is a team blog with over a dozen authors involved.  The team has been working only a couple of months now, but have posted some impressive articles.  All are good reads, but some of my favorites thus far:

And there is the excellent photography which adds spice to the writing, much of which is contributed by Caity Stuart.

So don’t wait… head over there now and add their blog to your RSS feed list.  Won’t cost you a dime.  And you won’t be disappointed!

Difficult Run Made More Difficult

Earlier this month we here in DC area were hit by what felt like a week of heavy rains.  The remains of Tropical Storm Lee merged in with other storm systems.  Parts of Northern Virginia were under flash flood alerts for what seemed like a solid week.  Floods washed out several roads.  And some bridges are still closed for repairs.

At the time (while unfortunately stuck in traffic), I thought of several Civil War connections.  Often we read in wartime accounts were heavy rains made creeks impassable.  Well here’s a graphic depiction of impassable:

My friend Jim Lewis passed this video along.  The location is along the Washington & Old Dominion Rail Trail Park just east of Hunter Mill Road where the old railroad line crossed Difficult Run.

Here’s a photo of the bridge in normal (fall) weather conditions.

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Difficult Run Trail Bridge

Normally Difficult Run is a placid stream.

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Difficult Run at the W&OD Crossing

That is the same power line tower seen at about the 0:30 second mark in the video.  As you can see, the freshet forced the creek well past its banks.

The Washington Post’s weather gang posted a detailed early analysis of that week’s weather on September 9th.  The writers cited 11.97 inches of rain that week (September 5-9) in nearby Reston, Virginia.  While this “storm” was not noteworthy in the larger historical sense, I find the breakdown of the events offered in the report rather useful.  With my historian’s robe on, the analysis offers insight into what was behind those dispatch reports citing “heavy rains” and “impassable streams.” I’ve written a bit on this before regarding the creeks and the Potomac River (here and here).

Bringing the Civil War context to the front center, this particular section of the Washington & Old Dominion saw considerable activity during the war.  Just a short distance east from Difficult Run is the site where Mosby’s Rangers executed Reverend John B. Read in October 1864.  Troops on the march during 1862 and 1863, heading for the great battles of Antietam and Gettysburg, stopped to drink from Difficult Run…  but Difficult Run was not as difficult to cross when they marched through as it was on September 8, 2011.

Fine Craftsmanship Butchered: Revere Copper 6-pdr Field Gun

Some time back I detailed the 12-pdr “Napoleon guns” produced by Revere Copper during the war.  While those 12-pdrs at Malvern Hill look dirty from exposure, the guns themselves are good examples of the work done by a firm with a long history of metalworking.  In addition to those 443 Napoleon guns, Revere also produced a handful of 6-pdr Model 1841 Field Guns.  A Federal order placed in November 1861 called for two guns.  The company received credit for these in February 1862 as registry numbers 1 and 2.

Today registry number 1 sits at Gettysburg representing Dow’s 6th Maine Battery in a position in McGilvery’s Line along modern Hancock Avenue.

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Revere 6-pdr Model 1841

Sadly, in the 1890s the Gettysburg Battlefield Commission had the Revere gun modified to resemble a 12-pdr Napoleon.  Like other “False Napoleons” this 6-pdr had external features trimmed down to present a smooth line, although the gun stands out visually being 7 inches shorter than a real Napoleon.

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Breech of Revere Gun

The process trimmed off the base ring and rounded the contours of the breech.  However the neck of the knob retains a narrow fillet, unlike some “pho-poleon” conversions.  The reinforce step just past the trunnions was smoothed down. The chase ring also disappeared under the cutting tools.   The muzzle moldings remained.  A sharp eye notes some slight differences between the moldings on the Revere gun and those of other Model 1841 guns.  But this could of course be due to the alterations.

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Muzzle of Revere Gun

Conforming with standards established in 1861, Revere placed their markings on the muzzle face.

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Muzzle Marks on Revere Gun

Likely the tool used to enlarge the front of the bore to the 12-pdr size obliterated part of the markings.  This should read “Revere Copper Co. // 1861 // 853 lbs. // J.P.F. // No. 1”, including the initials of inspector Joseph P. Farley.

The gun at Gettysburg is the lone survivor of the pair produced by Revere for Federal orders.  The possibility exists that Revere offered similar guns to private or militia organizations. But no records, and more importantly no guns, survive to tell that story.  At roughly the same time Revere setup production of the two 6-pdrs, the firm started production of the 12-pdr Napoleons.  The Farley inspected Revere’s 6-pdrs and initial batches of 12-pdrs at about the same time.  Revere continued production of 12-pdrs through April 1864.

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Revere Gun in Profile

Yes, I would love to have this example of fine Revere craftsmanship intact so as to better compare the gun to contemporary 6-pdrs.  Certainly would like to confirm or reject the notion that Revere used a unique muzzle molding.  But the lone survivor from Revere was butchered a bit so as keep up appearances on the battlefield.

Spanish 6-pdr, Part 2 – The Gribeauval Gun

In an earlier post I mentioned these two Spanish 6-pdr guns at Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine, Florida.

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Spanish 6-pdrs at the Castillo

As detailed in that earlier post, the gun on the left was cast in 1762 with a design dating back to the first part of the 18th century.  That gun came into American hands as a trophy from the Mexican-American War.  In this post I’ll look at the gun to the right, which is a Spanish Gribeauval 6-pdr.

That system of artillery is named for French General Jean Baptiste Gribeauval.  Established by royal decree in 1765, this was one of the first systems of artillery adopted by a major power.  And it was certainly the most influential of the 18th century.  While Gribeauval probably didn’t design the entire system himself, but rather directed the reforms.

The Gribeauval system called for lighter guns, weighing no more than fifty times the weight of the shot fired.  The system limited the length of guns to 18 calibers – or 18 times the diameter of the bore.  And Gribeauval removed most ornamentation, although retaining many rings and moldings.  The profile of a 24-pdr siege howitzer demonstrates the main components of the gun design.

24-pdr Gribeauval Siege from Napoleon III's "Studies in Artillery"

The Gribeauval system standardized French service calibers to 4-, 8-, and 12-pdrs for field use.  The system included larger calibers, such as the 24-pdr above, for siege operations and fortification garrisons.

The system also standardized the artillery carriages.  A reproduction example of one such carriage is seen below, from a display at Yorktown Battlefield. (The gun is actually an older Valliere pattern weapon.)

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French 4-pdr on Reproduction Gribeauval Carriage

Unlike the Civil War era carriages, which are more familiar to readers, the Gribeauvals mounted the gun between brackets.  For field guns, the breech lay on top of a shelf.  A hand turned screw under the shelf elevated the gun. And also note the second dip in the brackets.  When transporting the gun, the crew pulled it back to rest the trunnions there.

While successful, the Gribeauval system was not perfect.  Through the Napoleonic era, the French attempted to reform the system but never fully replaced Gribeauval’s in service.  With close family ties between the royal houses, the Spanish army adopted the French system.  However the Spanish opted to use British calibers – 6-, 9-, and 12-pdr in particular.  But the Spanish retained the exterior form.

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Spanish 6-pdr Gribeauval Gun

From muzzle swell back, the gun has a chase ring, rings for the first and second reinforce, and a raised base ring.  The reinforce rings incorporate ogees which are molded steps down on the forward edge of the ring.  Between the reinforce rings are the trunnions and dolphins.  The dolphins are simplified to squared off handles.  Notice the trunnions have rimbases, which helped center the weapon on the carriage.  These were very important where the crew had to move the gun between firing and traveling positions on the carriage.

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Muzzle and Chase of Spanish 6-pdr

Like many Spanish guns, this one has a name – “El Uenado” which I think translates to “stag” or “deer” in English.

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Breech and Inscripton on Spanish 6-pdr

The base ring on the gun contains a typical Spanish inscription set. The gun was cast at Barcelona.  I’m not an expert on the inscription styles used, but the date given appears to be December 18, 1767.  If so, this was among the earliest Spanish Gribeauvals.  The seal of King Charles III appears in front of the vent.  Notice the pierced knob, which may be a modification to fit non-Gribeauval carriages.

No plaques or trophy marks aid interpretation of this gun’s past.  A similar piece, down to the inscription and name, were reported in Cambridge, Massachusetts in a turn of the century guidebook.  Speculation at that time placed the gun as one supplied to the Americans during the Revolution. Very likely this gun served an ornamental purpose during the Civil War, if it was in the country at all.

Yet, from a Civil War artillerist’s perspective, there are a couple of reasons to mention this Spanish 6-pdr.  While few French Gribeauval guns found their way to North America, a fair number of Spanish guns ended up in the U.S. – particularly by way of Florida and Mexico.  I’ve already mentioned some 9- and 12-pdrs at the Navy Yard that saw limited employment during the Civil War.  Occasional references in wartime correspondence mentions “old Spanish guns” impressed for limited service.

The second reason to pay mind to the Spanish Gribeauval is to mention the influence of that system on American artillery design through the 19th century.  Lacking uniformity in the early days of the country, ordnance officers mimicked the French system in spirit, but not in caliber.  While using iron guns similar to British designs, the Americans opted for Gribeauval style carriages.  John Gibbon’s Artillerist Manual of 1861 gave mention to the Gribeauval system, noting modifications made by Americans to improve the carriages.  In reality, Gibbon is perhaps far too generous as the American “modifications” were more to adapt another French system, named for Sylvain Charles Valée developed in 1825-1831.   That system was heavily influenced by the British carriage designs, which Griffin dismissed in the text.

So while the two Spanish 6-pdrs highlighted here had no combat employment during the Civil War, each offers stories.  Those stories tell a bit more about the guns and the men who served them.

It Begins! Civil War Monitor Magazine

The premier issue of the new magazine – The Civil War Monitor – has made quite a splash here on line.  While the first “physical” copies of the magazine is just hitting the stores, for those who like to try-before-they-buy, the premier issue is offered online in whole.

Terry Johnson, known for his previous work with North & South magazine, first told me about Civil War Monitor a few months back.  His goal was to break new ground within the established periodical format, blending different approaches.  While readers will find some familiar themes in the new magazine, I found those more as constructs to support some fresh looks at the subject.

The cover highlights Russell McClintock’s feature article on the coming of war, Lincoln, and Davis. Perhaps departing from commonplace treatments of the road to war, McClintock paints a picture of moderate leaders reacting to extremist forces within their respective bases. As a complement to McClintock’s analysis, a word cloud appears as the “parting shot” on the last page using the inaugural addresses of Davis and Lincoln.  Rather interesting to see what words each man chose to use… particularly which words were shared in the messages.

Three of the five features in the premier issue examine how contemporaries dealt with different residual aspects of the war:  Judith Giesberg discussing the retrieval of the dead from the battlefield; Brian Matthew Jordon on the surviving POWs and their struggle to remain in the public mind; and Silvana R. Siddali examines the northern press coverage of Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Derek Smith’s article examines the little known Naval Battalion during the final campaign in Virginia.  So those, like myself, who love to read of the battlefield are treated to an often overlooked aspect of a larger, often over-simplified campaign.

The array of departments supporting these features also add to the presentation.  In “Casualties of War,” we see how witnessing the Lincoln assassination affected Clara and Henry Rathbone.  In “Battlefield Echoes,” Clay Montcastle takes us through the oft repeated “both sides realized the war would be long” analysis of First Manassas to examine the details.  And the Center for Civil War Photography offered a rare wartime view of the U.S. Government Bakery.

Taken together, these set a fresh tone from the new magazine.

And then there are the book reviews.  Civil War Monitor unleashes Robert Krick.  And unleash is the word… you must read his jab at “perpetual freshet” of works on Gettysburg.

What’s more, the Civil War Monitor’s web site promises to be an interactive feature all its own.  Fellow bloggers Andy Hall (Dead Confederates)Keith Harris (Cosmic America: Civil War History and Memory), Robert Moore (Cenantua’s Blog), Harry Smeltzer (Bull Runnings), and Jim Schmidt (Civil War Medicine and Writing) are contributing posts on the magazine’s blog page.  I’m in that line-up of heavy hitters, but more like the eighth spot batter taking swings in the 1927 Yankee’s “Murderer’s Row”!  I’m looking forward to contributing to the website with the “band of bloggers.”

A job well done by the staff of Civil War Monitor.  I’m sure this periodical will impress those of us in the audience for years to come.

Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center

Time to update my standard “travel advice” for Fort Sumter.

Most visitors to Fort Sumter will use the Spirit Line Cruise ferry.  Back in the 1990s when I first visited the fort, the ferry ran from two spots.  I preferred to depart from the City Marina on the Ashley River side.  On more recent trips I’ve taken, my departures were from Patriot’s Point on the other side of the harbor from Charleston.  For our August vacation, I booked our seats in advance and held to my preference for Patriot’s Point.  My aide-de-camp approved that choice, noting the USS Yorktown and other attractions in the area.  But we also planned a stop at the South Carolina Aquarium.  Much to my pleasure, I found the old harbor area completely renovated.  Located next to the aquarium is this structure:

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Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center

The Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center is, in my revised opinion, a better place to start the visit to Fort Sumter.   The building houses a small, but educational set of exhibits.

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Fort Sumter Garrison Flag replica

While the Patriot’s Point site offers some exhibits related to the Civil War, these are not as well constructed as the National Park Service center.

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North Side of the Center

The architecture of the building recalls the arched casemates of Fort Sumter.

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Spirit Line Cruise Ferry Departing for Fort Sumter

So if you pressed me for a one-day itinerary for Charleston, I’d suggest a tour of Fort Sumter departing from the visitor education center.  Better still, I’d suggest at least two days in order to better “scratch the surface” of the history and heritage at practically every corner of Charleston.

The War of 1812 on PBS

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) premiers The War of 1812 on October 10.  The documentary is subtitled “A small but bitter war that forged the destiny of a continent.”  From the PBS website:

For two and a half years, Americans fought Against the British, Canadian colonists, and native nations.  In the years to come, the War of 1812 would be celebrated in some places and essentially forgotten in others.  But it is a war worth remembering—a struggle that threatened the existence of Canada, then divided the United States so deeply that the nation almost broke apart.  Some of its battles and heroes became legendary, yet its blunders and cowards were just as prominent.  The film shows how the glories of war became enshrined in history – how failures are quickly forgotten – how inconvenient truths are ignored forever.

With stunning re-enactments, evocative animation and the incisive commentary of key experts, The War of 1812 presents the conflict that forged the destiny of a continent.

The War of 1812 premieres Monday, October 10, 2011 at 9pm ET.  Check Local Listings to see when it’s airing on your local PBS station.

This documentary promises to be more than just a recount the events.  If the trailer is any indication, the narrative hits the legacy of the war head on.

The documentary follows our contemporary form with reenactor recreation of events – both major and minor.

Check out the web site (linked above).  There’s several pages of articles pertaining to the war, all worth browsing if your knowledge of the events needs a refresh.  Included in the mix are more previews of the documentary.

The only knock I’d make at this time is the running time.  I think anytime one attempts public interpretation of something so complex as a war (any war), the subject requires more than a couple hours.  Then again, filming time is money… and air time is allocated based on ratings.

This documentary in part prefaces the upcoming bicentennial of the War of 1812.  Yes, we “Civil War people” are caught up in stuff from 150 years back.  But I don’t see why we can’t observe both historical time lines.  I’ll even go as far to challenge my Civil War oriented readers to go visit a War of 1812 site in the next couple of years. If you live east of the Mississippi, likely one or more of these sites are within day-trip range.  Earn your bicentennial quals along with your sesquicentennial badge!