Monthly Archives: October 2011

Architects Escorting Cannon: Albert West’s 1861 Trip to Charleston

Another storyline from the Citizens Files that captures my fancy.

Some time back while looking over the records for the Charleston, South Carolina firm of J.M. Eason & Brothers, I notice a handwritten “see West, Albert L.” note, presumably from the archivist.  So I had to follow that trail.  That search brought me to this letter dated August 10, 1861 addressed to Mr. Albert L. West:

In the letter, Josiah Gorgas, Chief of Ordnance, directs West to Portsmouth Navy Yard and receive a cannon from Commodore French Forrest.  Gorgas instructed West to then ship the cannon to “Charleston, S.C. by way of the Wilmington and Florence thence to Charleston.”  In Charleston, West would deliver the cannon to Eason & Company, collecting a receipt and return to Richmond.  Gorgas gave additional instructions to “Observe and if you can expedite any Ordnance Stores you may see in the way….”

The receipt from Eason & Brothers was filed with Gorgas’ letter.

West delivered four 32-pdrs to Eason & Brothers on August 20.  By order of Gorgas, the firm would rifle the guns.

The documentation does not specify the make or model number of the guns.  Presumably, being on hand at Portsmouth, these were “navy” models.  If so, the end product would resemble this 32-pdr banded and rifled gun at the Washington Navy Yard:

WNY 10 Apr 10 310

32-pdr Banded and Rifled Navy Gun

This particular gun armed the CSS Teaser, captured on the James River on July 4, 1862.  But other than being banded and rifled by someone in the Confederacy, there is nothing to link this gun to Eason & Brothers and by extension Albert West.  Wartime photos of the gun exist, before rust and corrosion removed marks on the bands.  But the photos do not reveal any manufacturers marks, only a few numbers.  Eason’s files have no records for 1861, leaving the paper trail a dead end.

At the end of his trip, West charged the Confederate government $55 “for service as travelling (sic) agent from Richmond to Portsmouth and from Portsmouth to Charleston supervising the transportation of guns.  Eleven days at $5.”  He filed the invoice on August 24th.

So who was Albert West and why did the Confederate Ordnance Department seek out his services?  West was an architect working in Richmond before the war.  There is little indication West had the qualifications to work on ordnance.  But at the start of the war, he offered his services to the Ordnance Department.  Later in the war, West worked at the Confederate Powderworks in Augusta, Georgia and at the Confederate Laboratories in Macon, Georgia.  After the war, West continued his architectural work including several Methodist churches.

While it would be nice to know the particulars of the four 32-pdrs, if for nothing else to complete the story with a physical footnote.  But failing that, the paper trail provides at least one point to consider.  In those early war months, the Confederate government felt the need to task agents to ensure cannons being transported around the country were received in good order – even paid the agents $5 a day.

Mixed Batteries and Mixed Ammunition

Captain Charles Green’s Battery, the Louisiana Guard Artillery, of Lieutenant Colonel Hilary P. Jones’ Battalion went into action on the first day at Gettysburg with four guns.  Two of Green’s guns were captured 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.  The other two were 2.9-inch or 10-pdr Parrotts (of either Confederate or Federal type).

Green’s battery first deployed, along with two other batteries in the battalion, on high ground east of Rock Creek in support of General Jubal Early’s Division, then falling upon the Federal right flank north of Gettysburg.  Not long after deploying, one of Green’s guns ceased firing.  The reason was not for enemy action, but rather due to ammunition.  Rounds for the 3-inch guns lodged in the bore of a 10-pdr Parrott.

Green’s report indicates one gun went out of action, temporarily, due to ammunition miss-matches.  Jones’ report alludes to three guns temporarily going out of service due to shots wedged in the bores.    Lieutenant J. M. Gregory, Ordnance Officer for the Second (Confederate) Corps Artillery, cites reports from Lieutenant William Fontaine of Jones’ Battalion referencing two Parrott 10-pdrs out of action on the first day.  Fontaine elaborated further on other ammunition supply issues involving 2.9- and 3-inch ammunition, to include fuse compatibility.  [See OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part II, Serial 44, pages 458-459, 495-496, 497-498.]

Regardless of the number of Parrott rifles affected by the ammunition confusion, the simple fact remains incompatible weapons in close proximity raised the risk of mistake – be that on the training field or in combat.  However, as happened on the first day at Gettysburg, given time to respond a gun crew might overcome the mistake and extract the lodged projectile. Just meant the gunners had to work a little harder.

The “stuck in the bore” problem is just one of the issues raised by mixed batteries.  In the pre-war days, mixed batteries were the norm and not the exception.  But such mixed batteries paired up 6-pdr guns with 12-pdr howitzers, or 12-pdr (heavy) guns with 24- or 32-pdr howitzers.  Considering the bore sizes involved – 3.67 for 6-pdr, 4.62 for 12-pdr, 5.82 for 24-pdr, and 6.41 for 32-pdr – lodging the wrong ammunition in the bore was practically impossible.  Still mixed batteries presented tactical concerns, or shall we say limitations.

Keep in mind the number of rounds carried in the ammunition chests for the different calibers:

  • 6-pdr field gun – 50 rounds per chest.
  • 12-pdr Napoleon – 32 rounds per chest.
  • 12-pdr field howitzer – 39 rounds per chest.
  • 24-pdr field howitzer – 23 rounds per chest.
  • 32-pdr field howitzer – 15 rounds per chest.
  • 3-inch rifle or 10-pdr Parrott – 50 rounds per chest.
  • 20-pdr Parrott (or James Rifle?) – 25 rounds per chest.

And the chests contained a specific mix of fixed ammunition.  Here’s the breakdown for the most commonly used smoothbore types:

  • 6-pdr field gun – 25 solid shot, 20 spherical case, and 5 canister.
  • 12-pdr Napoleon – 12 solid shot, 12 spherical case, 4 shells, and 4 canister.
  • 12-pdr field howitzer – 15 shells, 20 spherical case, and 4 canister.

The crews manning these cannon offered relatively uniform rates of fire, although the poor fellow fetching the 32-pdr shell might be a step or two behind his counterpart hauling a 3-inch Schenkl shell.

Lots of variables, particularly the tactical situation, governed the rate of fire, but let us presume a one round per minute for argument’s sake in a “battery on battery” scenario.  The battery commander with a mixed 6-pdr gun/12-pdr howtizer battery could keep his two 6-pdr gun sections on line firing for 45 minutes, firing all the shot and case, before calling for another ammunition chest from the caisson.  On the other hand, the howitzer section might last only 35 minutes, leaving only canister in the chest. Thus the battery commander had a variable, in addition to all the others he weighed, to keep track of. Perhaps even prioritizing resupply of the howitzers if the duel continued past thirty minutes.

The commander of a uniform 12-pdr Napoleon battery could expect at most 28 minutes of fire from one chest.   But he didn’t have to worry about prioritizing resupply to a specific section.

In the pre-war mentality, or even reaching further I might as well say in the “Napoleonic” picture of how a battle is fought, this difference in “on the line” endurance was actually part of the plan.  Guns, after all, were supposed to set up and slug it out with direct fire.  Howitzers were there to support the gun line (or infantry) not duel with enemy artillery.  Experiences, in some cases dating back to the Mexican War, and practical thought changed that mentality among the Army’s top artillerists.  On the battlefield, one rarely has the luxury of selecting the choice weapon system for a tactical situation.  Recall that General William F. Barry began advocating for uniform batteries in the summer of 1861.

Since I’ve brought up Barry’s organization of the artillery in those early months of the war, consider also his recommendation for ammunition supply per gun – 400 rounds.  This is yet another tactical limitation imposed by mixed batteries.  For a battery to possess 400 rounds per 6-pdr field gun or 3-inch rifle, it needed eight ammunition chests per gun.  For a 12-pdr field howitzer that number increased to 10 (rounding down at that).  So figure one of each chest on the limbers and three more chests on the caisson.  For that hypothetical 6-pdr gun/12-pdr howitzer battery, there were four more 6-pdr ammunition chests per gun with the trains, and six more 12-pdr ammunition chests per howitzer.  And, by the way, a 12-pdr howitzer chest weighed 480 pounds, compared to the 6-pdrs 375.  Howitzer ammunition was more space on the wagons and more weight on the axles – requiring more horsepower to pull.  Most inefficiently, one-third of the battery required nearly half the horsepower dedicated to transporting ammunition.

Now in fairness, the 12-pdr Napoleon needed twelve-and-a -half chests per gun – I’ll round up to thirteen.  Aside from those on the limber and caisson, to maintain the desired 400 rounds each gun had nine chests on the trains, weighing 485 pounds each.  Although requiring more horseflesh, the Napoleon battery offered at least equal distribution across the horseflesh resources (in addition the well known advantage from the muzzle end of things).  The battery commander didn’t have a fifty-fifty chance of getting the wrong ammunition chest, as they were all packed the same.

So what is the big deal?  Well, often technical and logistic factors are the governors of the tactical options a commander has to consider.  The tenth of an inch bore size difference that limited the options of Confederate artillerists on July 1, 1863 is easily documented.  However, the logistical factor at play – the inefficient allocation of horsepower per ammunition chest – due to mixed batteries is less easily recognized from battlefield accounts.

Wilderness Wal-Mart: Another Round at Germanna

Earlier this year, preservationists celebrated when Wal-Mart dropped plans to place a store at the Wilderness Crossing site, adjacent to the Wilderness Battlefield.  However, as I mentioned a few months afterwards, Wal-Mart moved their plans for development a bit to the west northwest.

Several major preservation organizations, including the Civil War Trust, Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield,  Piedmont Environmental Council, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, applauded this change.  I don’t recall any proclamations of direct support (as in active participation), but everyone cited the site selection as proof preservationists and developers could find options that met requirements of both sides.

At the same time, one preservation group in particular stood apart – the Germanna Foundation.  As I mentioned back in May, the ground chosen by Wal-Mart encroached upon several sites considered sensitive by Germanna.  Marc Wheat, president of the Memorial Foundation of the Germanna Colonies, explained the foundation’s stance, “What we are concerned about is noise and light pollution that would damage that kind of experience for generations.

Since that time, Germanna has come forth with information which indicates the Wal-Mart site will indeed encroach upon historic features and landmarks.   The features noted cover the span of American History from Colonial right up to the 20th century.  But of note to the Civil War audience, the ground includes several earthworks which were dated to the Mine Run and Overland Campaigns. Wal-Mart has challenged many of Germanna’s claims as “baseless.”

Germanna has also brought up the question, “Why has opposition been so muted?” Germanna has mentioned “gag orders” which have silenced opposition to Wal-Mart’s new site.

Multiple sources have informed the Germanna Foundation that the very preservation groups that had opposed Wal-Mart’s construction at the “Wilderness Battlefield site” in 2010 are signatories to a Wal-Mart confidentiality agreement.   The Wal-Mart gag agreement has prevented them from participating, by action or comment, in the current controversy over the planned destruction of historic sites on the Germanna Wal-Mart site.  According to employees within these organizations, the Wal-Mart gag agreement binds four of the most storied names in historic preservation:

  • The National Trust for Historic Preservation,
  • The Civil War Trust,
  • The Piedmont Environmental Council, and
  • The Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield

The National Trust, Civil War Trust, and Friends of the Wilderness responded to the reference about a “gag order” saying “We have no gag agreement with Walmart, as should be obvious from the vociferous advocacy of our organizations to date.”

I’ll hold my opinions about “gag orders” and other friction between preservation groups to myself, at this point.  I don’t know enough specifics to comment further.  I certainly don’t like any contention between preservation allies.   And even more to the point, I don’t like hearing that historical resources are again in danger because of further development plans.

So again I’m asking (AGAIN) why a specific location in Orange County is so critical to the success of a retail store?  Can it not be moved a mile or two away to a less sensitive location? And for that matter is a new Wal-Mart even necessary in that market?

Howitzers from Poplar Avenue: 12-pdrs from Quinby & Robinson

Time to discuss some of the products from my favorite Confederate gunmaker.  Even before Tennessee had officially seceded, the firm of Quinby & Robinson began casting cannon at their Memphis foundry located near the corner of Poplar and Front Streets.  Hindered by a fire which destroyed much of the foundry, Quinby & Robinson still managed to deliver over 75 cannon before Memphis fell to Federal forces.  The majority of those pieces, forty or so, were 12-pdr field howitzers.   Eight of those are reported as survivors today.

One of those howitzers ventured far from its western Tennessee home, standing today as part of Poague’s Howitzers near the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg.

Gettysburg 184

Quinby & Robinson 12-pdr Field Howitzer

Externally, Quinby & Robinson followed the Federal Model 1841 pattern rather closely.

Gettysburg 181

Muzzle Moldings on Quinby & Robinson Howitzer

Missing is the thin fillet on the muzzle ring, but that ring and the chase ring are within tolerances for the Model 1841 pattern.  The Memphis-made howitzer has a bit more muzzle lip however.

Gettysburg 180

Neck and Fillet on Breech

Quinby & Robinson allowed nearly a half-inch fillet for the cascabel neck.

Gettysburg 179

Trunnions and Reinforce

The reinforce and trunnions also matched the Federal pattern.  The howitzer at Gettysburg has a thin line behind the trunnions, almost delineating a trunnion band.  But this appears to be a variation on this piece and not a feature on all weapons in the series.

Gettysburg 178

Right Trunnion

The right trunnion reads “Quinby & Robinson // Memphis Tenn.”

Gettysburg 182

Left Trunnion

And the left simply reads “1861.”

The 12-pdr at Gettysburg certainly adds to the “Confederate” flavor to the display, standing next to other howitzers of southern origin (a Washington Foundry and two Noble Brothers howitzers along with an Alger piece). But the Quinby & Robinson howitzer is out of place geographically.  More to my taste are these two examples at Shiloh.

Ruggles bty 371

Bankhead's Battery on Ruggles' Line at Shiloh

Two Quinby & Robinson howitzers represent Bankhead’s Tennessee Battery on Ruggles’ Line.  One of the pair was cast in 1861.  Since Bankhead’s formed in Memphis, and was equipped with 12-pdr howitzers, this raises a possibility that very piece was on the field with the battery during the battle.  I bet someone was thinking about that possibility when they put it there.

Cannons for the Private Market: John Clark

Many surviving Civil War cannons that I encounter have some markings or symbols by which a pedigree is established.  Rarer, but often enough to make such research worthwhile, documentation exists to match the cannon to a production order.  In some cases, particularly with some Tredegar invoices, one might trace an individual cannon from the casting date, through delivery, to payment. Likewise for most Federal orders one can trace the contracts, inspections, and credits.

But those are cannons for government orders.  The trail for cannons produced on militia or state orders offers a less defined path.  Particularly in the early war period, orders by southern citizens opting to equip batteries out of pocket, there’s a story with limited documentation, lots of circumstantial evidence, and unmarked cannons.  Take for instance this note found in the Confederate Citizens File:

Dated about a month before the Battle of Shiloh, someone at John Clark & Co. wrote to General P.G.T. Beauregard touting the company’s ability to produce cannons for the Confederate cause.

Referring to your proclamation in regard to the want of cannon, we beg leave to advise you that we are prepared to turn out six guns per week complete, provided we have the material.  We want copper, block tin, or bells.  We have already furnished over one hundred guns to various corps and respectfully refer you to the Washington Artillery, Watson & New Orleans Guard Batteries as specimens of our workmanship.

In the modern contracting world, we’d call this an unsolicited proposal.  John Clark’s estimated rate of production, six guns per week, sounds unrealistic.  Tredegar, an established gun-maker, could sustain such rates.  But in John Clark’s defense, the firm did have the right equipment and space to perform such work.  As the letter indicates, with respect to experienced gunfounders the test might be the quality of work then in the field.

The figure of 100 guns, supplied at that point, is also worth examination.  Assuming six gun batteries, that would indicate over sixteen batteries equipped with Clark cannon.  The note mentions three (I would assume the “Washington Battery” refers only to the fifth battery which served in the west).  Beyond those, I could speculate about two or three more batteries.  But clearly the majority of John Clark’s customers were not only private, but also not associated with actual field formations.

In order to sustain that production rate of six guns per week, John Clark & Company needed metal.  Recall, as I mentioned in the discussion of the Leeds & Company guns, when the Federals occupied New Orleans they noted large numbers of bells earmarked for gun production.   So perhaps John Clark’s letter to the general was aimed at securing an allotment of those bells.

Regardless, John Clark’s estimate of six guns a week fell far short.  The problem was not securing sufficient metal, facilities or labor, but the occupation of New Orleans in April 1862.  Again, I am left contemplating the quantity of guns delivered by the various gunmakers in New Orleans, setting aside for the moment quality of the products.  If John Clark’s letter is accurate and the firm produced 100 guns in just over a year, how much would the Confederacy have benefited had the “Big Easy” remained in their hands for another campaign season?

A horse for $125… Slave labor for $20 a month…

Here’s a couple of receipts from the Confederate Citizens Files that caught my attention (while I was on the trail of some cannons).

First, a receipt to a “John Clark” for a horse… just one horse.

The Confederacy paid $125 for a horse, delivered at Abindon, Virginia in April 1862 (although the line above says it was purchased in February).

The second receipt, is to “John Clarke.”  Looking at the signatures, these were not the same person, especially with the addition of an “e”.

The receipt indicates the Confederate government received the services of a slave named “Bossel” (if I read that right) at the rate of $20 a month over a 4 1/2 month period.   The receipt lists Manassas as the place of receipt.  But there is no description of the type of services for which Bossel was employed.

Just a couple of documents for consideration.  Make of these what you wish.

“Fremont and the Union!”

Well that’s what Major Charles Zagonyi said his 160 bodyguard troopers yelled as they made one heck of a charge into a force of defiant rebels outside Springfield, Missouri on this day (October 25) in 1861.  His initial report read:

I report respectfully that yesterday afternoon at 4 o’clock I met in Springfield about 2,000 or 2,200 of the rebels in their camp, formed in line of battle.  They gave me a very warm reception – warmer than I expected. But your guard, with one feeling, made a charge, and in less than 3 minutes the 2,000 or 2,200 men were perfectly routed by 150 men of the Body-Guard.  We cleared out the city perfectly of every rebel, and raised the Union flag on the court-house.  It getting too dark, I concluded to leave the city, not being able to keep it with 150 men.  Major White’s men did not participate in the charge.

Allow me, general [Fremont], to make you acquainted with the behavior of the soldiers and officers.  I have seen charges, but such brilliant unanimity and bravery I have never seen and did not expect it.  Their war cry, “Fremont and the Union,” broke forth as thunder….  (OR, Series I, Volume 3, Serial 3, page 250).

… and well maybe that is a little embellished.  There were probably less than 1500 poorly organized and equipped Missouri State Guard troops on the field.  The fighting lasted longer than just a few minutes.  And Zagonyi downplayed the role of Major Frank White’s “Prairie Scouts,” a pro-union Missouri state force, in the action.

Zagonyi commanded General John C. Fremont’s personal bodyguard, a force one might describe as “dashing,” but at a minimum I’d say famously dressed.  Zagonyi himself was a soldier of fortune type from Hungary.

While his first report has more flourishes than a Forth of July speech in an election year, Zagonyi did indeed drive his opponents out of Springfield.  The Guard, armed with Colt revolving rifles and braces of pistols, outmatched their state guard opponents in weaponry.  But situations dictated Zagonyi charge down a narrow farm lane, which negated any advantage.  The State Guard effectively bottled up the force for a short time.  Zagonyi dismounted part of his force in an attempt to flank the Guard.  White’s men rode out of the farm lane, taking the long way around to envelope the Guard troops.  Meanwhile Zagonyi pushed his other companies forward, eventually breaking through resistance.

In his official report on the action, Zagonyi reduced the number of charges to one, made little mention of resistance, and gave lavish credit to the body-guard.  Other accounts, particularly that of Captain Patrick Naughton of 23rd Illinois Volunteers, refuted Zagonyi’s version of events.

In the fighting, Zagonyi’s casualties numbered about 80.  The Missouri State Guard suffered around 125.   A small action, but one that went down as a legendary charge.  The site of the action is today fully developed.  A rail line and the Kansas Expressway bisect the area where the fighting occurred.

Wilsons Creek 404

Site of Zagonyi's Charge

A stone marker, inside private property, reminds visitors of the Hungarian’s action.

Wilsons Creek 406

Marker for Zagonyi's Charge

I’ve often wondered if the glory of Zagonyi’s Charge dimmed due to circumstances (particularly the relief of Fremont from command in Missouri a few days later); or on the other hand the charge benefited with inflated importance by way of Zagonyi’s and other’s embellishments.

Regardless Zagonyi is truly a “forgotten cavalryman” today.  He followed his boss east, with the rank of Colonel.  But Zagonyi resigned at the same time Fremont left the Army.  From there, the Hungarian disappears from the records.