Confederate Rodman? 8-inch Columbiad with revised form

Yesterday I left off considering this 8-inch columbiad in St. Augustine, Florida.  It is one of two located in the Plaza de la Constitución.

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Bellona 8-inch Columbiad No. 27

This particular columbiad is a product of Bellona Foundry outside Richmond, Virginia.  Because the exterior form resembles contemporary Federal heavy guns, over the years this type has acquired the nomenclature “Confederate Rodman.”  The association with Thomas J. Rodman is limited at best.  In 1861, recently resigned Confederate ordnance officers had knowledge of Rodman’s experiments and modifications to designs.  And the nature of Rodman’s water-cooled, hollow core technique were known to Tredegar and Bellona (War Department officials actually urged them to convert to the system prior to the war).

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Bellona 8-inch Columbiad No. 29

But beyond first impressions the St. Augustine guns, and other like them, owe less to Rodman’s work than it would appear.  As mentioned earlier, these guns retain the cylindrical first reinforce of the “New Columbiads.”  While dispensing with the second reinforce’s shoulder and the chase ring, the form does not match the Rodman’s bottle shape.

Another important departure from the “New Columbiad” profile, the two St. Augustine columbiads have a well sloped breech top.  On the columbiad detailed yesterday (at Fort Pulaski) the breech top formed a near right angle, although smoothed down at the corner.  On the St. Augustine columbiads, from the rear of the reinforce back to the knob there is a gentle curve – not quite as seamless Rodman guns, but close.

The right trunnion bears the marks of Bellona Foundry and its owner, Dr. Junius L. Archer.

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Right Trunnion

The left trunnion year marks indicate Bellona cast these in 1861.

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Left Trunnion

The muzzle marks indicate registry number 27 and 29 without any inspectors initials.

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Muzzle of Bellona Columbiad

Both guns have a weight stamp of 8750, on top of the breech.

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Weight Stamp

Note the machine marks above the numbers.

The breech face does use the Rodman style cascabel, often described as mushroom shape.

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Breech Face

The ratchets are angled wedges into the breech face.  Columbiads produced before the war, and many early Rodmans, used this setup to allow the old style elevating system a purchase push the breech of the gun up.  The preponderance of weight allowed behind the trunnions required this method of elevation.  Later Rodman guns balanced the guns on the trunnions and used a simpler socket elevation system.

Notice also the circular machine marks in the middle of the breech face.  The most distinct of these seems to be a “ghost” where an additional molding was machined off.  Given the machine marks in front of the weight and those on the breech, I would offer that these Bellona columbiads were initially cast to the “New Columbiad” form with knob.  After casting, the breech profile was machined into the updated profile to allow use of the elevating system.

Plaques at the base of these Bellona guns mention service at Fort Marion (a.k.a. Castillo de San Marcos) “before, during, and after” the Civil War.  The manufacture date rules out service before the war.  While possible these guns were shipped to St. Augustine during the war, no Confederate accounts mention such heavy weapons in the city under the secessionist flag.  If anything Federals may have brought the guns to the fort after capture elsewhere.  Army use after the war is also dubious, as authorities considered the Confederate castings of lesser durability compared to the ample supplies of Rodman guns.

One other external feature that these two Bellona guns share with the Rodmans is trunnion length.

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Left Trunnion showing Length

The short trunnions allude to intended use on wrought iron carriages as opposed to the wooden barbette carriages often seen.  Longer trunnions on Bellona No. 66, cast in 1862, indicate Confederates reverted to wooden carriage standards later in the production run.

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Bellona 8-inch Columbiad No. 66

This columbiad stands today at Fort Darling, on Drewry’s Bluff outside Richmond.  Its location makes it a good subject for a follow up post.

Regardless of any similarities, identifying these guns as “Confederate Rodmans” is incorrect.  The proper designation, I feel, is “Confederate Columbiads, Revised Model.”

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

4 thoughts on “Confederate Rodman? 8-inch Columbiad with revised form

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