In earlier posts describing the Confederate Columbiads, I drew a fine distinction with regard to nomenclature. Guns like this one at Fort Darling should not be classified as “Confederate Rodmans.”
This gun may share some external features with the Rodman Guns, but in most other particulars differ. The gunmakers did not use the casting techniques refined by Thomas J. Rodman, and used on Federal guns up to 20-inches in caliber.
But that is not to say there were no Confederate Rodmans.
Very late in the war, two entries in the Tredegar Gun Foundry Book note the casting of “12-inch Columbiads Cast Hollow.” The Dates given for these castings are November 14, 1864 and February 20, 1865. The foundry numbers given are 2208 and 2252, respectively. 1
Writing after the war, General Josiah Gorgas, Confederate Chief of Ordnance, recorded,
Just before the war closed the Tredegar Works had cast its first twelve-inch gun, after the method of Rodman – cast on a hollow core with water kept flowing in and out of it to cool the castings from the inside. This method of cooling has been found to give a marked increase of strength, and greater hardness and consequent smoothness to the finished bore.2
In his history of the Tredegar works, historian Charles Dew noted that the factory lacked the tools to complete these new Columbiads. As such, these “Confederate Rodmans” remained unfinished at the end of the war.3 The presence of such guns, unfinished as they were, offers another “what if” of the Civil War.
Before the war, both Tredegar and Bellona foundries faced diminishing orders from the War Department. Neither firm was willing to invest capital in equipment to facilitate the hollow-core, water-cooled casting technique. In 1860, both foundries delivered the last of their big guns for Federal orders (and Bellona’s would sit at the foundry at the eve of war). But what if those foundries had setup the facilities to produce the big Rodman guns? Perhaps 15-inch or even 20-inch Confederate Rodmans? Might have caused the Federal ironclads some problems on the James, the Mississippi for sure. But I doubt the foundries would have produced sizable numbers prior to the early battles (such as Port Royal and New Orleans) where the Confederates desperately needed long-range guns.
The references do not provide details of the exterior forms or other particulars for the 12-inch Confederate Rodmans. Logically Tredegar might have used the familiar “new and revised” columbiad form. But at the same time, Tredegar cast some rather large Brooke rifles, which had a close resemblance to Dahlgren shellguns in breech profile. As neither 12-inch gun survives, and with no diagrams to work from, I’m not betting.
So yes, there was a Confederate Rodman gun. Two of them in fact. But their history is not one of actions against Federal gunboats, rather that of belated adoption of new technology.
- Transcribed in Confederate Cannon Foundries by Larry Daniel and Riley Gunter (Pioneer Press, Union City, Tennessee, 1977), pages 103-104.
- Josiah Gorgas, “Notes on the Ordnance Department”, Southern Historical Society Papers , Volume 12, January to December 1884 (Richmond: William Ellis Jones Printer, 1884), page 94.
- Charles B. Dew, Ironmaker to the Confederacy: Joseph R. Anderson and the Tredegar Iron Works (Richmond: The Library of Virginia, 1999), pages 276-77.