Monthly Archives: January 2012

150 Years Ago: A star rises from the Federal Ranks

On January 30, 1862, Major General Henry W. Halleck, commanding the Department of Missouri, issued orders setting in motion the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson.  As every Civil War student knows, Halleck placed Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant in command of the expedition.  This effort, supported by a naval force under Flag-Officer Andrew Foote, generated the first major victories for the Federals.  Within weeks, the interior of Tennessee lay open to the Unionists.

Typical for Halleck, the order provided details of the selected troops, particulars of the enemy’s (suspected) disposition, and suggestions for movement.  But there’s one sentence in that order which deserves note, as it marks the arrival of a new actor who would figure prominently as the war in the West progressed:

Lieutenant-Colonel McPherson, U.S. Engineers, will immediately report to you, to act as chief engineer of the expedition.”

A 1853 graduate of West Point, McPherson attended alongside notable class-mates John B. Hood, Philip Sheridan, and John Schofield.  After graduating at the top of his class, McPherson went on to teach at West Point for a while.  The eve of war found him supervising construction of fortifications at Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, California.  Transferred eastward, McPherson was assigned to Halleck’s staff in late 1861.  When Grant needed an engineer for the expedition, Halleck forwarded McPherson.

It was a fortuitous assignment in many ways.  After the fall of Fort Henry, McPherson mapped out the roads east to Fort Donelson, making several reconnaissances.  At Fort Donelson, McPherson continued to provide able service.  Later in the campaign, McPherson supervised placement of new siege lines on ground gained in the evening of February 15.  On the following morning, Grant could press his famous ultimatum in part because of McPherson’s work.  For this and later work on Grant’s staff, he received notice… and promotion.

McPherson was a star on the rise.  By the end of the year he was a Major General in command of the Seventeenth Corps.   He lead that Corps in the Vicksburg Campaign, showing great ability, particularly in the siege operations.  By the spring of 1864, McPherson commanded the Army of the Tennessee, as General William T. Sherman prepared to drive on Atlanta. McPherson’s star had reached its zenith.   McPherson would not complete that campaign.  He was shot by Confederate skirmishers during the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, 1864.

Of McPherson’s death, Sherman related,

History tells us of but few who so blended the grace and gentleness of the friend with dignity, courage, faith, and manliness of the soldier…. the country generally will realize that we have lost not only an able military leader, but a man who had he survived, was qualified to heal the national strife which has been raised by designing and ambitious men.

Privately to his wife he wrote, “I lost my right bower in McPherson.”

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James Birdseye McPherson’s name is in the news today.  More so because of the location his men, the veterans of the old Army of the Tennessee, chose to honor him.   But 150 years ago today, he was a star on the rise.

Fort Moultrie Cannon Row Upgrade Project

Earlier today the staff at Fort Sumter National Monument updated the Fort Moultrie album on Facebook with new photos from the ongoing “cannon row upgrade” project.

Fresh Paint and New Mounts for Cannons

Fort Moultrie has a unique set of Civil War era guns.  I’ve featured several of the guns here on the blog.  For many years those guns sat on wood beams, just inches above the sand.

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Part of Cannon Row at Fort Moultrie

While the staff kept the exterior painted and generally free of corrosion, the bores suffered from exposure (and the trash of some unappreciative visitors).

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Bore of 10-inch Rifled and Banded Columbiad

The restoration and new mountings are part of a project started last year.  According to a press release from July 2011, four guns were removed and repainted as part of a larger park-wide project to address the historic metal artifacts around the park.  Scientists from Clemson University’s Warren Lash Conservation Center collaborated with the NPS staff.

In the process, the guns are stripped of old paint, then refinished with a modern industrial sealant.  Each gun receives a tampion to cover the bore.  The staff will periodically check a monitor placed inside each gun bore for humidity readings, in order to arrest further corrosion.  When refurbished, the guns return to “cannon row” on new concrete pads.   The park also plans to update the older interpretive signage along cannon row as part of this project.

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Example of the Present Interpretive Signs

Great work!  This project ensures those cannons are able to “tell” their stories to visitors for many generations to come.

The Most Widely Produced Rodman Gun: 10-inch Rodman

If production figures are any measure, the Army felt the 10-inch Rodman was the most important element in the nation’s seacoast defenses during and immediately after the Civil War.

The first ten 10-inch Rodmans came out of Fort Pitt Foundry between September and October 1861.   Based on circumstantial evidence, these were likely cast to the original Rodman design with ratchets and preponderance on the breech.  None of these survive today.

Fort Pitt Foundry continued producing 10-inch Rodmans in the spring of 1862.  But these guns received registry numbers from a fresh sequence.  Some of those low registry numbers exist today and feature sockets on the breech for use on the new elevation system.  Without checking the balance of the guns, I think it safe to assume these have no preponderance on the breech.

Fort Pitt delivered 689 more 10-inch Rodmans before production ceased in March 1867.  Earlier I featured Fort Pitt registry numbers 156 and 182 in a comparison with a Confederate “revised pattern” Columbiad at Fort Moultrie.

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10-inch Rodman - Fort Pitt #156

I offered a pretty fair “walk around” in that post, so I will send those interested in that direction.  But I would mention one variation seen among the hundreds of Fort Pitt Rodmans – the shape of the sockets.

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Breech Face of Fort Pitt #182

The guns at Fort Moultrie have squared sockets. But look at this Rodman over at Fort Monroe, Virginia.

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Breech Face of Fort Pitt #457

However Fort Pitt number 457, produced in 1865, has rounded sockets.

The breech face to the left of the sockets is rusty.  This gun had a bronze range table fixed to the breech face, at least up until the 1950s.  The screw holes are still visible.

The gun’s muzzle has many layers of paint, but enough of the particulars show through to make a positive identification.

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Muzzle of Fort Pitt #457

In addition to Fort Pitt, three other source produced 10-inch Rodmans. West Point delivered two 10-inch Rodmans in June 1862.  These may have been experimental castings, because the registry numbers, 1 and 2, were repeated when the foundry resumed production in July 1865.  West Point continued production through March 1867 with a total of 184 cast including the duplicate numbers.

Cyrus Alger didn’t deliver its first 10-inch Rodman until late in 1863.  Over four years, the foundry delivered monthly batches, never exceeding a dozen.  All told, when production ceased in March 1867 the Boston foundry had cast a total of 176.

The Scott Foundry, operated by Seyfert, McManus & Company in Reading, Pennsylvania, delivered 242 from October 1863 through April 1867.  The company’s total deducted a handful of condemned guns.

The total number of 10-inch Rodmans produced, including the ten “prototypes” and those in post war years, tallied over 1300 guns.  That exceeds the number of 12-pdr Napoleons or 3-inch Ordnance Rifles produced in the war.  One could say the weight of metal tipped towards what the Army considered its primary mission – seacoast defense – even during the Civil War.  The 10-inch Rodman was one of the most, if not the most, widely produced American muzzle loading cannon.

One last note on Fort Pitt number 457.  Today it stands outside the old post headquarters building.

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Fort Pitt #457 - "Old Number 40"

For years after the Civil War the gun was among the armament of the Water Battery on the bay side of Fort Monroe.  The gun received the nickname “Old Number 40” many decades ago due to its position in the battery.  The gun remained there until 1906 when engineers demolished most of the Water Battery while placing new fortifications.

“Old Number 40” tells the story of a long serving, even if long obsolete, weapon system.