Transitioning from Old to New: The First Production Batches of Rodman Guns

We’ve seen the first true Rodman gun – incorporating the features devised by Thomas J. Rodman to improve the weapon as a system – was a 15-inch prototype.  The second Rodman was an experimental 12-inch rifle, cast using the same external dimensions as the 15-inch prototype.  However, not until late 1861 did 15-inch smoothbore production begin, with deliveries in early 1862.  In the mean time, Fort Pitt Foundry and West Point Foundry delivered batches of 8- and 10-inch weapons.  To explain the production sequence, I must back up to examine the last of the 8-inch Columbiad production orders.

In 1860 Fort Pitt had contracts for 8-inch Columbiads of the “new pattern.”  Cyrus Alger and Bellona Foundry also had standing contracts for weapons cast to this pattern.  Alger delivered three of the type in mid-1860.  Bellona received credit for eight in 1860, adding to one credited in 1859.  As mentioned before, the Bellona guns likely served as a pattern for the first Confederate columbiads.  Fort Pitt delivered forty 8-inch Columbiads, with registry numbers from 1 to 40, between October 1860 and January 1861.  At least ten of these should (and I stress should) have been cast hollow in accordance with Rodman’s patent.  Although it is possible a portion of those forty, or perhaps even all, were likewise cast hollow.  The registry numbers skipped in sequence when six more “new Columbiads” were given numbers 51 to 56 upon delivery from Fort Pitt in May 1861.     None of these guns, be they from Alger, Bellona, or Fort Pitt, survive today.1

But what of the skipped registry numbers in the sequence?  Well two of those did survive to the present day.  Registry number 50 from Fort Pitt’s sequence overlooks the approaches to Baltimore Harbor in Fort McHenry.

Baltimore 16 May 10 244
8-inch Rodman Type I- Fort Pitt No. 50

Corrosion and paint layers make the markings difficult to read however.

Baltimore 16 May 10 256
Muzzle of Fort Pitt #50

Easier to read are the markings on a nearby battery mate (you can see #50 in the background) with registry number 59.

Baltimore 16 May 10 248
Muzzle of Fort Pitt #59

Fort Pitt cast ten 8-inch Rodman Guns in early 1861.  When proofing those guns Silas Crispin, the inspector, simply allocated numbers in the 8-inch Columbiad sequence.  With the final 8-inch “new Columbiad” delivered in May of that year, he continued with the next sequence number for Rodman Guns.  The next thirty-nine guns, delivered from May to October 1861 continued with the columbiad sequence.  The final in the set was registry number 95. These guns were credited to a standing contract for 8-inch Columbiads from Fort Pitt. 2

Of forty-nine produced, at least fifteen survive today.  In common with the 15-inch Rodman prototype, these early 8-inch guns have preponderance at the breech.

Baltimore 16 May 10 305
Breech of #59 Showing Ratchets

They also have ratchets on the breech face, for use with the old elevating system.

Baltimore 16 May 10 307
Close up of the Ratchets on #50

Given the casting and delivery dates, the Army apparently pushed the production of Rodman Guns rather quickly after concluding tests with the 15-inch prototype.

So why did the Army opt to produce smaller 8-inch guns even while the officers at Fort Monroe spoke highly of the 15-inch?  Consider this view of Fort Pitt #59.

Baltimore 16 May 10 250
8-inch Rodman Type I- Fort Pitt No. 59

Or better still compare Fort Pitt No. 50 with a 15-inch Rodman (Fort Pitt #40 from 1865).

Baltimore 16 May 10 249
Comparison of 8-inch and 15-inch Rodmans

The Army had a lot of gun positions and fittings designed for the 8-inch Columbiads in place at forts around the country.  The 15-inch gun, with its larger footprint, would require new equipment and more work to field.  But I’m just pointing out one obvious reason, and am sure there were additional considerations as well.

In addition to Fort Pitt, West Point also received plans and directions for hollow casting guns.  In the summer of 1861, that foundry delivered sixteen 8-inch caliber weapons.  Although none survive today, the average weight listed and the proof dates lead to a reasonable conclusion these were also “early” 8-inch Rodmans.3

West Point would make no more 8-inch Rodmans after that summer.  In spite of open orders for such, the foundry probably focused on production of Parrott rifles and 10-inch Rodmans.  On the other hand, starting May 1863, Fort Pitt delivered another hundred 8-inch Rodman Guns.  At that time the inspectors started an entirely new registry sequence.  That explains why Fort Pitt registry number 57, also at Fort McHenry, has sockets on the breech. [UPDATE: My mistake, this is number 64 with number 57 next to it in the background to the left.]

Baltimore 16 May 10 268
8-inch Rodman, Type II - Fort Pitt No. 64

Some cannon historians prefer to designate the first forty-nine 8-inch Rodmans as “prototypes.” I find it difficult to reconcile the term prototype with such a large production run.  Instead I prefer to call those early Rodmans “Type I” and the later batch “Type II.”

Concurrent with the early 8-inch Rodman production, Fort Pitt also delivered ten 10-inch Rodmans.  These received registry numbers 1 through 10 (Fort Pitt had no “registered” 10-inch Columbiads from earlier orders).  However, as production of the 10-inch caliber continued into 1862, inspectors used the same registry sequence (continuing through 1867 when inspecting number 689!).  None of the ten guns from 1861 survive today.4  If ever located, and confirmed to have preponderance and ratchets, I’d call those Type I 10-inch Rodman Guns.

The high registry numbers, indicating nearly 700 from Fort Pitt alone, for the 10-inch Rodmans stands in sharp contrast to the production numbers of the 8-inch guns.   The Army received barely over 200, including those early Type I batches from 1861.  Given the success of the 15-inch gun and the appearance of ironclads, the artillerists had less need for an 8-inch smoothbore in the coastal defenses.

———————————

Notes:

  1. Edwin Olmstead,  Wayne E. Stark, and Spencer C. Tucker, The Big Guns: Civil War Siege, Seacoast and Naval Cannon (Alexandria Bay, NY: Museum Restoration Service, 1997), Appendix C95, page 227-8.
  2. Ibid., Appendix C97, page 228.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid, Appendix C131, page 245.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

6 thoughts on “Transitioning from Old to New: The First Production Batches of Rodman Guns

  1. Here in Newton, NC we have an 8″ Rodman on display in the town square. Written on the muzzle is *36 SCL 8452 lbs. S McM & CO. * 1865

    From what I have read it would indicate that this is a Type II correct?

    Thanks.

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