Patent Stamps and Extra Sights: Middle Batches of 3-inch Ordnance Rifles

In earlier posts I referenced a middle “batch” of 3-inch Ordnance Rifles from Phoenix Iron Company.  The writers of Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War, while not neatly describing this as a set, referenced markings on Phoenix guns with a sequence of guns delivered in 1862:

A problem arises from the trunnion stampings found on many of the Ordnance rifles, beginning with Registry number 236:

Left trunnion face: PATENTED DEC. 9, 1862

Right trunnion face: PHOENIX IRON CO.

Contract tallies reveal that Registry numbers 236 through 543 were inspected from 20 February through 25 November 1862, before the patent was granted on 9 December 1862.1

The writers continued from there offering the logical conclusion that Federal authorities held some of these guns, after their acceptance, in some facility instead of rushing them to the front line units.  While being held, sometime after December someone went through and stamped the patent information on the left trunnion.  Only then did these guns get rushed to batteries for use.  So at the height of the war, the Union army let some 300 perfectly good rifles sit by unused.

Wonderful story.  For years, I’ve accepted this as a great example of how the gun markings can tell us more than just bland administrative data.  But as I look back over field notes and photos, my sense is this story is just not supported by field evidence.

For example, let me reference some guns representing the 13th New York Independent Light Battery (Wheeler’s), along Howard Avenue at Gettysburg.

Howard Ave 28 June 139
Four Ordnance Rifles at the 13th New York's first day position

At the battery location are registry numbers 217, 252, 284, and 575.  All but the last mentioned were produced in 1862.  Two of the four should fall within the range mentioned above.  But neither of those guns have the patent stamp.

Gettysburg 18 Feb 12 330
Blank left trunnion of #284

Only the last produced, number 575, displays the patent stamp.

Gettysburg 18 Feb 12 337
Patent stamp on #575

Since records give that gun an inspection date in March 1863, one expects to see the stamp.

Registry number 236 is currently in the Gettysburg maintenance facility waiting its turn in the cannon shop.  When I last viewed it, no patent stamp was present.  Registry number 240, also at Gettysburg representing Lewis’ Battery on Confederate Avenue, does not have a patent stamp.  The next number up, registry 241, represents Battery A, 2nd US Artillery on the first day battlefield, and it also has no patent stamp.

Of the guns within the registry range cited above, the only ones in my notes which may have the patent stamp are numbers 339 at Shiloh and  404 at Chickamauga.  And let me stress may, as I am unable to locate photos to verify.

In short, I’d say the premise about those 300 guns does not have strong evidence.  There may be a handful of guns in that registry number range with the stamp.  Clearly a substantial number do not.  That may be due to heavy layers of paint, corrosion, or – as I think most likely – no stamp ever being present.  If some guns were held after manufacture, and received the stamp after acceptance, their numbers are small.

But before we dismiss the separation of the “middle” batches from Phoenix, there is one feature that appeared on the guns starting during the spring of 1862.

Gettysburg 18 Feb 12 343
Hole for auxiliary sight between trunnions on #284

The hole just below the “U.S.” acceptance stamp is tapped for mounting an auxiliary sight.  Number 252 nearby which does not have the hole or any middle sight.  But as seen above, number 284 does have provision for the sight.  Many guns at Gettysburg have a small blade mounted there, as seen below in registry number 510 on Confederate Avenue (Jordon’s Battery, near the Longstreet Tower).

Gettysburg 18 Feb 12 393
Auxiliary sight on #510

Guns produced in early 1863 continued the auxiliary sight.  But at some point that year, the Ordnance Rifle sights simplified to just a pendulum hausse and a front sight blade.

There’s one other interesting mark from a gun in the middle batches of ordnance rifles:

Gettysburg 4 Feb 12 159
Muzzle of #533

There’s a noticeable ring around the muzzle of number 533.  A few other guns exhibit this ring.  Is this the vestige of the mandrel used in Reeve’s process,  or is it just a machining mark?  Oh, and for the record, 533 has no patent stamp and does have the auxiliary sight.

Of course nothing mentioned here had any substantial impact on the tactical employment of the gun.  Certainly not the patent stamp.  Perhaps the sights were an improvement to help the gunner.  However any advantage gained was minimal as the later production lots from Phoenix adopted a simplified sight system.  I’ll turn to that long production run next.


  1. Hazlett, James C., Edwin Olmstead, and M. Hume Parks. Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War Revised Edition (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004), page 124.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

4 thoughts on “Patent Stamps and Extra Sights: Middle Batches of 3-inch Ordnance Rifles

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