Not your average Ordnance Rifle: Interesting gun from Fort Clinch

Fort Clinch, Florida, on the northern tip of Amelia Island, is a great diversion for Civil War enthusiasts (and beach-goers).  Among the attractions is a 3-inch Ordnance Rifle, which was setting on the fort’s parade ground during my visit last summer.

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Parade Ground at Fort Clinch

There’s no doubt Phoenix Iron Company produced this gun, as all the stamps are there.

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Right Trunnion of #650

The muzzle has the registry number 650.  The registry number puts this gun in the “later batches” of Ordnance Rifles.  However, as I’ll show below, conforms to the “middle batches” of the type.

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Muzzle of 3-inch #650 at Fort Clinch

Normally that would be worth explaining all by itself (as it “tests” the groupings I’ve offered for the gun types).  But I also need to mention the bore… or lack thereof.

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Smoothbore where there should be rifling

The bore is clean, relatively speaking, indicating very limited if any actual service.  I’d even speculate the bore out was done to reline the gun. But why one would do that is beyond me.  The gun has worn surfaces all over and not something I’d want to restore for shooting.

And take a closer look at those surfaces.

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Breech of Fort Clinch Ordnance Rifle

Perhaps a little rusting pealed back the machine smoothed surfaces.  What appears around the breech are layers of metal.  And a nicely bouched vent stands in contrast with the otherwise rough surface.

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Rear Sight of Fort Clinch Gun

The barrel’s surface shows even more details of the layering of metal.

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Wavy lines on the barrel

Almost as if someone sliced laterally through the upper layers of a fruit roll-up!   Phoenix made this gun using Reeves’ rolling technique.   A line around the rimbases may be the seam left when those were welded onto the barrel.  Maybe the lines are due to poor quality control in production.  Or perhaps just enough rust ate away at the surface to reveal what lay beneath.

Taking a closer look at those, notice the “N.J.” where usually we see a “U.S.” acceptance mark.

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Trunnions, Rimbases, and Acceptance Mark

And there’s a hole for the auxiliary sight, indicating this is a “middle batch” Ordnance Rifle.   This gun has a lot of explaining to do!

First off there are several surviving Ordnance Rifles with the N.J. stamp.  Clearly New Jersey purchased some of the guns (after all Phoenixville is not far across the Delaware River).  Three of those guns with N.J. stamps have duplicate registry numbers with survivors with U.S. acceptance marks – 649, 650 (here), and 651.  The U.S. guns are in a set received in November 1863.

So here’s my speculation.  Perhaps number 650 was among a set initially stamped at Phoenix Iron Company, but for some reason the ordnance officers rejected it.  The “wavy lines” may provide a clue, indicating some irregularities.  Later the New Jersey militia, not being as picky as the U.S. Army, might have purchased this gun at a cut rate.  Such might explain the auxiliary sight, which by my estimates was discontinued in March 1862, as well as the duplicate registry numbers.

But again, that’s just my speculation.  Regardless, the 3-inch Ordnance Rifle at Fort Clinch offers in interesting study to say the least.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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