150 Years Ago: They were using sling carts

When we think of moving artillery, discussion often turns to limbers and horses.  And that is fine if our conversation focuses on field artillery.  Bigger guns pose a problem, as they approach the upper limits of what a reasonable team of horses might pull. Yet sooner or later operational demands required movement of those bigger siege, garrison, and seacoast guns.  So how were they moved?

Answer:  on devices like these:

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Sling Carts in one of Fort Pulaski’s Casemates

These are sling carts.  Two different types in fact.

The sling cart’s origins date back to the earliest days of artillery.  Examples of the heavy gun transporters appear in John Muller’s Treatise on Artillery, published in colonial times.

Sling Cart from Muller’s Treatise

The concept was simply raise the cannon below a chassis with over-sized wheels.  In the case of Muller’s sling cart, a rope over the axle fixed the gun between and below the wheels.   In 1809, Louis de Tousard‘s American Artillerist’s Companion described the sling cart:

A sling cart, properly speaking, is nothing but a limber, with wheels 7 feet 5.49 inches high, which has a tongue 13 or 16 feet long.  It may be considered as a lever of the first kind; so much more advantageous, as the hand of the power applied is longer, and the end which raises the weight shorter.  Its fulcrum, which is formed by the united points of the wheels tangent on the earth, may be conceived to be at the lower point of a prop placed under the middle or center of gravity of the axletree; the end which is to raise the weight above the bolster being very near, and the end of the pole, to which the power is applied, very far.  The height of its wheels will procure the greatest facility for drawing the weight, provided the pole be made of such length as to make with the supposed prop, or radius of the wheels, an angle nearly ninety degrees.

In other words, the pole of the sling cart function to aid lifting the gun.

By 1861, the Instruction for Heavy Artillery outlined the use of two different types of sling carts – a large (or siege) sling cart and a hand sling cart.  The heavier version, when joined to a siege limber, was horse-drawn.  The hand sling cart, as the name would imply, was designed for manhandling.  In a pinch, artillery crews might impress a standard siege limber a basic sling cart.   The hand cart was smaller than the cart described by Tousard fifty years earlier, while the large version exceeded:

Line diagrams provided indicate the large sling cart used a capstan to hoist the gun and chains to hold the weapon in place.  The frame, axle, and wheels were wood.  The manual does not state the payload of the large sling cart, but provides instructions for moving 10-inch columbiads (15,000 pounds) and seacoast mortars (11,000 pounds for pre-war models).

The hand cart appears almost bare in comparison but featured wrought iron wheels, axle, and fittings.  It’s payload was only 4,000 pounds, but could handle 32-pdr guns (7,000 pounds) if needed over short distances.

Both types of carts remained in the inventory with the muzzle-loading guns up to the 20th century.  In the 1884 Manual of Heavy Artillery, John C. Tidball listed both types, retaining the dimensions, but rated the large cart at 20,000 pounds.  He even provided a nice illustration of a Rodman gun between the wheels.

Tidball’s sling cart shows a lifting jack in two of the views.

Several photos capture the use of sling carts around Richmond at the end of the war.   But these were “super” sling carts, with 10 foot tall wheels, captured from the Confederates, and constructed to handle the largest Tredegar guns.  The views show the captured carts hauling former Confederate guns to collection points.

Confederate Two Axle Sling Cart hauling a Brooke Rifle

But well before those 1865 days, the sling carts figured prominently in several siege campaigns.  An illustration from Harper’s Weekly brings us back to Fort Pulaski.

The illustration shows a sling cart, attached to a siege limber, being pulled by what appears to be a regiment of men!   Yes, 150 years ago Federal troops manhandled 36 heavy artillery pieces around Tybee Island in preparation to reduce Fort Pulaski.

The operation highlighted both the usefulness and disadvantages of sling carts.  Although able to aid the artillerymen when getting the heavy guns into position, the carts were not designed for long distance hauling.  And of course that was not the intent.  Other means of transportation would get the heavy guns close to the intended place of employment.  Foreshadowing later transportation methods, Tidball’s 1884 manual even included a “railway truck.”

Today at Fort Pulaski, you can see examples of both types of regulation sling carts.

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Hand Sling Cart at Fort Pulaski

Rather simple haulers, these implements provided some limited maneuverability to the big guns.  One-hundred and fifty years ago, men in blue and gray were using these at places like Tybee Island, Yorktown, and New Madrid.