Heavy Rifles from a Blockade Runner: 4.5-inch Blakelys

The blockade Runner Fingal entered the Savannah River estuary on the foggy morning of November 12, 1861.  On board were 14,000 Enfield rifles, a million cartridges, two million percussion caps, 3,000 cavalry sabers, thousands of other small arms, 400 barrels of cannon powder, along with uniforms, medical equipment, and other miscellaneous supplies for the Confederate cause.  Also on board, and mounted to defend the ship, where a pair of 2 ½ breech loading guns and a pair of 4 ½ heavy rifled guns.  When the ship arrived in Savannah, Georgia, the take was a boost to Confederate war efforts.

While Confederate authorities distributed most of the items to distant beleaguered fronts, these heavy rifles went back down the Savannah River to Fort Pulaski.  And they are still there today.

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4.5-inch Blakely Rifle No. 43

These rifles are indeed rare types.  The rounded breech has a squared bladed-type cascabel, pierced for a breeching loop.  To the rear of the hole is a removable block, long since fixed for display purposes.

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Breech Profile of 4.5-inch Blakely

But more distinctive is the exterior – very much “Blakely.”  Aside from the sharp taper just in front of the trunnions, this gun and its mate have a reinforcing steel “hoop” around the breech.

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4.5-inch Blakely No. 41

Captain Theophilus Alexander Blakely received several patents for his guns (and projectiles).  In this case we see the built-up area over the breech.  Unlike the Parrott band, the hoop extended further forward towards the trunnions.  The hoop also blended into the profile of the breech.  If you look very close to the breech face of the gun, you’ll see a slight line where the hoop meets the gun.

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Rear view of 4.5-Inch Rifle number 41

The 4.5-inch rifle has seven groove, right-hand twist rifling.

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Bore of Blakely 4.5-inch Rifle

The lands and grooves are flat, compared to some other surviving Blakelys which have “saw tooth” rifling.

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Muzzle of 4.5-inch Blakely

Markings provide the some history of the gun.  Under “Blakely’s Patent” is the foundry number, in this case 41.

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Markings on 4.5-inch Rifle No. 41

Below that is the name of the manufacturer – Fawcett, Preston & Company, Liverpool, England, who made both numbers 41 and 43 in 1861.

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Markings on No. 43

Plaques over the breech provide more history.

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Brass Plaques on No. 43

The bronze plaque confirms the gun served in the Confederate defenses of Fort Pulaski.  After capture by Federals in April 1862, the gun became a trophy.  Actually West Point trophy number 153 in this case.  After the creation of Fort Pulaski National Monument, the gun came back to Fort Pulaski.

These guns fired a 21 to 24 pound projectile.  I’ve not seen range figures for these guns, but presume similar performance to Parrott 30-pdrs or 4.5-inch Ordnance Rifles.  While the brass plaque calls these “siege guns” the presence of the breeching loop, indicates the Confederates intended these guns arm warships.

The turn of events put the guns in Fort Pulaski instead.   And the guns were there on April 10, 1862 when the Federals opened fire on the fort.  Unfortunately their placement in the upper battery prevented them from effectively firing in response.   You can see the effects of the Federal bombardment in the photo below, with one of the Blakely rifles just in front of the traverse.

Upper Battery of Fort Pulaski after siege

Here’s a better view of the gun.

Blakely Rifle behind a dismounted Columbiad

Today the guns sit not far from their wartime stations, pointed across Cockspur Island towards the former location of those Federal batteries which breeched Fort Pulaski.

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View across to the Federal Batteries