The First “shot” of the war at Chattanooga

From the Chattanooga News website:

First Shell fired in bombardment of Chattanooga still wooing city

Who would have thought 150 years ago that the first shell fired on Chattanooga during the Civil War would still be around today?

And who would have thought it would be on display at a baseball game just a few feet from where it fell a century and a half ago to bury itself unexploded in the mud?

Anthony Hodges likes to call it good provenance — the understanding of something’s beginning and fate.

And he likes to call the shell “tangible history.”

“I’m not a dates-and-times man. I like to reach out and touch the history,” he said, hefting the 12-pound iron shell that Union soldiers of Gen. James Negley’s 79th Pennsylvania Volunteers lobbed onto what was then a spur of Cameron Hill on June 7, 1862.

“This is tangible history,” said Hodges, a dentist whose passion is Civil War and family history.

That piece of tangible history will be on display Monday during the Chattanooga Lookouts baseball game at AT&T Field.

The shell has led a blessed and much documented life.

As it sailed from Stringer’s Ridge in 1862 and plopped into the mud near the post of the Confederate Army’s Lookout Artillery — also known as Barry’s Battery — Lt. John M. Armstrong saw it from his post within the battery’s earthen cannon fortifications.

When the hostilities ceased the next day, Armstrong and a friend, Lt. James Lauderdale, dug the shell up as souvenir of the first battle of Chattanooga. After the war, Armstrong returned to Chattanooga and, years later, his daughter Zella Armstrong became the author of the city’s first written history. (Read more)

Most folks read this and, although appreciative, think of it as just another of the war’s trivial side notes. No doubt there were thousands of “first shots” in the Civil War.

I look at that shell, and start thinking about how some of those “trivialities” might link in to other pieces to improve what is known of the engagement. That’s a Hotchkiss shell, for starters.

The article identifies the 79th Pennsylvania Infantry, but the artillery was actually sections of batteries under General Negley’s command. One of those batteries was Battery B, 1st Ohio Light Artillery. Battery B was armed with a mix of 6-pdr smoothbores and James rifles (I’d suspect the “Type 1” weapons but there’s know way to be sure short of perhaps an ordnance return). The other section was from a Kentucky battery I’ve yet to positively identify, but was likely armed with Parrott rifles.

Confederate General E. Kirby Smith, commanding at Chattanooga, reported the Federals opened fire “at 5 p.m. with 4 ½-inch Parrott guns.” Later he mentioned Negley abandoned a 4 ½-inch bronze rifle. I can’t fault Smith for misidentifying the caliber in the first instance. My personal experience tells me one cannot accurately measure the diameter of incoming rounds. But in the case of a captured weapon, that is certainly either a transcription error or bad measure. Likely the abandoned gun was a James 3.8-inch rifle.

Although I guess one could technically fire a Hotchkiss round from a Parrott 10-pdr or 20-pdr rifle, the weapon’s inventor and manufacturer frowned on anything but his patented projectiles from his patented guns. On the other hand, Hotchkiss 3.74-inch diameter shells, weighing just over 14 pounds with lead sabot, were made expressly for the James rifles. Subtract the weight of the lead sabot, any I suspect the weight is close to the 12 pounds cited in the article’s video.

Maybe that is all just more trivia. But it does provide a few bits of the story, at least revealing some details about how the armies were supplied and equipped. Such information might not be worth $5000, as the shell apparently is worth. But no doubt there was some invoice sent to the government for that shell which ended up buried in the mud on June 7, 1862. And a defective one at that!

As Mr. Hodges said, “tangible history.”

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

9 thoughts on “The First “shot” of the war at Chattanooga

  1. Fascinating! I’ll of course have some more information about Negley’s 1862 Chattanooga expedition over at my 79th Pennsylvania blog ( in 1862. The artillery section in question was commanded by Lt. A. J. Sypher, one of three Sypher brothers whose letters I have been posting.

  2. And the other guns were a section of artillery commanded by a lieutenant named Nell of what is listed as the First Kentucky Artillery. I think this translates to Lt. George W. Nell’s section of Battery B, 1st Kentucky Light Artillery, commanded by Capt. John W. Hewett.

    1. Yes, Bty B, 1st Ky is the other battery I suspected. But I have not seen it “named” (by either the unit or commander) in primary sources.

    2. Yes, I was referencing that. Does not indicate that the battery was with Nell. Rather that Nell was one of two officers “commanding” but neither was “bringing *his* battery into action.” Perhaps I’m being picky, but while it is easy to establish a relation with the Ohio battery, by looking at other action reports, the Kentucky is not as well connected with the 79th.

    3. Making me call up my reserve…here’s Col. Hambright’s report (which I don’t think made the OR) from the Sweden’s Cove engagement on June 4:
      “I ordered the section of the 1st Kentucky Artillery, Lieut. Nell commanding, to take position on the right, one section of the 1st Ohio Artillery, Lieut. Sypher commanding, to take position on the left adn open fire upon the enemy…”
      [Page 7 of ]

  3. So, with that info, can you tell if the projectile came from Sypher’s Ohio section or Nell’s Kentucky section (or neither)? I couldn’t quite follow the logic and conclusions you presented above.

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