Mentioned earlier, this piece on the Five Forks battlefield is interesting for several reasons.
Before the normal “walk around,” a bit about A.B. Reading & Brother. Vicksburg, Mississippi plantation and businessman Abram Breech Reading operated a foundry and machine works near the river along with his brother C.A. Reading. As one might expect, the firm turned out products supporting steamboats and light industry. Shortly after the start of the war, the firm turned to military products. But later that year, the firm leased out much of its equipment to the Atlanta Arsenal and ceased cannon production themselves. Yet, between December 1861 and May 1862, receipts credit A.B. Reading & Brother with delivery of 45 cannons. All were bronze field pieces – 6-pdr guns, 12-pdr howitzers, and 3-inch rifles. It is the 3-inch rifles this post will focus upon.
Reading delivered at least fourteen 3-inch rifles. But there were some variations in the production lots. Compare the values provided on a receipt issued in January 1862 –
… with another in June 1862 –
Hard to read? Here’s the summary:
- December 14, 1861 – one 6-pdr weighing 844 pounds.
- December 31, 1861 – one 6-pdr weighing 844 pounds.
- December 31, 1861 – one “6-pdr rifle” weighing 957 pounds.
- January 6, 1862 – three 6pdrs averaging 844 pounds.
- January 6, 1862 – three “6-pdr rifles” weighing 956, 659, and 955.
- March 25, 1862 – three 6-pdrs averaging 808 pounds.
- March 25, 1862 – three 3-inch rifles averaging 875 pounds.
- April 12, 1862 – three 6-pdrs averaging 809 pounds.
Noting these variations, the writers of Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War speculated there were at least two different casting patterns in use. The early batches of 6-pdrs is about forty pounds lighter than a US regulation Model 1841 6-pdr, but within tolerances. One surviving Reading 6-pdr is a trophy at West Point and conforms generally to the Model 1841 pattern. The heavier weight listed for the “6-pdr rifle” are within the range expected for a 6-pdr bored out as a 3-inch rifle. The weights are just twenty pounds or so heavier than that recorded for early Tredegar Bronze 3-inch rifles using the Model 1841 envelope. Given those weight figures, Reading likely used the Model 1841 casting pattern for both 6-pdrs and 3-inch rifles.
But for the later batch, those weights are much lower than expected for Model 1841 or derivatives. And that might easily be explained by a reduction in length, either to simplify the casting or a reduction in precious bronze. The Model 1841 guns were 65.6 inches long, while that piece pictured above at Five Forks is only 63.5 inches overall (61 inches without the knob). The shorter length and reduced profile accounts for some of the 75 pound difference, if not all, in both the 6-pdr smoothbore and 3-inch rifles from the later batches. Enough circumstantial evidence to argue Reading used two different casting patterns.
All four surviving Reading 3-inch rifles match the later pattern. All but one have an erratic set of stampings on the right trunnion.
The stampings are in two different sizes. The top line, curved with the trunnion edge, reads “A.B.R. and Bro.” Early “cannon hunters” failed to see the period after the “R” and interpreted that as “A.B. Rand Bro.” and thus could not correctly identify the firm. The second line notes the firm’s location in Vicksburg, Mississippi. In a smaller font is the year of manufacture “1862” and below that is the gun’s foundry number – 24.
The left trunnion displays three letters – “COL.” This appears to be a post-delivery stamp and might be post-war. Notice the trunnion face is a bit recessed from the carriage cheeks. And the trunnions require a spacer to fit properly on the carriage. The Reading Rifle’s trunnions are slightly smaller than those of the Quinby & Robinson Rifles of the same caliber.
The breech profile matches that of the Quinby & Robinson 3-inch rifles at Petersburg – well-rounded knob, thick fillet, rounded breech face, and a base ring. Notice the vent is bouched.
The base ring is about 1 1/8 inches wide. The stamping to the right of the ruler is an Army depot tracking number.
The trunnions and rimbases also match that of the Quinby & Robinson 3-inch rifle.
The muzzle is straight, lacking any swell. The front sight post sat directly on top, where a tapped hole is now.
The bore diameter is, as advertized, 3-inches.
But look a little closer at that rifling, particularly at the edges on the muzzle face. Those are “sawtooth” grooves, often used by Confederate cannon makers.
The grooves are left-handed. This particular gun has a bit more bore wear than the Quinby & Robinson gun.
The rifling pattern is the only significant difference between the guns produced by Quinby & Robinson and A.B. Reading & Brother. These are “cousins” in most other respects. As seen with the James series, bronze was not the best metal for rifled field pieces. The bronze rifles compared dis-favorably to 3-inch Ordnance Rifles encountered on the battlefield. No doubt some of the 3-inch rifles were melted down by the Confederates for casting into more useful 12-pdr Napoleons.
One that did survive the war and post-war scrapings is A.B. Reading & Brother’s number 24. Today that rifle sits a long way from its place of origin, guarding Five Forks – an obscure gun guarding a famous crossroads.