150 Years Ago: Tredegar wanted block tin for Xmas

On December 5, 1862, well before the battle of Fredericksburg, General Robert E. Lee voiced his displeasure about the artillery types supplied to his Army.  In a letter to Secretary of War James Seddon, he wrote:

During the past campaign I have felt, in every battle, the advantages that the enemy possessed over us in their artillery.  This arose in part from their possessing more experienced artillerists and better prepared ammunition, but consisted chiefly in better guns.  These advantages, I am happy to state, are gradually diminishing.  Our artillerists are greatly improving, our ammunition is more carefully prepared, and the efficiency of our batteries increased by guns captured from the enemy.  I am greatly in need of longer range smooth-bore guns, and propose that, if metal cannot be otherwise procured, a portion, if not all, of our 6-pounder smooth-bores (bronze), and, if necessary a part of our 12-pounder howitzers, be recast into 12-pounder Napoleons.  The best guns for field service, in my opinion, are the 12-pounder Napoleons, the 10-pounder Parrotts, and the approved 3-inch rifles.  Batteries composed of such guns would simplify our ammunition, give us less metal to transport, and longer and more accurate range of fire.  I urgently recommend to the Department the consideration of this subject, and that measures be immediately taken to improve our field artillery.  The contest between our 6-pounder smooth-bores and the 12-pounder Napoleons of the enemy is very unequal, and, in addition is discouraging to our artillerists. …

Lee went on to request four Napoleons immediately, along with 20- and 30-pdr Parrotts.  Again, this request came just before the battle of Fredericksburg.  Lee would get a few of the requested items.  But the problem was the Ordnance Department simply did not have the requested guns.  In response to Lee’s request, Colonel Josiah Gorgas offered agreement but cited the shortfalls:

I respectfully inclose copy of circular sent to all our arsenals, showing that I have already, some time ago, given orders which will meet the views of General Lee.  Recently Messrs. J.R.A. & Co., of the Tredegar Works, have been directed to work night and day to prepare guns of this description.  I have requested Colonel Baldwin, chief of ordnance of General Lee, to send down old guns to be recast.  In the mean time, however, we shall send to him these guns as fast as they can be made. None are now on hand.

Gorgas attached a note which directed production focus on 12-pdr bronze Napoleons along with 10-, 20-, and 30-pdr Parrotts of iron.  The directive, of course, only pertained to field guns, with larger caliber seacoast guns of several calibers still authorized.

Yet for all this “working day and night” Tredegar was only able to add four Napoleons, one 10-pdr Parrott, and four 20-pdr Parrotts during the month of December.  The foundry’s focus in the months prior were towards heavier seacoast and naval guns.  The production line took time to shake out for the new requests.  (Although I’d point out Tredegar produced eight Parrotts in the closing days of November, for good measure.)

One problem facing Napoleon production was raw materials.  Bronze, as used for casting guns, was an alloy of copper, tin, and zinc.  The Confederacy had none of these in great quantities (but the Yankees did!).  Earlier in the war the Confederate gunmakers turned to bells or even bronze intended for sculptures.  But calls went out from every gunmaker for more materials.

On Christmas Eve 1862, Colonel Thomas S. Rhett, ordnance inspector, intervened on behalf of Tredegar to request tin.

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Messrs J.R. Anderson & Co. are much in need of Block Tin to be used in casting Bronze Guns. Please inform me how much you could furnish them.”  The request is addressed to Major W.S. Downer in charge of the ordnance depots.  There is a small notation at the bottom – “3 or 400 lbs now“.  This may indicate what Tredegar wanted or, more likely, the quantity available from the depots.  (And this is why I like to see the digital copy of the original – transcriptions would miss this detail, and often you wouldn’t see it if reviewing the original in room lighting.)

Regardless of the supply of tin, within a month Tredegar needed more raw materials.  In a message dated Jaunary 23 or 24, 1863, the firm spoke for itself on the matter and asked to have more obsolete bronze guns fed into the pit:

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We are pushing ahead the Napoleons bronze guns & have remelted nearly the whole of the old Guns.  We will require at once either Copper or more old Guns.  We have some tin on hand & an order for more.”  So more old guns cycled from Lee’s batteries to Tredegar to become bigger guns in preparation for the 1863 campaign season.

On Christmas Day, 1862 outside Fredericksburg, General Lee and the artillerists of the Army of Northern Virginia might have welcomed a few shiny new bronze Napoleons under the tree.  But in Richmond, Joseph R. Anderson would have been ecstatic over a few carloads of copper and tin.

(Citations of Lee and Gorgas from OR, Series I, Volume 21, Serial 31, pages 1046-47.)

150 years ago: Wilmington needs a Columbiad

At this time 150 years ago, General P.G.T. Beauregard commanded a large geographic area including South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.  His “front line” was the coastline, under threat at several points from Federal blockaders and landings.  Several footholds – notably Fort Pulaski and Hilton Head – offered bases from which the Yankees might expand their purchase.

But in the middle of December 1862, Beauregard’s focus turned away from his own command, north to Wilmington, North Carolina. As Major General John G. Foster’s raid towards Goldsborough developed, fears mounted the Federals would turn on Wilmington to close that important port.  Beauregard sent 5,000 infantry and three batteries from his command to reinforce Brigadier General W.H.C. Whiting, in command in Wilmington. The “hero of Fort Sumter” even offered to go forward himself, if needed.

Even as Foster returned to New Bern, Beauregard remained convinced Wilmington was the object of Federal designs.  On December 21, he forwarded a message to General Samuel Cooper in Richmond, saying ,”General Whiting calls urgently for one 10-inch gun.  Send him first one intended for this place.”  Rather generous of Beauregard, especially considering observers at Charleston (which was “this place” referenced in the message) could see increased activity off shore.

Nothing really exciting about Whiting’s request or Beauregard’s referral.  I could find maybe a dozen similar calls for heavy ordnance from the commanders along the coast during the war, if not more.  What I do find of interest is how long it took the Confederate Ordnance Department to fill this request.   At that time only two vendors produced such heavy seacoast guns for the Confederacy – Tredegar and Bellona.  Since Tredegar did much of the boring, finishing, and shipping for Bellona, J.R. Anderson & Company’s files are the best place to look for action on this request.  As best I can determine, the most likely action filling this request was on March 3, 1863.  In a summary of receipts (No. 15 if you are counting) posted on April 8, 1863 lists a 10-inch Columbiad forwarded to Wilmington.

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Tredegar records indicate the foundry cast #1766 on February 16 that year.  Tredegar had cast at least five other 10-inch Columbiads between the date of request and the time of casting.  The foundry cast four more before #1766 shipped.   Those “sisters” of #1766 were likewise dispatched to other beleaguered positions around the Confederacy.

So three months after the tactical threat, Whiting at Wilmington received the requested gun.  Sure, it is possible one of the other pieces could have gone to Wilmington sooner, had there been a serious threat.  But then what would the commanders at Vicksburg, Mobile, or other garrisons say to that?  Supply could not meet demand. Here again limited resources impaired the tactical flexibility of the Confederate forces.  Priorities were constantly changing. The Confederate War machine simply could not keep pace.

But as for Wilmington, perhaps Whiting had time to burn.  The Federals were not yet ready to assail Cape Fear.  Not yet ….

150 Years Ago: Hunt prefers the big siege rifles

One-hundred and fifty years ago (and one day, as I had other pressing news to report yesterday), Brigadier General Henry Hunt offered a report on the effectiveness of the heavy rifles employed at Fredericksburg the previous week.

I have the honor to report that the practice in the recent battle with the 20-pounder Parrott was in some respects very unsatisfactory, from the imperfection of the projectiles, which, notwithstanding the pains which have been taken to procure reliable ones, are nearly as dangerous to our own troops as to the enemy, if the former are in advance of our lines. In addition, the guns themselves are unsafe. At Antietam two of the twenty-two, and on the 13th instant another, were disabled by the bursting of the gun near the muzzle. The gun is too heavy for field purposes, and can be used with advantage only as batteries of position. For the last purpose it is inferior to the 4½-inch siege-gun, which requires the same number of horses and only half the number of drivers. I therefore respectfully propose that, as the allowance of artillery in this army is small, the 20-pounders be turned in to the Ordnance Department as soon as they can be replaced by light field guns,. and that a portion of the siege train (sixteen guns) be organized to accompany the force in the field for service in such positions as require heavy guns, and, in case of a siege, to form a part of the train. Seven such guns are now here. Twelve were asked for, and it is a misfortune they were not furnished. Two companies of the First Connecticut Artillery are serving with the guns now here. I propose that two other companies of that regiment be detailed, each company be organized as a battery with four guns, the whole to be placed under the command of a field officer of the regiment, and attached to the Reserve Artillery.

Ever since the Peninsula Campaign, the Army of the Potomac included a substantial siege train.  Recall the varied set of guns used at Malvern Hill.  By December 1862, the Army’s artillery park was more uniform in composition.  The field batteries assigned to the infantry formations were by and large 10-pdr Parrotts, 3-inch rifles, and 12-pdr Napoleons – although a few batteries of 12-pdr howitzers remained.  The siege batteries used, as alluded to in Hunt’s report, 20-pdr Parrotts and 4.5-inch Ordnance Rifles.

Lending weight to Hunt’s comment about the weight, the 20-pdr Parrott rifle was the heaviest weapon mounted on a field carriage.  On its modified 32-pdr howitzer carriage, a 20-pdr Parrott on the march – with limber, ammunition chest, gun, and carriage – weighed 4405 pounds.  The caisson with three more chests weighed about an other 4000 pounds.

On the other hand, the 4.5-inch rifle rode on a siege carriage.  With limber (no ammunition chest) the 4.5-inch rifle traveled weighing around 7300 pounds.  But before you go second guessing Hunt, the 4.5-inch rifle’s ammunition traveled in separate wagons, in loads that were better configured for transport.

The difference here is “field carriage” verses “siege carriage.”  The 20-pdr on field carriage arrangement allowed the gun to go into action from the march.  The 4.5-inch rifle required more time to prepare for action.  But Hunt felt the 20-pdrs “ready for action” configuration was of little value as the gun was too difficult to maneuver into action.  On the other hand, the weight of the 4.5-inch rifle was of less consequence as it was employed with more deliberation.

Regardless if you follow that logic, the greater concern with the 20-pdr was, as with all the Parrotts, the tendency to burst.  Three failed guns in two actions.  That is compared to the near flawless record of 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.  The 4.5-inch rifle had not seen extensive service to this point, but would enjoy an air of reliability – at least for the moment.  Even later in the war main complaint against the bigger rifle was vent erosion, not bursting.

Despite Hunt’s requests, seven months later the Army of the Potomac still marched with a mix of 20-pdr Parrotts and 4.5-inch Ordnance Rifles.  Ironically, given Hunt’s concerns about mobility, it was the 20-pdrs of Taft’s 5th New York Battery on Cemetery Hill on July 3, not the 4.5-inch rifles of the 1st Connecticut.  The bigger guns were held back because they took up too much valuable space on the roads to Gettysburg.

(Citation is from OR, Series I, Volume 21, Serial 31, pages 189-90.)

We will preserve Fleetwood Hill: Brandy Station in ’13!

This is one for the books!

Just last week the Civil War Trust closed on their goals for preserving a large (the largest ever in the modern preservation movement) tract of land at Kelly’s Ford. As many of you know, much of the ground contested on March 17, 1863 was again battleground on June 9 of that same year during the battle of Brandy Station. Well now there’s more good news for Brandy Station. Yesterday the Civil War Trust announced they’d secured a contract on Fleetwood Hill:

The Civil War Trust, America’s largest nonprofit battlefield preservation group, today announced the that it has secured a contract with a Culpeper County landowner to acquire 61 acres of core battlefield land at Fleetwood Hill on the Brandy Station Battlefield. This is the first step in what is anticipated to be a national fundraising campaign to ultimately preserve this site and open it to the public. This opportunity comes just a few months before 150th anniversary commemoration of the battle, fought on June 9, 1863.

“The Civil War Trust is pleased to confirm that we have reached an agreement with a local landowner to place under contract his 61-acre property on Fleetwood Hill,” noted Civil War Trust President James Lighthizer in a statement released earlier today. “Protection of this property at the epicenter of the Brandy Station battlefield has been a goal of the preservation community for more than three decades.”

Although pleased with the agreement, Lighthizer cautioned that “several steps remain before the transaction is completed and the property can be considered preserved — chief among them raising the $3.6 million necessary to formally purchase the land.” He noted the Civil War Trust’s intention “to launch a national fundraising campaign next year with the aim of raising the money in time for the 150th anniversary of the battle in June 2013. Further details of this exciting opportunity — including mechanisms for public involvement and donations — will be announced in the new year, once additional groundwork for the project is laid….

(Read full press release here)

Many readers are familiar with my passion on this subject. That hill, really more a plateau, is among the most significant pieces of ground related to the Civil War. Even as a “die hard” Western Theater-type, I recognize the importance of the actions that took place on that elevation and the events taking place there which shaped the course of the war.

Over the years Fleetwood Hill became just as important objective for those seeking to preserve the Brandy Station Battlefield as it was for the combatants during the war. Despite success elsewhere on the battlefield, preservationist’s efforts to purchase the ground failed. Worse yet, a couple years ago some “landscaping” (I’m being kind here) along Flat Run damaged the historical integrity of the hill. Now we have the opportunity to ensure this ground is added to the existing preserved battlefield – one major, important piece that will fill in the picture of the most important cavalry engagement of the war.

And when that deal is complete, the lion’s share of the credit goes to historian, preservationist, and my friend Clark “Bud” Hall.

Brandy Station 061

Over the years Bud has put in more time and effort towards the preservation of that hilltop than anyone. He’s led tour groups, written articles, held meetings, wrote countless emails, and spread the word in any way possible. Above all he refused to stop short of the goal. Bud is the driving force behind the effort to save Fleetwood Hill. He’s the one who ensured this deal went forward, despite what you might read elsewhere. When the property went on the market earlier this year, Bud wrote a piece for the Civil War News calling for us preservationists to respond. He signed off that article saying, “See you on Fleetwood.”

So let’s get those donations ready for Brandy Station ’13 and make short order of the initiative. Let’s make sure June 9, 2013 goes down as a day honoring the men who fought there 150 years before by ensuring the land is set aside for future generations. Let’s go see Bud Hall on Fleetwood Hill.

Elevating Gear for your 30-pdr Parrott

I’ve used this photo a few times now. It is a 30-pdr Parrott rifle at Lee’s Hill at Fredericksburg.

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30-pdr Parrott, registry #341, on Lee’s Hill at Fredericksburg

The carriage is a metal reproduction, replacing a wooden carriage which had badly deteriorated (and left the 4200 pound gun in an unsafe condition). The carriage is a close copy of a siege carriage. You see the rest or cradle on the stock and the traveling trunnions on the cheeks, which were used to situate the gun to the rear of the carriage while on the move. Notice also the carriage lacks the loop at the base of the trail, seen on the smaller field gun carriages. But there’s another fine point of detail to note about this carriage mounting.

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Side view of the Parrott showing the elevating screw and gear

This Parrott carriage lacks the standard elevating screw and four handled head that is seen on most reproductions. Instead there is a long threaded screw, offset to the left, and a single crank.

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Elevating gear on 30pdr Parrott

Notice how the screw is fixed with a single bolt to an eye on the carriage trail (bottom of this view). The single arm and handle at the top of the screw provides clearance for the gunner. The screw rotates through a brass nut. That nut has a pin fitting directly into a piercing within the knob of the gun.

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Right side of Parrott Breech

Very simple in concept. Turn the elevating screw and the travel of the nut will impart elevation on the gun. The Navy and Army used elevating screws of this type on heavy guns. A good example of such wartime use is this photo from the Washington defenses.

The Parrot rifle on the left has the single handle elevating gear offset to the left.

Just a fine detail point to consider on your next visit to Fredericksburg. My contribution to the “how did it work” file for the day.

Arkansas Post’s 150th Plans

Arkansas Post is one of those well off the beaten path Civil War sites. The Federal victory there in January 1863 is most often relegated to a sidebar, if that. But it too has a sesquicentennial. A joint effort between Arkansas Post National Memorial and Arkansas Post State Museum Park, scheduled for January 19-20, recalls the battle of Fort Hindman and how the war affected the river post.

From the national park’s web site:

On Saturday, the park will host guest speakers from 10 am to 1 pm. The morning will also include interpretive programs and an open Confederate camp . A special Memorial Ceremony is at 4 pm near the park gate. On Sunday, the Confederate camp will be open from 10 am to Noon. Arkansas Post State Park Museum and reenacting groups will host simultaneous events near the park. Parking will be at select locations in the town of Gillett with free shuttle service to the activities and back to your vehicle.

More details on the scheduled reenactment are posted on the park website, and found in an article from the Stuttgart (Arkansas) Daily Leader.

From what I read, the planned events are not as extensive as at the “cannon ball” parks. And I am not saying there should be such. After all, to walk the battlefield around Fort Hindman, you’d need to do some water-walking (although the river is down this season).

To me at least, that even smaller sesquicentennial events are getting notice is a good thing.

SUV member aiming to stop sale of Civil War cannons

From the Columbus, Ohio NBC4i website:

Civil War Activist Opposes OH Cemetery Cannon Sale

WILMINGTON, Ohio — A Civil War heritage activist is taking aim at a southwest Ohio cemetery’s plan to sell its two cannons from that era. The Sugar Grove Cemetery in Wilmington wants to sell the cannons and replace them with reproductions. The cemetery’s board says having the cannons increases insurance costs. The cemetery also could use the money, expecting to get $50,000 or so for the cannons. The Wilmington News Journal reports the plan is opposed by a member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Area resident Bob Grim says the cemetery doesn’t have the right to sell the cannons. He says they were donated or loaned to local governments for memorial displays. He has asked Clinton County officials to intervene, or says his group will sue.

The guns in question are 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. Registry numbers 47 and 77 if my references are correct. Early production that were more likely to have seen service in the pivotal campaigns of the war. The referenced article at the Wilmington News Journal offers more details:

According to Grim and a short article in the Dec. 14, 1899 Clinton Republican newspaper, the two cannons were “secured to Wilmington” by the courtesy of U.S. Sen. Joseph Foraker, who after serving as Ohio’s governor, served as a senator representing the state from 1897 to 1909. The cannons were mounted in front of the second Clinton County Courthouse, which stood on the corner of Main and South streets until it was demolished in 1919 for the opening of the current courthouse.

The situation was not unique, said Grim, whose organization often deals with similar matters and has had success fighting to keep the cannons in their original locations. His organization is the legal heir to the no longer existing Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), which paid to have the monument erected in the cemetery. By statute, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War works to protect the GAR’s interests.

“The federal government loaned Civil War cannons to local governments and the GAR for displaying purposes or gave them away outright,” Grim said. “The federal government still has a list of the ones loaned out, but this cannon is not on the loan list. Once they were placed in the cemetery is where it gets tricky because once it is in the cemetery it is a private war memorial, and becomes responsibility the of county commissioners.”

In 1890 the Morris McMillan Post GAR asked the cemetery board to set aside space for a memorial. That memorial was not dedicated until 1927. At that time the cannon were mounted on concrete bases, replacing wooden carriages. Over time, as with many similar memorials around the country, ownership of the memorial and cannons became a matter of question. The article goes on to say that county officials are looking into the matter to determine the legal status of the cannon.

In my opinion, these cannon are part of a memorial. If the cemetery board is unable to maintain the memorial, I’m sure there are veterans and descendant organizations to help out. But above all, it would be a shame for these cannon to end up in some private collection instead of serving at their designated post of honor.

H/T to my buddy Phil.