OK, so they had rifled steel cannons in the Civil War. How about an example of one? If you’ve visited Gettysburg recently, you’ve probably walked by this one on the way to the theater.
This may look like a typical 3-inch Ordnance Rifle. But there is a significant difference. This rifle is not from Phoenix Iron Company and its is not wrought iron. The trunnion stamp tells the story.
Singer, Nimick & Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania produced this rifle. And very prominently – this is cast steel. The gun was delivered in 1862, although casting may have taken place in 1861.
The muzzle indicates the weight as 835 lbs. The registry number is 6. The inspectors initials are J.S. for John Symington.
The breech profile of the rifle matches the ordnance pattern. The rear sight seat is different from those used on Phoenix guns, with screw mounts on the back slope of the breach.
Much like the middle batches of Phoenix guns, the Singer-Nimick gun has a middle sight and a muzzle blade sight.
The Singer-Nimick is 73 inches long overall, which matches the length of most Phoenix guns. All other external dimensions, including the 3.67 inch diameter trunnions, match the more famous Phoenix guns. Rifling has seven lands and grooves. Save for the stamps, this rifle would easily pass as just any ordinary 3-inch Ordnance Rifle in the field.
The gun now at Gettysburg is one of six ordered in October 1861. Early in the war, General John C. Frémont turned to several relatively new vendors for ordnance purchases. Singer, Nimick & Company was among those. At the time the company operated the Sheffield Steel Works in Pittsburgh (on the south bank of the Ohio, if my research is correct). The guns conformed to the exterior and rifling standards given for the Model 1861 weapons. Major John Symington of nearby Allegheny Arsenal inspected and accepted the weapons in August 1862.
There are no records from Frémont’s headquarters regarding the selection of the vendor or the metal. But what is known is the price per gun – $626 each. In comparison, in the same month the Army purchased 83 rifles from Phoenix Iron Company at a cost of $330 each. Such offers a good measure of the expense of steel in the days before adoption of the lower cost Bessemer process.
Although expensive these six rifles saw active service in the war. Very active indeed. Two other survivors from the batch of six are today on the field of Chickamauga. Those have a story all their own, linked to Captain John Watson Morton’s artillery supporting General Nathan Bedford Forrest.
And these were not the only wartime contributions of Singer, Nimick & Company. More on that point in a future post, along with more on the owners of that company.