150 years ago: “…we have an insufficient number of guns.”

In report to Richmond on this day (April 18) in 1863 Lieutenant-General John C. Pemberton, wrote frankly about the status of his defense of Vicksburg:

Jackson, April 18, 1863.
President Jefferson Davis:
The passage of batteries at Vicksburg by a large number of enemy’s vessels on night of [16th] shows conclusively that we have an insufficient number of guns. There are so many points to be defended at this time–Vicksburg, Grand Gulf, Port Hudson, Snyder’s Mill, and Fort Pemberton–that I have only twenty-eight guns at Vicksburg. Of these, two are smooth-bore 32s, two 24s, one 30-pounder Parrott, one Whitworth, and one 10.inch mortar. Vicksburg and Port Hudson, and if possible Grand Gulf, ought to be greatly strengthened in guns. I have also sent 4,000 men from Port Hudson to General Johnston. The enemy has eleven armed vessels between Vicksburg and Port Hudson. A large supply of ammunition and projectiles should be constantly forwarded.
J. G. Pemberton

The “passage of batteries” mentioned in Pemberton’s report were the gunboats and transports of Admiral David Dixon Porter, which ran past Vicksburg on the nights of April 16 and 17.

There are some interesting similarities between the situation at Vicksburg and that at Charleston (which I have been sawing over the last several months). First off is the shortage of heavy guns. Richmond forwarded some guns to fill the need. But not enough. Just as with the Charleston defenses, it’s possible to trace some of the guns used at Vicksburg back through receipts to J.R. Anderson & Company (Tredegar Foundry). For instance, in March 1863, Tredegar a couple of large guns to Jackson, Mississippi. Those guns were among the deliveries tallied on a March 1863 receipt for Tredegar deliveries:

Page 697d

This section of the receipt is for items shipped to “Gen. J.C. Pemberton, Jackson, Miss”. The first two items are 10-inch Columbiad number 1772 and 7-inch “Banded & Rifle Gun” number 1731, or in other words – a Brooke. These guns were cast in February 26 and January 6, 1863, respectively. The Tredegar gun book lists the rifle as an army type, presumably with a ratchet breech. Neither of these guns are known to survive today. So the receipt is all we have to work with here. Notice that Tredegar sent along carriages, sights, and other implements for these guns.

So was that Brooke in use when the Federals ran past the batteries?

Well, likely not. On April 17, Pemberton complained to Colonel Josiah Gorgas, Confederate Chief of Ordnance, that, “The Brooke gun arrived here yesterday without a solitary projectile. Where am I to get them?” The following day Pemberton followed with a sharply worded message:

If ammunition for the three 9-inch guns is not sent with them, they will be useless to me. Have heard nothing from you of bolts for the Brooke gun now here. Without bolts it had as well been left in Richmond. I have no coal, and am unable to get any.

So, for all practical purposes, Pemberton had a 15,000 pound rifled paperweight. And he feared having three more of the 9-inch, 9,000 pound variety delivered in the next few weeks.

This brings us to a second similarity to the situation at Charleston – shortage of ammunition. On April 17, Major-General Carter L. Stevenson wrote that “Our ammunition for heavy guns is nearly exhausted. We have some en route from Mobile and Selma. Please send some one to hurry it on.”

To hedge bets, on April 19, Pemberton sent a request to Mr. J.O. Stevens, running a foundry in Jackson, Mississippi, to:

… cast in the shortest possible time, working day and night, one hundred solid bolts – diameter, 6.95; weight, 128- and would urge on you the utmost energy, as the need for these projectiles is very great.

A bit of background, Stevens supplied ordnance from field artillery calibers up to 8-inch. So the firm had some experience, at least. However, I’ve not run across positive proof that Stevens delivered the desired rifle projectiles.

Just as at Charleston, a critical shortage of guns and projectiles factored into the situation. Beauregard could lean on Eason & Brothers for projectiles. Pemberton had to rely upon Stevens. But both commanders had to wait for Richmond to send heavy guns.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 24, Serial 38, pages 756, 759, 760, 766, and 767.)


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