Beauregard goes modding: Rifling 8-inch Columbiads at Charleston

As chronicled over several posts, General P.G.T. Beauregard had difficulties obtaining heavy ordnance for the defense of Charleston from the time he assumed command of the department.  While Beauregard leaned on the Confederate Ordnance Department, to be fair there just weren’t enough heavy guns to go around.  Beauregard had permission to band and rifle some of the 32-pdr and 42-pdr guns, and smaller weapons, on hand at Charleston. But these were not the ironclad stoppers that Beauregard wanted.

In July 1863, Beauregard turned to larger caliber weapons.  While heavy in terms of weight of shot, the 8-inch columbiads were proven insufficient against the ironclads.  With a large number available around Charleston, those columbiads became the subject of a modification project.  J.M. Eason & Brother received their first such 8-inch columbiads for conversion in July and a second in August.

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Eason charged $1,250 per gun for the modifications. Dates listed are July 20 and August 19, which may be the dates the weapons were transferred or the date the work was completed.  The remarks on the right read:

The guns rifled and banded alluded to in this account were the first done by the Messrs Eason of this caliber and are now in Fort Moultrie where they have been in service for the past seven months.  This [account] was declined at the bureau (?) and paid by us to prevent delay.  The guns were rifled by authority from Headquarters, Dept. S.C., Geo., and Fla. by my directions….

The lower half of the receipt indicates the matter was not resolved until, if I read this correctly, August 1864:

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Some backstory is required here.  Beauregard ordered the modification without authorization from the War Department in Richmond.  In the past, the Ordnance Bureau looked on such conversions with skepticism.  Unlike the smaller weapons, the 8-inch columbiads still had some practical use… in some places that is.  So Eason had to wait for the officers to sort out the question of authority and authorization.

Meanwhile, the 8-inch rifles performed well at Fort Moultrie exchanging shots with the Federals during the fall and winter months.  The guns fired 95 and 122 pound 8-inch Harding shells, along with 90 pound 8-inch hollow shot, of the type recovered in the Charleston area since the war.

One of those guns may still be at Fort Moultrie today (I reserve positive identification only because the receipt includes no particulars for such):

Fort Moultrie 3 May 2010 490

The gun at Fort Moultrie today is an 8-inch “New Columbiad”. It has registry number 89 from West Point Foundry. Cast in 1857, it weighed 8,975 pounds. It was inspected by Benjamin Huger, then an ordnance officer and later Confederate general.

The breech profile shows two layers of banding performed by Eason.

Fort Moultrie 3 May 2010 492

Pardon my sunwashed photo, but you can see the two bands from the breech end a little better.

Fort Moultrie 3 May 2010 491

Notice also the ratchet elevating system.  The cascabel was either removed in the rifling process or broke off during handling.

The muzzle of the columbiad hangs out over the fort’s parapet, so I can’t give you a good view of the rifling.  In the past, when the gun was dismounted, I counted eight grooves.  The modification did little to alter the exterior.  The chase ring and sight blocks remained on the gun.

Fort Moultrie 3 May 2010 493

The gun’s postwar history is rather uneventful.  The Army discarded the gun as a non-standard type.  It sat on Sullivan’s Island for decades. When the National Park Service took over Fort Moultrie, the gun went back to a spot near it’s wartime station.

Fort Moultrie 3 May 2010 496

The success of these 8-inch modifications lead Beauregard to authorize a step up in caliber:

Fort Moultrie 3 May 2010 575

I’ll get to that gun, one of my favorites, in time!

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

8 thoughts on “Beauregard goes modding: Rifling 8-inch Columbiads at Charleston

  1. How did these modified Columbaid rifles perform against the intended targets? What kinds of ammunition did they fire? Were they direct fire weapons against the ironclads of the blockade? Can’t wait for the next installment.

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