The heavyweight: 7-inch Triple-banded Brooke Rifle

J.R. Anderson & Company produced 7-inch Brooke rifles in singe-, double-, and triple-banded arrangements at the Tredegar Foundry.  The single-banded guns fell into disfavor as insufficiently strong to handle the heavy loads required to deal with Federal ironclads.  The double-banded version became the most heavily produced of the caliber, with 25 produced by Tredegar (Selma Naval Ordnance Works cast 54, of which only 29 were accepted to pattern).  The rarest of the type were the triple-banded guns, with only three produced.  The only survivor of that batch is today at Fort Moultrie, not far from its wartime station in Battery Marion:

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The triple band arrangement was not simply another tier on top of the existing bands of earlier designs.

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The inner-most band on this variety extended far forward, past the point where trunnions were normally fixed to the gun – a full 85 inches.  The middle band measures 46 inches, which is longer than the bands on any other Brooke rifle.  The top tier of bands measured 30 inches long.  This arrangement allowed the gun to deal with the gradually decreasing pressure, through the length of the bore.  Like Thomas Rodman before the war, John M. Brooke recognized the nature of the contained explosion of propellant charges and sought the best design to counter those forces.  But unlike Rodman, Brooke opted to avoid changes to the casting technique.

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Looking close, you can still see the rings which composed the bands, just as on other Brooke guns.  But another difference with the triple-banded rifle was where the bands lay over the back of the breech. Missing is the sight mass normally found on the breech face.  the rear most rings of the bands are beveled into a streamlined appearance.  Why that… and more importantly, where are the trunnions?

These guns didn’t have integral trunnions. Instead Brooke designed a separate trunnion band that slipped on the gun at the front of the second tier of bands. This eliminated an inherent weakness of the castings, but still allowed the trunnions to pass the recoil force to the carriage in an efficient manner.

The trunnion band attached to a strap running back to the breech through the ears on the breech face, and then back to the other trunnion.  I think, but have not documented, the notches seen on the front of the second band were fittings to prevent the trunnion band from rotating as the gun fired.

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The beveled bands allowed the strap to slip around easier.  A wartime photo shows this arrangement in service:

The gun in this picture is, with little doubt, the same gun at Fort Moultrie today. There’s another photo of this gun, taken from the other side of the battery.  If I ever locate a high resolution digital copy, I’ll have to work up a good photo analysis post featuring the two.  But for now let me call out the rear sight on the breech.

BrookeBreech

A couple of gimlets placed for ready use. Note at the bottom of the breech a wedge and screw arrangement used for elevation.

The triple-band Brooke is also longer, overall, than other 7-inch Brookes.  My tape measure notes from numerous site visits average out to 152 inches.  Other 7-inch Brookes at Charleston 145 to 146 inches long.  No surprise that the Tredegar foundry records indicate these are “long gun” Brookes.

The gun has seven groove rifling with the usual Brooke pattern.  On the right most groove, you can make out the flat of the rifling.

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The triple-band guns weighed around 20,500 pounds, compared to about 15,000 pounds for the single- and double-banded guns of the same caliber.  That weight, however, allowed the triple-banded guns to use a 30-pound service charge (the double-banded guns were restricted to 20-pound charges).

Tredegar produced the first of these triple-banded Brookes in June 1862.  After testing, the CSS Richmond received No. 1597.  The second and third, cast in December 1862, were likewise earmarked for use on ironclads.

But trouble befell No. 1709.  It was in the foundry when a fire swept through in May.  While emerging intact, inspectors felt the fire had heated the gun to a temperature that damage was done.  Needing every possible heavy gun, the Confederates shipped No. 1709 to Savannah, for use in an ironclad there, with instructions to use light charges.  The gun arrived around the same time the Federals landed on Morris Island.  General P.G.T. Beauregard then lobbied, successfully, that in the confines of an ironclad, the gun could not elevate to compensate for the reduced charges.  Instead he wanted the gun on a land battery were greater elevation, and thus range, would be achieved.

Beauregard had the gun placed at Fort Moultrie where it saw action against the steamer Sumter at the end of August 1863.  On September 8, the gun fired on Federal ironclads, in particular focused on the grounded USS Weehawken.  A monitor with her waterline exposed was too good a target to pass up.  And so the crew fired shots loaded with full service charges.  That loading cracked the bands to the point the gun was unserviceable.  The final fate of the gun is undocumented, but likely involved the melting pot.

That brings us to No. 1717, which left Tredegar on August 20, 1863, for use on one of the ironclads.

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The 7-inch triple band Brooke cost $15,000.  It shipped out the same day as a 6.4-inch Brooke numbered 1841.  Anyone care to guess where that gun served?  (Extra bonus points for knowing where it is today.)

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Beauregard again obtained permission to put the 7-inch Brooke on Sullivan’s Island.  This time, as the photo above shows, the big rifle went into Battery Marion just west of Fort Moultrie.  There the gun took an important role in some of the heaviest artillery duels of the war.

After the war, the Army moved the gun to Charleston.  After some time spent as a display outside a school, the gun came back to Fort Moultrie during the centennial years, donated to the National Park.

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And she’s still there today.  The photos I have here show the gun up on wooden blocks.  Since those were taken, the gun was given a refit and placed on a concrete pedestal.  That triple-band gun, now the last of her kind, still holds a place of honor at Fort Moultrie.

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