Captured guns turned on Confederates: Federal use of “Revised Columbiads”

Confederate observers on Fort Sumter and other points around Charleston harbor were very good at identifying Federal batteries on Morris Island.  Their reports often detailed even the make and model gun in the individual positions. An entry from November 14, 1863 described Battery Gregg, renamed Fort Putnam after capture in September, as containing “Four 30-pounder Parrotts, three 200-pounder Parrotts, and one 10-inch columbiads.  Two mortars are also observed in the same battery.”  For comparison, the 3rd Rhode Island which manned Fort Putnam recorded having one 200-pdr Parrott, two 100-pdr Parrotts, four 30-pounder Parrotts, one 10-inch columbiad, and two seacoast howitzers* when the second great bombardment of Fort Sumter started.

The Parrott guns, large and small, carried most of the weight during the bombardments.  But what of that 10-inch columbiad?  The Federals had several weapons of that type in the Department of the South.  Columbiads saw action in the bombardment of Fort Pulaski the previous year.  However, the Federals also captured one serviceable 10-inch Columbiad with the fall of Battery Wagner on September 7 of that year.  So is there any evidence of the Federals impressing that Confederate columbiad into service?   Consider this photo taken of Fort Putnam:

No doubt the location of this photo.  It is Fort Putnam.


While most, both Federal and Confederate, still referred to Battery Gregg, Fort Putnam appears on official Federal correspondence.

All around this position are stacked projectiles, shells and perhaps some solid bolts.


Those on the right side (and to the left) are elongated projectiles to be fed into this gun:


Given the profile of the chase, I call this as an 6.4-inch, or 100-pounder Parrott.  But without any good measure reference, this could be a 8-inch, or 200-pounder, Parrott.

Laying in front of the battery are the assembled rails for another heavy Parrott:


But behind that stands a pyramid of round projectiles. Three in fact:


There’s a couple stand of grapeshot, too.  More grape stand atop the shipping boxes behind that:


Those projectiles were not for the Parrott, but rather for this gun:


This gun is certainly not a Parrott.  Three items help identify the weapon.  First is the wooden carriage.  Second is the “mushroom cascabel.” And lastly the elevating gear.

At first, one is inclined to say “Rodman gun!”  But there are no references to Rodman guns used on Morris Island.  Because that weapon was so new to service, one would expect Major-General Quincy Gillmore and other observers to provide detailed reports of any such employment.  None exist.  So this is likely something other than a Rodman gun.

The mushroom cascabel was a feature on two types of guns – Rodman guns and Confederate “revised model” Columbiads.  Rodmans used wrought iron carriages, similar to those used by the Parrott Rifles.  The Confederate columbiads used wooden carriages, as evidenced by their longer trunnions.  As for the elevating gear, only the first ten 10-inch Rodman guns used the ratchet arrangement.  All of the “revised model” Confederate columbiads used the ratchet type.

10 July 11 860
Elevating gear on reproduction carriage holding a Confederate 8-inch “revised pattern” Columbiad at Drewry’s Bluff

Those three visible features point to this weapon being a Confederate columbiad cast to an early-war revised pattern.  Sometimes erroneously called a “Confederate Rodman,” the guns were derivatives of the “New Columbiad” pattern, incorporating the mushroom cascabel devised by Captain Thomas J. Rodman but retaining many of the external features of the pre-war columbiad pattern.  Should you wish to compare the Rodman to the “revised pattern” Confederate guns, Fort Moultrie is the place to go.

Official records establish the presence of at least one captured Confederate columbiad on Morris Island.  The photograph, I think, establishes the use of at least one captured columbiad.

Another fine point in this photo which deserves note are the shadows:


The sun is to the left of the photo.  Putting things in reference to the maps, either this photo was taken near sunset… or mid-day during one of those late-fall or winter days when the sun is lower in the southern skies.  And therefore, north would be to the right.  Keep in mind the location of Fort Putnam at the north end of Morris Island:


While the time of day is not known for certainty, I submit these guns were facing towards the west/northwest to allow fires at Fort Sumter and… if need be … Charleston (thus the high elevation of the Parrott).  If so, here was a former Confederate gun turned directly back on its former owners, with range to hit Fort Sumter and some locations on James Island.

Note: The 3rd Rhode Island regimental history records these as “10-inch seacoast howitzers.” More likely these were 8-inch seacoast howitzers captured from Confederates.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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